Once upon a time, there were science fiction novelists roaming the earth, being regarded with respect and importance. Now, we have Suzanne Collins. These days the genre of literary sci-fi fiction is a somewhat depleted one, compared to the wealth of output in the ’60s: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, as well as their surrealist disciples: Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon. But more than most fictional output, sci-fi has a tendency to date, especially onscreen. Who, today, can look upon the ’80s sci-fi aesthetic of Star Wars and Blade Runner as anything more than a product of a time long ago and far away but hardly indicative of how things will look in the future.
This, among others, is Alex Proyas‘ dilemma in taking on Robert Heinlein’s 1942 novella, The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag. Having two previous projects, Paradise Lost and Dracula Year Zero, get cut loose, he seems to be setting himself up for further heartbreak by trying to adapt the notoriously strange and difficult work to the screen. Or is he? Hoag concerns a faulty memory-split identity plotline in the manner of Total Recall or The Matrix, in which the title character realizes he has no idea what he does in the daytime (but is faced with some disturbing clues, like blood under his fingernails). Though the plot might recall more familiar ’90s signifiers of a faceless workplace (Fight Club, American Psycho) the idea of the work clone is still alive and well, even in the midst of a recession in which people have no problem lining up for soul-crushing work. Will Proyas’ version of Hoag strike a chord with office workers? Or is the modern audience content with the empathetic irony of The Office and similar shows?