CS Soapbox: The Novel That Inspired Matrix, Inception & WandaVision
In 1969, famous science fiction writer Philip K. Dick wrote what is arguably his most groundbreaking and influential novel, entitled Ubik. Since his death in 1982, the late writer’s work has become a cornerstone of the genre (the term “Dickian” is common language) and has been transformed into numerous classic films and television (Blade runner, Minority report, Total recall, The man in the high castle), yet Ubik was never adjusted … directly. However, the novel has been cannibalized over the years by many great features like The Wachowski’s The matrixChristopher Nolans Beginning and now the successful Disney + series from Marvel Studios WandaVision.
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The labyrinthine story of Ubik takes place in “The Future” of 1992 and follows Joe Chip, a technician who works for a company called Runciter Associates and employs specialized staff known as “Inertia.” His skills include the ability to block telepaths and precogs (a common Dick motif that is also used in) Minority report) usually to deter them from corporate espionage. Founder Glen Runciter’s dead wife and business partner, Ella, lives in a state called half-life in which her consciousness is still active. The company is hired to send Runciter, Chip and a team of their best employees to the moon to prevent a psychological intrusion into a moon base. A bomb explosion kills Runciter and they return to Earth.
This is how they say where the plot gets thicker. Chip and the team, which includes a psychic girl named Pat Conley who can change the past, find that their reality is distorted and “deteriorated”, with common objects returning to older forms (televisions become radios, cigarettes to old obsolete brands etc) your world finally settled in 1939. The money they mysteriously use bears Runciter’s portrait. The team members themselves begin to deteriorate and die, but a message from Runciter contains an advertisement for a spray called Ubik, which Chip uses to stop the deterioration. In fact, each chapter begins with an ad for Ubik that showcases a different use for it.
Chip believes Conley is causing this broken reality she admits only to find out that a being named Jory is actually devouring the team in half-life to sustain itself. Runciter was, in fact, the sole survivor of the moon explosion, with everyone else in the half-life. Ella developed Ubik to defend herself and other half-lives against Jory (who has help from humans in the real world) and gives Chip a lifelong supply. A strange coda, omnisciently told by Ubik himself, reveals Runciter in the real world, who mourns the loss of his team only to find a coin with Joe Chip’s face on it.
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Just from this brief description, you can see how the story influenced those of Lana and Lilly Wachowski Matrix trilogy, specifically the journey of the Keanu Reeves character Neo, who tries to navigate a “real world” that is not real and can be manipulated. The idea that people live in this alternate consciousness reality while being essentially vegetative in cryotubes has been another major draw. Jory’s predatory character is closely linked to Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith program, which also uses people in the Matrix itself as saboteurs and informants. Even the somewhat anachronistic production design of the film, which dates back to all eras of the 20th century, is in keeping with Ubik’s themes.
Christopher Nolans Beginning draws many elements from Dick’s book, including the team navigating an alternate dream reality, physical changes in that false reality, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb, who ultimately cannot tell if he is still in the dream world at the end (an idea that also used in) the Dick adjustment Total recall). in the Beginning There are dream “extractors” as opposed to “anti-telepaths,” and the background to corporate espionage is the same. The dead woman who is a powerful force in the dream world is also an elevator. Another great resemblance is Cobb’s “totem” (a spinning top), which is used to indicate whether you are still in a dream that is a coin or money Ubik.
This brings us to Marvels WandaVision, in which showrunner Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman seem to have found an ideal vehicle for Dick’s ideas, albeit vice versa. Rather than reality going backwards, the psychic character of Wanda Maximoff (whose character in the novel could be compared to Pat Conley) has essentially telekinetically telekinetically taken an entire city in New Jersey hostage as it reforms both its external and internal reality to fit in the context of sitcom tropes from the 50s (The Dick Van Dyke Show), then the 60s (In love with a witch), then the 70s (The Brady Bunch), then the 80s (Family ties) and – later this week – the 90s (Malcom in the middle). Either way, everyone’s sets, cars, clothes, and manners, including Wanda, shift with each new redesign of the city’s reality. Even objects like a surveillance drone revert to a toy helicopter look from the ’60s as soon as they enter town in Episode 2.
Another procrastination of Ubik are the interstitial commercials that typically come in the middle of everyone WandaVision Follow and seem to have clues as to what is happening. How these will pay off in future episodes remains to be seen, but there is evidence of an evil force behind Wanda that stimulates and controls her behavior, much like Ubik (short for “ubiquitous”) inserts into the end of the novel and which many (including the late author’s wife) say it is a substitute for God Himself.
Whether Schaeffer & Co. ever uttered the word “Ubik” during the production of the Marvel series is immaterial, although it would not be surprising to find out that it is a reference point. The show also takes inspiration from other sources such as Andrei Tarkovsky’s stalker and its more recent Americanization destruction, along with a touch of Twilight zone Episode “It’s a Good Life.” It is important that the novel’s high-profile concepts have found their greatest mainstream to date. Even the way the show changes its aspect ratios or goes from black and white to color to accommodate the sitcom era it mimics comes with Dick’s own customization plans Ubik under the French director Jean-Pierre Gorin (All is well), with his unproduced script that was eventually published in print. One of the radical ideas of the time that Dick had to adapt was that the film quality would itself deteriorate and evolve from color to black and white, then to jerky early silent films, and finally to darkness.
Several other filmmakers have tried to adapt since Dick’s death Ubik several times over the decades. Richard Linklater employee Tommy Pallotta wanted to produce a version of the book after the critical success of their 2006 adaptation of Dick A scanner dark, probably the most faithful film adaptation of all previous works by the author. Linklater had flirted with adaptation Ubik In front scanner But he ran into privilege issues even after trying to build his own script to specification. Then in 2011 it was announced that Oscar-winning surrealist filmmaker Michel Gondry (whose Eternal sunshine of the flawless mind has a PKD influence) wanted to tackle the book for producers Steve Golin and Steve Zaillian before giving up. Even loner filmmaker and PKD superfan Terry Gilliam (12 monkeys) has dealt with the adaptation of several of his books, including Ubik, but found the idea problematic as so much of it had been wiped away over the years.
“That’s the problem, so much has been taken out of ‘Ubik’,” Gilliam told us in 2019. “It probably doesn’t feel fresh to an audience anymore.” I wonder if Dick would work better now or not. I just don’t remember because so many films have been made that got the best out of Dick and played with them. “
In some ways it’s sad that we’ll probably never see Ubik Brought to life on screen because so many other works have already used their ideas, but it’s also encouraging that what was once considered a distant science fiction story is now too utter on both television and film successful commercial storytelling works.