Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – Crazy Diamond
Starring: Steve Buscemi, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Julia Davis, Lucian Msamati, Joanna Scanlan
Director: Marc Munden
Writer: Tony Grisoni
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS SPOILERS.
This week’s episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, Crazy Diamond, is based on the short story Sales Pitch, which is about omnipresent and intrusive advertising. However, none of the plot elements of that story made it to this adaptation, except for Ed and Sally’s names. Instead, writer Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and director Marc Munden (Utopia) decided to take us on one weird journey.
Crazy Diamond is similar to other Philip K. Dick stories and touches on perceived vs. actual reality and on what defines a human. Ed (Steve Buscemi) works at the Spirit Mill, a factory that designs artificial consciousness (aka Quantum Consciousness) for synthetic humans known as Jacks and Jills. He seems happy, but he’s going through a mid-life crisis and is dreaming of sailing off on an adventure. His wife Sally (Julia Davis) works at a factory which designs hybrid pig/humans (yep, it’s weird and bonkers). Like Ed, she seems happy, but her conversations with Su (Joanna Scanlan) raise some questions. Clearly, she harbours a few secrets.
Crazy Diamond is also about decay, aging, and death. It’s most noticeable to those who consider themselves ‘normals’ (non-synthetic, non-hybrid, just plain ol’ humans). Ed and Sally live on the beautiful green coast, but it’s literally crumbling apart, dying. The food that is delivered has a shelf life of a few days at best before it rots. Jill is a synthetic human who has very little life left. However, unlike Roy Batty and his fellow replicants, in this world, Jacks and Jills can extend their life by absorbing a new QC (quantum consciousness). And that’s where Ed comes in. In film-noir fashion, the two meet and on Jill’s insistence and the promise of adventure, plan to steal quantum consciousnesses from Spirit Mill.
Although we age and eventually die, it is how we choose to live our lives that matters. Ed’s bored with his, happy to simply go through the motions of his daily routine. In his dreams, he yearns for a life of adventure and stuck in the midst of a mid-life crisis. It’s a recipe for trouble. Meanwhile, although superficially happy living in a sterile environment, Sally yearns to create life, real life, lasting life. Unable to shake that need, she begins to grow vegetables, even though it’s illegal secretly. And Jill, knowing she has little life left, wants to continue to experience life, seizing it by the reins and doing what is necessary to lengthen it. But how far is one willing to go to attain this dream? Cross the border into this other ‘reality’?
Jill, the true octopus (from the Syd Barrett song Octopus, heard in the episode), uses her many tentacles to manipulate those around her to reach her goals. Is she inviting them to cross the border of their present lives to join her? Ed, the director, her accomplices for the sale of the extra QC’s, and even Sally. They all get pulled into her schemes as they look for something better and more adventurous, all with varying degrees of success. Maybe they do so because they’ve failed to extract out of life everything they had wished for, disappointed or even angry at the failed promises from when they were young? I can’t help but think of another song, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, by Pink Floyd. A few lyrics come to mind:
“Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun / Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky / You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom / Come on you raver, you seer of visions / Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!”
Jill offers them a way back to those dreams they had when they were young. She offers them a way to shine again. But what they all fail to realize is that they can’t live two concurrent lives. To go back to the one, the other must be extinguished. Except for Ed. Good ol’ cowardly Ed. As events spiral out of control around him and he’s left to drown, he somehow manages to return to his old life, happy to be alive. He still paid a steep price for his adventure and has nothing left. Nothing, except his Syd Barrett album. As he hugs it tight, he begins to laugh. Ed has now become the mad hatter from the song.
There are great performances. Steve Buscemi perfectly embodies that mid-life crisis experiencing man, dreaming of adventures, yet hesitant to upset the status quo. He’s both confident and confused at the same time. Julia Davis’ visible innocence betrays a curiosity about life, marriage and expectations. And Sidse Babett Knudsen plays to perfection the classic femme fatale straight out of a 40’s film noir. She looked like Agent Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) had just walked off the Agent Carter television show poster. The supporting cast, including Lucian Msamati and Joanna Scanlan are great as well. Engrossed in their performances, passing off their world as normal, I forgot how bonkers the episode actually was.
Verdict: Watch it! Yes it’s bizarre, but those performances… There’s a bit of everything. Drama. Romance. Mystery. Action. Betrayal. Comedy. Even a nostalgic turn back to Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett. This mixed baggage of a story won’t let you down.