I only watched this movie after finding it on a random Netflix search, I believe. Worth a watch, especially if you’re a Philip K Dick fan. This is one of those rare science fiction movies that is full of sci-fi trappings without being an action movie in Sci-Fi drag (not that there’s anything wrong with action-based sci-fi…).
I haven’t read the novel Radio Free Albemuth, but I have a feeling this isn’t a straight adaptation. It has elements of VALIS (the Living Satellite that orbits Earth and bombards Phil with secret information in the form of religious experiences, and also the presence of a singer/musician chosen by VALIS to reveal information/spark revolution) and Scanner Darkly (there is a scene reminiscent of the rural prison work camps from the Scanner Darkly novel, but the movie has minimal drug references compared to Scanner Darkly, which is explicitly about drugs, drug users and drug culture).
The thing the movie seems closest to is a novel about Philip K. Dick that I have never read, but have heard about. That novel is “Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas” by Michael Bishop. It tells a story “set in an alternative universe where his non-genre work is published but his science fiction is banned by a totalitarian USA in thrall to a demonically possessed Richard Nixon” according to Wikipedia. Everything about that description takes place in this movie, with the debatable exception of demon possession. In Philip K Dick’s world, it’s very common for distinctions between Religious, Spiritual, Technological, Inter-Dimensional and Neurological concepts to be blurred, re-established, and then blurred again.
Philip K Dick has had his work adapted into films time and time again, which raises the question of whether this film adds anything new. After all, we’ve seen Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report. Does this movie have something new to offer? In a word, yes. This movie does a great job of capturing elements of Dick’s work that other film adaptations have removed, namely the narrative complexity that seems to be a hallmark of novels and a hindrance in cinema. Perhaps because of this, the pacing in the film ranges between brisk, slow and non-existent. The cerebral concepts, and strangeness of the plot is what will hold your attention, if anything will. I don’t know that Philip K. Dick ever had a diagnosis, but watching this movie is like a peek into the personal thoughts of an extremely brilliant, creative man, who is also a paranoid schizophrenic.
The production level of this movie is similar to a SyFy Channel Original, but the production values are well utilized for what this is. The esoteric concepts that VALIS reveals are explicated in some very effective 2d animated sequences. The actors involved provide adequate performances from a script that is perhaps hard to grasp on an emotional level. I would have loved to see what a better cast could have done with this material, but it pretty amazing that this film got made with any cast. The best performance is actually provided by Alanis Morrissette, who is playing a character similar to herself. This film may not be for everyone, but I do think those who are suited for it will find a lot to enjoy.