Philip K Dick
Based on Story - Paycheck
Story Version Notes
The original story, "Paycheck", was about 35 pages long, So a good length. It tells of Jennings, who is a skilled contractor. He does secretive work for Rethrick Construction for 2 years, then has his mind erased about what he did so the work remains a secret. During that time the old government fell and the Secret Police have taken power. The story opens with Jennings in New York going to pick up his payment of 50 thousand credits. Kelly is the secretary who instead gives him an envelope filled with random stuff - a bus token, ticket stub, wire, green strip of cloth, code key, half poker chip and parcel receipt dated in the future. He's furious even though apparently HE agreed to this back before he had his mind erased.
Leaving the building, he's immediately picked up by the SP. They want to know what he did for Rethrick and of course he doesn't know. Wanting to escape, he uses the wire to blow the lock in the car. He next uses a bus token to escape on a bus. He immediately realizes that HE gave himself these items to let him escape - and therefore that somehow he could see the future back before his mind wipe. He thinks of running to Rethrick for safety but decides instead to learn more about them first.
He gets to Iowa where the base of the company is, and runs into Kelly again. She explains how his mind was erased and he pours his story out to her. He says he figures Rethrick had him invent a Time Scoop, that can view the future and even grab things from it. He tells her he wants to blackmail the company so he can be a permanent part of it, so he's always safe from the SP. If he just gets hired by Rethrick they can fire him at any point at which point the SP can pick him up. He believes that a big corporation is the only power that can stand up to the police. He tells Kelly to cooperate with him or he'll destroy Rethrick.
In he goes to the company, using his green strip to show he's a valid worker. He finds the time scoop, grabs the blueprints and escapes using his code key. He gives the blueprints to Kelly to hide somewhere. While wandering around he's almost caught by the police but uses the chip to get into a gambling den. Finally he meets up with Rethrick and Kelly and learns that Rethrick has no intention of letting his company into non-family hands. Jennings tries to bully them saying Kelly has the plans, and she admits she's Rethrick's daughter. She holds up the receipt and suddenly a scoop appears and grabs it - this is the receipt that Jennings has had all along. Jennings announces that he'll simply marry Kelly, join the family, and the company can be family controlled forever, with him safely inside it.
Lisa's Reaction to the Story Version
Yikes, Jennings really wasn't a character I could get to care for very much. His immediate reaction to his situation is "I'll blackmail Rethrick and force them to take me on as a co-owner". When he learns that Rethrick is a family owned company and wants to stay that way he says "Just marry me, Kelly, even though you've only known me a few days. We'll raise kids together." Does this family really want a guy capable of blackmail and forced marriages to be in control??
The "7 unique items" idea was pretty cool. Jennings isn't a bozo, he's an intelligent engineer, and he picks up on this immediately when he finds the first 2 items so quickly useful. He realizes right away that he must have somehow been able to see the future, to see that he would have needed these things. My big question here is how did he know that the items AFTER the wire would be useful?? It's not like he sent the wire back in time at the right moment and then saw what the result was, to say "OK now I need a bus token". He gave himself an ENVELOPE with 7 items in it all at once. What did he do, first give himself an envelope with just the wire, and see what he might need next? Then give himself an envelope with the wire and the bus token, and then see what progressed? Does this mean we have no free will, if each time he gave himself X set of items, he did the exact same sequence of events?
Also, there was only one minor moment of "which item do I use?" He thought the code key would work on one door, and it actually worked on another. But other than that there was no sorting through the envelope trying various things to see if one or the other was appropriate. He always knew exactly which one to use. Heck, why not number them or something so it's even more clear to your "future self" what to do?
Rethrick as a company at least had ideals and motives - a small Maine company working to store up knowledge and information to be used when the government settled down finally. Sort of like Atlas Shrugged where the smart people go off to hole up until things are calm again. The daughter was loyal to these ideals. But Jennings was out to grab power and blackmail people. If anything, he is that 'tainted greed' that Rethrick is trying to outlast.
Movie Version Notes
In 2003, Paycheck was made into a adventure-thriller starting Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. In the movie version, Jennings has done the mind-erase engineering jobs several times and we meet him BEFORE he goes into his long, 2 year project with Rethrick. He meets Rachel, a biologist, shortly before starting his work. When he gets out, he gets an envelope of trinkets from a bank lady. He's furious at not getting his $90 million dollars even though it was himself (pre-amnesia) who agreed to the change. He uses a few trinkets to get out of jams before he realizes that he must have given himself those trinkets, and therefore he was able to see the future at the time.
He uses the trinkets one by one to help him escape both the cops, who want to know what he did for Rethrick, and Rethrick's goonies, who now wants him dead. It turns out that during the 2 years, Jennings has fallen in love with Rachel and the two meet up together at a restaurant based on Jenning's trinkets. Rachel of course agrees to help him out.
Jennings decides he has to get back to the laboratory and see what he was working on. Meanwhile, Rethrick realizes Jennings has fouled up the time viewer and plans on letting Jennings succeed so Jennings will fix the viewer, then catch him again. Jennings does indeed fix the viewer using a pretty lame clue. The viewer is directed by his thoughts - he touches a blue ball, thinks about the timeframe he wants to view and it shows him the sights. He looks into the future. He realizes that knowledge of the future will doom mankind to wars and destruction because it will destroy free will. He therefore plans on destroying the machine. As this was directed by John Woo, there is a fantastic ending battle and the machine is destroyed, and in the end it turns out that Jennings used his future-vision to help them win the lottery, so now Jennings and Rachel are millionaires.
Lisa's Reaction to the Movie Version
Good God Almighty. Yes, I thought the original story had some flaws because the main character was selfish and greedy. So what the movie did was keep the character flaws and completely destroy the plotline as well. First, some critics picked on Affleck and Thurman as being non-spectacular. Well, yes! This isn't Minority Report, where the hero is a seasoned cop, nor is it Blade Runner, where the hero is ... a seasoned cop. The hero here is an ENGINEER, an average guy trying to think his way out of a complex situation. I thought Affleck did a great job of doing that. He's not a Government Agent. He's a computer nerd. Uma is equally not a Charlie's Angel, she's a biologist who loves an engineer. They both show the intelligence and loyalty that are integral to their characters.
But back to the plot. In the original story, Rethrick was a 'good' company who dealt with Jennings honorably, having him build something critical to them preserving knowledge until government stability came around again. But in the movie, Rethrick is an evil company out to cause harm. In the book, Jennings is just avoiding the police until he can blackmail Rethrick and become "safe" as part of the company. In the movie, Jennings is fighting on all fronts AND has a loyal love interest by his side. And instead of blackmailing the company and forcing a woman to be his wife, he destroys a company and manipulates the state lottery to give him millions of dollars. Neither one seems very inspiring to me.
But even worse, we are back to the same free will screw-up that happened with Minority Report. In BOTH Minority Report and Paycheck, Philip K Dick said clearly in his stories that the future is set, that there is a way to see what is in the future and that this knowledge is a GOOD thing. In both stories, the ending is that the future-vision remains in place. But Hollywood seems to have huge issues with this concept. In both movie versions, it is somehow FREE WILL that triumphs. The future-viewing is seen as a HUGE threat and is destroyed quite forcefully. You almost have to wonder if there is some sort of agenda going on in Hollywood, that they fear the loss of free will and are therefore completely altering any storyline that speaks out against it.
In the story version, the ending has Rethrick surviving as a storehouse of knowledge to safeguard the future, sort of like the Irish monks keeping safe the tomes of knowledge during the dark ages. But in the movie version, Jennings gleefully destroys Rethrick because "knowledge is dangerous" and then uses his power to rig the lottery! And this is supposed to be a good thing??
I really have to wonder just why both of these stories (Minority Report and Paycheck) were altered 180 degrees from the original intent, in the exact same fashion, only a year apart. I can only hope that the movies have inspired people to go back and read the original stories, and then put some thought into the differences and what they mean.
Buy Paycheck DVD from Amazon.com
Paycheck is in the Selected Stories book from Amazon.com
Philip K Dick Stories Made Into Movies
A Scanner Darkly
Philip K Dick Homepage