Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams “Impossible Planet”: Love Connections Through Time and Space
What good is imagining the future if it isn’t one where we’ll be able to realize our most outrageous dreams?
Of course, where there’s money involved, there will always be someone willing to sell you that dream.
In addition to the capitalization of dreaming, “Impossible Planet” also explores the possibility that, given enough life-elongating technology, a person might live long enough to live a past life. It’s a bit of a mind-bender, all right?
At some ridiculously distant point in the future of humanity, we as a people are spread out among various star systems and the universe holds few secrets anymore. Earth is barely a legend, having been allegedly swallowed up by a solar flare after we had fled the proverbial nest.
On a more rural planet, Norton (Jack Reynor, MacBeth) and Andrews (Benedict Wong, Marco Polo) run an interstellar tour company, Astral Dreams, flying tourists out to various nebula and anomalies for a close-up of a (sometimes augmented) once in a lifetime spectacle.
Andrews’ goal is to earn a corporate transfer to the cosmopolitan central city but only because it is his girlfriend’s dream to move there. When his most recent transfer request is denied, he may be disappointed but only because she is devastated.
Enter Irma (Geraldine Chaplin, Beyond the Walls), a very, VERY old (we’re talking over three hundred years) and wealthy woman arrives with her robotic attendant, RB29, and announces that she wants to go to Earth, Norton and Andrews try to explain that Earth doesn’t exist anymore.
Of course, then RB29 explains that she is deaf. Over three hundred years old, able to walk unassisted and pilot a shuttle from her home to the hub where Astral Dreams is located, but unable to hear anything (allegedly).
When RB29 (played by Malik Ibheis, Fit but voiced by Christopher Staines, Judge John Deed) informs them that they have a HUGE amount of currency with which to pay for this dream voyage, Andrews quickly finds a planet that could plausibly play a post-apocalyptic Earth and takes the entirety of the payment up-front “as a deposit.”
With his hopes for a transfer dashed, the more morally-conscious Norton goes along with the con only because it’ll give him a financial chance to move himself and Barbara to where she’ll be happy.
But as he and Irma bond over the three days it takes to reach the fake Earth, he starts to regret the lie. Furthermore, as Irma describes the beautiful “Elk River Falls, Carolina” of her grandmother’s youth and the joyful freedom of her romance with Irma’s grandfather, he begins to have flashes of something like memories himself.
RB29 suspects something is not right with the Astral Dreams transaction but Andrews dismisses his concerns. The robot eventually discovers the truth after Andrews sets the ship to auto-pilot to catch some sleep. His eyes flash brightly with what I assume is anger(?)
Arriving at the fake-Earth’s solar system, Irma notices a few things are wrong from her understanding of Earth lore. For one, Mars is green instead of the Red Planet of legend. When Norton balks at lying out-right to her, RB29 steps in and fabricates a scientific reason for the color change, effectively throwing in with the tour guides in duping his boss.
Andrews wants to just fly by the fake-Earth, give Irma a thrill by tinting the views a little bluer than blue, and head home to spend his money. Irma confides in Norton that she wants to land on the planet. Her dream is to find Elk River Falls and the lake her grandparents used to skinny-dip in.
And here, things get weird. She shows Norton a photograph of her grandparents and reveals that Norton looks exactly like her grandfather in his youth. She kisses Norton gently before he leaves her cabin, sparking an even stronger past-life memory in him.
He contacts his girlfriend back on the hub planet and breaks up with her. (I was waiting for him to admit he’d fallen for the three hundred year old grand-daughter of his wife from a past life but instead he just tells her that he doesn’t dream of her anymore.)
As the ship approaches “Earth” Irma changes into a dress, her grandmother’s dress as it turns out (which would be about six hundred years old). After he insists Andrews make a dangerous landing on the planet, he agrees to escort her out to look for “Elk River Falls” and gives Norton her grandfather’s clothing (also super old) to wear when he escorts her out onto the planet’s surface.
Of course, they’re both wearing space suits because the atmosphere is toxic but underneath, they’re totally cosplaying her grandparents.
Andrews freaks out when he realizes they’ve gone out in space suits equipped with only auxiliary oxygen supplies and frantically, tries to get Norton to turn back. Norton gives no sign that he hears anything that Andrews says.
Out on the surface, they wander into what sort of passes for a forest. Suddenly, Irma has perfect hearing and asks Norton if he can hear the rushing water she hears. As Andrews watches the oxygen gauge on the suits drop to zero from his control panel on the ship, Irma removes her helmet and Norton sees her turn into the young woman her grandmother must have been growing up in Elk River Falls (Annes Elwes, Little Women). He removes his helmet too and their surroundings turn into an idyllic Earth countryside. They both strip down and go swimming as the scene fades out.
The ending is brilliantly ambiguous. It has to be pragmatically assumed that Norton and Irma died but that’s still an assumption. There’s no confirmation that their bodies are collapsed on the planet’s surface. There’s no epilogue with Andrews recounting his buddy’s fatal moment of madness. RB29’s records are not downloaded for Barbara in some sort of port-mortem.
The story is called “Impossible Planet” because what Irma wanted was impossible and yet everything in her (and Chaplin’s performance is riveting) insists that Elk River Falls must be there waiting for her. What Norton is “remembering” is impossible and yet he knows who he wants to be with and it’s not the age-appropriate woman waiting for him at home.
Norton’s resemblance to Irma’s grandfather and his dreams of cycling a sunny country road with her grandmother lend a strong mystical quality to the narrative. What really sticks with the viewer here isn’t the tragedy of their demise but the glorious “What if?” the ending implies.
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