Home > Clement's Game > Science Fiction Round 32: Paycheck

Science Fiction Round 32: Paycheck

The film is Paycheck.  The basic premise is that the lead character, Michael Jennings, works for companies to reverse-engineer their competitors’ technology, and then have his memory wiped when he’s done.


Now that that’s out of the way, let’s do some analysis.


This is Jennings.  And yes, the train tunnel actually shows up in the movie.

This is Jennings. And yes, the train tunnel actually shows up in the movie.

The Author Is A Spoiler

The movie is based on a short story written by some guy named Phillip Dick.

Given that he’s the author behind the original print versions of Minority Report and Blade Runner, as the poster above says, among other things, you can infer that mind-bending is imminent.

I am reminded of Achron in many ways.  The last job Jennings takes is to [SPOILER] help build a machine that can see into the future.  No time travel, mind you, just see the future.

Turns out, seeing the future makes the world go bonkers in the future, more or less, so Jennings has to set things up so that, after his memory is wiped after the job, he can destroy the machine that lets people see the future.  And uses his past future knowledge to make it work.

Reverse-Engineering The Future

That’s how Jennings approaches the whole situation.  Before his memory is wiped, he uses his foreknowledge to send himself a package of useful goodies.  Once he’s back out in the world, he’s confused about why he gave up his payment… and why he sent himself a back of junk.  A few “coincidental” convenient things push him to realize that he sent himself a bag of tools that he would need to change the future.

Admittedly, this is pretty cool.  Solving the puzzles along with him and watching how small things can change the course of events is great fun.

There’s just one part that has me concerned.

A huge world-war in the wake of future-viewing tech (predicted by said tech) is what causes Jennings to send himself a package in the future to make sure he destroys what he created.

Now, this is all well and good.  Except, he and a friend go back to the machine to destroy it… after looking into the future one more time.

That “one last look” showed Jennings getting shot on a catwalk.  Jennings sees this, and plans to change the future to work around this issue.

But… in between his successful escape and his reading of the future, one of the bad guys has access to the machine.  And looks at what Jennings was looking at, to see him getting shot.

But, if Jennings had changed the future to avoid getting shot, why wasn’t the evil executive able to change the future such that Jennings did get shot?  The only way this makes sense would be if the bad guy was looking at a record of what Jennings saw, rather than the actual future… which isn’t made explicit.

Bad Guy Computer Security

I think the villains had the idiot ball in this one.

I mean, seriously.  You didn’t make backups of the plans for the future-watching device?  You aren’t most of the way done building a second one at a separate facility?  You just let Jennings back into your facility to get at the machine?  You assume he could only be going in there for the power of seeing the future, despite the fact that you know about all the looming disasters if the machine continues to exist?

… yeah.  That, and, to some degree, I think the premise of the device itself is an issue.  Seeing the future inevitably means war, plague and devastation?  I think the problem is that people seem to assume the future is immutable… or their attempts to mitigate that future, cause it to happen… in the future.  Very confusing, of course.

But, for once, could the future we see be a good one?  And our efforts to bring it about cause it to happen only once we see that it can happen?  Or, alternatively, seeing that the future can be good causes everyone to be complacent, leading to a worse future, necessitating the destruction of the device

That might be a more interesting twist.

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