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Long journey from book to film: Radio Free Albemuth

Satellite called VALIS
Satellite called VALIS
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Scarfe

Radio Free Albemuth


Philip K. Dick’s late works, including VALIS and Radio Free Albemuth, received little notice when they were first published in the early 1980s. Instead, his early works found their way to Hollywood, beginning with the action thriller Bladerunner and the unintentional comedy Total Recall. Explosions, car chases and shoot-outs have been added to minor masterpieces such as Next and Minority Report, while the underrated low-budget Screamers and A Scanner Darkly have been forgotten by most. Another potentially great story, Paycheck, was killed by lackluster performances and careless direction.

Shea Wigham as Philip K. Dick
Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Scarfe

The latest novel to Hollywood effort, Radio Free Albemuth, comes from the blood, sweat and tears of screenwriter/director John Alan Simon. The film itself feels effortless, which no doubt is due to mountains of effort put into it by those who crafted it. The story begins slowly, as the characters discuss the meaning of the strange visions that Nick Brady (played by Jonathan Scarfe) experiences. His friend Phil (Philip K. Dick, played by Shea Whigham) encourages Brady’s journey into mystical experience, despite the protests of Brady’s wife Rachel (played by Katheryn Winnick).

The mainstream media reviewers complain that the movie drags and is "too intellectual" (or philosophical or literary), but they are wrong. If you want car chases and explosions, I recommend that you see Transformers or the latest cookie-cutter action flick starring the aging Tom Cruise. Many reviewers dislike the voice-over narration, but the same sorts of people raved about that device when it was used in The Maltese Falcon.

The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, but it does not drag. Nick is drawn by mystical visions to uproot his comfortable life in Berkeley, California, and make his way to the hectic halls of a Los Angeles recording studio. He lets others believe that his success in selecting hit songs and successful artists comes from market research, but the true source is his visions. A collective entity called VALIS instructs and protects him, while the society around him falls apart.

President Fremont (played by Scott Wilson), who was modeled on Richard Nixon, methodically eliminates every Constitutional protection, transforming the United States into a fascist dictatorship, in order to suppress a terrorist group known as Aramchek. His televised speeches talk about restoring order and stopping terrorism, a contemporary theme in our world. At the most basic level, this movie is about our world today, not some imaginary dystopia of science fiction.

Alanis Morissette adds a touch of class, as well as beauty, in her role as the timid siren Sylvia Sadassa. She leads Nick deeper into the true meaning of his visions and awakens him politically, while Rachel begins to suspect that her husband is having an affair. These characters are loosely based on real people, but they possess qualities unique to the world of fiction. Even Phil, who represents the author who wrote the book, only superficially resembles Philip K. Dick. Every actor, down to the smallest bit part, has made the role his or her own, rounded and real.

The performances are stellar, the story is important, and the ending is worth the price of admission. I will not give you any spoilers, but I will tell you that you will weep over the fate of the characters that you have come to know and love while watching Radio Free Albemuth.


Radio Free Albemuth opened in 10 cities for one week June 27 to July 3. List of Theatres at

The site will be continuously updated as screenings / play dates in theaters are added. For example - RFA has gotten two future bookings this week - Toronto, CA and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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