Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Next (and a Second M is for Minority Report)

The 2007 film Next was, to put it lightly, a flop. I think I was one of a hundred or so people who bothered to see it while in theaters, and even I, with my incredibly high tolerance for terrible sci-fi movies, felt let down. Doubly so when I realized that the script was based loosely (and I mean incredibly loosely) on Philip K. Dick’s short story “The Golden Man”. To ruin PKD in that manner should be punishable by law.

Fortunately, nothing based on Mr. Dick’s work can be all bad. In this case, I was somewhat fascinated by protagonist Cris Johnson’s ability to see into the future – or, more to the point, his ability to see all possible future outcomes from a single action. This was the one concept left over from the original text it was based on, and made the film at least marginally thought provoking. His ability postulates that there is no “set future”. The future is fluid, with many different possible outcomes.

This concept plays a role in another of Philip K. Dick’s works (which I just can’t help mentioning, despite claiming that I wouldn’t under the letter “M”) – "The Minority Report". In this seminal piece, three “Precogs” working under the PreCrime division all share the ability to see the future; however, they don’t always see the same one. It's this potential for different versions that accentuates the Precogs’ value, for  their ability to see multiple outcomes allows PreCrime to avert any possible negative futures and put us on the path for a more favorable one.

And yet, I cannot help but wonder if this ability is all that it’s cracked up to be. And not just because PreCrime is such a dangerous threat to free will and the human ability to change. But it’s also concerning because, as Cris Johnson explains in Next, “Every time you look at [the future], it changes because you looked at it. And that changes everything else.”

It’s human nature to try to avoid harmful or difficult situations. We vaccinate ourselves to prevent disease. We leave our houses early to avoid rush-hour traffic. We use birth control to avert unwanted pregnancy. But it’s possible that by looking into the future and attempting to change what we see, we might unintentionally cause irreparable harm. Like the film Paycheck (based on yet another of Philip K. Dick’s short stories). Michael Jennings, a reverse engineer, designs a machine that can see the future. However, once the project is complete, he realizes that the device is a danger to humanity. He states, “The machine predicts a war, and we go to war to avert it. It predicts a plague, we herd all the sick together and create a plague. Whatever future this predicts, we make happen . . . Seeing the future will destroy us.”

Again Philip K. Dick make me wonder. Is there really more than one potential future? If so, can we really see every possibility? And if we can predict what’s to come, should we try to change it? Or is doing so the cause of the very thing we're trying to prevent? Will knowing the future destroy us?
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.


  1. As much as I love Nic Cage, Next was crap lol!

  2. I have a very high tolerance for bad Sci-fi.
    Unlike standard mundane fiction, where a bad movie is nothing but a bad movie, a bad sci-fi movie can still entertain me because it gets me thinking about questions like the ones you raise. And that is enough to make my time spent on it worthwhile.

    Twilight Zone touched on the same idea as Paycheck: a couple crooks steal a camera that takes pictures of the future, and because they use it, they see their deaths, which causes their deaths to occur.

    Trying to second guess and predict cause and effect this way in 4 dimensions may be more than out brain which is trapped within 3 our 3-D experience.

  3. I never saw Next, but I'm a fan of Minority Report. The future can it hold more than one outcome? Sure. Since as humans we love to speculate, I suppose that's logical. Great post!

  4. “Every time you look at [the future], it changes because you looked at it. And that changes everything else.” This reminds me of something my father (a scientist) said long ago. He said that you find what you test for, that the observer of the test, whether intentional or not, becomes part of the test and thus influences it.

  5. I'm just happy when the filmakers show that they've even though about a question for a few minutes. I get annoyed when they raise an interesting point, then ignore it and blow stuff up for 45 minutes.

  6. I was not one of those 100 people who saw Next. I'm not a huge fan of Cage, it's like a hit and miss with him.

    Glad you gave in and talked Minority Report. ;)

  7. Oh, I love Minority Report. I've seen it tons of times. And thought of the future and it's set in stoneness always interest me, just like time. And then it gets me thinking about alternate timelines, and man I gotta go write now.

  8. “Every time you look at [the future], it changes because you looked at it. And that changes everything else.”

    I think this hits the nail on the head. I am always bothered by books with prophecies in them because I think knowing the future creates the problem that causes the prophecy to come true.

    But as far as alternate realities being created in a new universe for each decision made... no opinion on that yet.

  9. I think the future is like the far past, you can claw at it with your mind but the details, the exact setting, the exact feel of things will mange to elude you. I have never been a fan of science fiction but VERY VERY strangely, I just finished reading a sci-fi novel, one of maybe ten that I might have read. It's called 'The Taking'; have you read it? I dig Jules Verne, but more because of his explorer tales than the sci-fi bit of it. Thanks for stopping by earlier! Good luck...

  10. I just read on my blog that you were talking about novels and books, so I hopped straight over!

    I've never heard of Next. But Philip K. Dick's stories are usually so well adapted, it seems strange that it was allowed to be released.

    As for the future, I believe in Fate, but in the Sliding Doors way - so my action can be important, but... (pause to avoid spoilers!)

  11. I didn't know NEXT was based on a PKD story. Maybe I should watch it sometime just to say I did?

  12. We watched Next on DVD. It had its moments, and it wan't all bad. (Hey, I managed to make it all the way through Zardoz. Next was easy compared to that.)

    I think it behooves us to look at what trends we can see for the future and do our best to prepare. Oil is going to run out eventually, and ignoring that ahead of time won't change it.


  13. Every decision we make changes what will happen in the future.

  14. Brilliant blog post! I admire anyone who can write something which really makes me think.

  15. I've never seen Next, but I like these types of conundrums.

  16. Yikes - I never saw Next...and actually, I don't even remember it! But, I did enjoy Minority Report and loved the concept behind it all.
    I think you're on to something though - I'm not quite sure how I'd handle knowing the future. You always think it would be so great, but then to think of what great things might not happen because you changed something else? Yeah, maybe it's best to not have this ability.

  17. To know the future would take all the fun out of life, nothing to look forward to, no reason to try. Thanks for stopping by my blog!
    -MJ A to Z blogger

  18. So what we're dealing with is the Uncertainty Principle. I almost liked Next. I think I was going okay until the end, but I'm not remembering exactly. I do remember liking Paycheck, though, even if I don't remember much about it.
    Time stories are so hard to do. I read that Peculiar Children book, recently, and it was horrible because it had time travel in it and just screwed it up so badly.

  19. Dick's stories are great. I'd not heard of Next.

  20. I've always thought precog would be the worst superpower or talent to have :)

  21. Thanks for visiting mine. I am glad I stopped by. I love your theme. I am a firm believe that we can build the future by setting goals, and heading towards them. Its fluid, open to choice and possibility. The danger is that the future is the produce of individual choices coming together in unforeseen ways. In some ways, Asimov's foundation trilogy, where math is used to understand the future, into how individual choices aggregate into future outcomes, and rings more possible than precog. Minority Report focuses on individual futures and individual choices. I am not familiar with Next.

  22. Okay, I know your blog is about Sci Fi stuff, but did you see Nic Cage in Season of the Witch? Seriously, not sure how someone stars in such a wide range of fantastic vs crap.

  23. I thought Next was okay, but it certainly didn't stick with me.

  24. I loved Minority Report and Paycheck. I'm not sure I'd ever even heard of Next before now.

  25. You know I just realized that I did see Next. It was playing late one night on TV when we were on vacation. We didn't see it from the beginning, and your description reminded me of the title. It was an interesting concept. Julie

  26. Laughing Ferret – My point exactly! Science fiction, even really BAD science fiction, can be philosophical and important.

    Rusty – Yeah, that can be really disappointing. It’s one of the downsides to sci-fi making it to mainstream, big budget films.

    Cassie – I simply couldn’t resist!

    Gwen – haha, yeah, that’s my problem too when I start thing about these things. Too many story ideas, not enough time.

    Kimberlee – I would agree. Just look at Voldermort and Harry.

    effervescencia – I haven’t read that one. Oh no, yet ANOTHER trip to the book store headed my way.

    Annalisa – I really love Sliding Doors. It’s just a great story to start with, but also has such an interesting take on alternate realities. One of my favorites.

    Joshua – I don’t know. It’s pretty bad. But I guess anything related to PKD is worth at least a look. Just remember I warned you…

    Erin M. – it did have some good parts. I really liked that one line I quoted in particular.

    Grover – Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    Erin L. and MJ – It’s certainly tempting to know, but ultimately, I think it might cause more problems than not.

    Andrew – Oh no. I just bought that book, but I haven’t read it yet. To return or not to return… (Also, love the very idea of the Uncertainty Principle. Cool stuff.)

    Sabrinagarie – I’m glad you stopped by. I can tell based on your post what fabulous taste you have. Asimov and PDK…nice.

    Jade Oak Marsh – As a matter of fact, I did. In theaters. With my friend Steven. We enjoy watching terrible movies together. Most recently, Lockout. Cage does have interesting and widely varied taste in movies. Some VERY odd choices. But I sure do love National Treasure and Face Off.

  27. Well... I don't know what to tell you. Maybe it will be like Hunger Games and you'll like it anyway. I will add, though, that my wife just read it, too. She started out liking it and really gave me a hard time for not liking it. Told me I was being too hard on it and too nit-picky and all kinds of things like that. However, by the time she got to the end, she felt the same way I did. The book really feels like he just made it all up as he went along and never went back and fixed all the logic holes he created while throwing in whatever cool new thing he'd just thought of. My thing is that you can make up whatever rules you want to make up for your world, but, once you make them up, you need to follow them.

    1. Agreed. I have no problem with outlandish ideas, but I do expect consistency once you have. I'm definitely thinking I'll return this one and get a lovely PDK I'm had my eye on. He never misses.

  28. I think this perfectly explains my aversion to tarot cards and palm readers. I like the path that I'm on just fine, and I don't want to know where it's heading or to change it. I have also learned from all of those speculative books (and even mythology) that knowing the future damns you to it. Great post. :-)

  29. I've never seen Next, but I find no matter how bad a movie based off PKD is there's always something brilliant about it. If I could see the future I think it would create too many complications to be of any practical use. New follower!
    - Maurice Mitchell
    The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
    @thegeektwins | @mauricem1972