Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review of science fiction movie K-PAX

                I had some idea about what would happen in K-PAX before I watched it. Pax is a Latin word which means “peace”. However, nominative forms of Latin words rarely hint at their English derivations, so one must look to the genitive, which, in the case of pax is pacis. From pacis we get the word “pacify” and its various forms. The supposed alien, named Prot, appears to be on a mission of pacification.
                K-PAX is not hard science fiction, meaning the nuts and bolts of his technology are not explored. The viewer is given no information at all as to how Prot could have arrived on Earth based on science that we understand. Thus, this movie falls into soft science fiction and possibly even fantasy. However, Prot sidestepped the questions concerning his journey by merely mentioning we don’t know everything about light and even mentioning tachyons. Tachyons are real and are charged particles (such as electrons) that travel faster than light in water (not outer space); they are visible as a blue glow in the water used to cool uranium rods in nuclear reactors, which is called “Cherenkov radiation”. If this were hard science fiction, then Prot would have explained, using science we understand, how he was able to travel to Earth a distance of 1000 light years in a fraction of the required time using no spaceship. He was completely right that nothing can actually accelerate to the speed of light. I was impressed by that, but mentioning tachyons was a cheap shot that indicates poor science fiction. The word “hard” in hard science fiction simply means one must adhere to the laws of science; it is not implicative of difficult reading or viewing. Star Wars, for example, is not hard science fiction. Neither is Star Trek. Both regularly violate the known laws of physics. As it stands, K-PAX also violates the laws of physics, thus denying it into the hard realm.

                                                           *SPOILERS BELOW*
               It may seem I’m a stickler and only appreciate science fiction that plays by the rules. However, I greatly enjoyed the generous speculation allowed in K-PAX. It is conceivable that Prot simply became catatonic and the girl somehow escaped. But I would prefer to believe that Prot was an alien. It makes things more interesting.                                   
                In my opinion, Prot was an alien that could detect other life forms in the end stages of acute depression, in the act of suicide. This guaranteed him a proper body when traveling to an alien planet, from his perspective. By securing the corpse of one recently deceased, such as through drowning, he could “put on” the perfect disguise and easily blend with the locals. The side effect of his disguise was that he retained the memories of the previous owner (of the body). This explains his pain during the hypnosis. This also explains why he continually mentioned to the other patients that he could take only one person and why the body of Robert Porter was found under the bed. I could be an ass and complain about his inability to handle two bodies after demonstrating his ability to cross 1000 light years by providing intimate knowledge of his home system to a group of astonished astronomers. But the “rules” in the world of K-PAX allow Prot to handle one body at a time. So he had to leave Porter’s body behind in order to take the woman.
                                                              *SPOILERS END*

                I keep a list of all the science fiction novels I’ve read. The list stands at more than 350 novels. Despite all that I’ve read, I have never heard of K-PAX, or the author, Gene Brewer. He has written four K-PAX novels and a fifth has been announced, so there is a fairly large fan base. I recommend visiting his website: http://www.genebrewer.com/  
                Summarily, K-PAX was oxymoronic soft science fiction. Prot was a pacifistic alien from a world devoid of families and emotions. Why would an alien that is basically ignorant of human emotions perform so many altruistic acts? I would expect such an alien to demonstrate indifference towards our problems, to remain aloof and observe coldly. Yet, then again, if you watch the news, people are a pretty rough lot. It’s normal to be selfish and violent. Forgive the pun, but there was nothing inhuman in Prot’s behavior. It is merely ironic that an inhuman being acting humanely was mistaken for a human acting inhumanely.
                Soft science fiction can be a lot of fun, as is evident by the enormous fan bases of the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. Anything that violates rules leaves a lot of room for playful speculation and K-PAX was indeed a fun movie. I can think of many soft sci-fi films pretty easily, but hard sci-fi is neither ubiquitous nor cheerily playful. Hard sci-fi can leave one feeling morose, emptied of hope, and disturbingly cold. This is partly because it plays by the rules. Some of hard sci-fi is cautionary fiction, a type of warning of things to come (that hopefully don’t).
                The best hard sci-fi movie I’ve ever seen also starred Kevin Spacey. He played the voice of a robot. The movie, called “Moon”, was released in 2009, but it never came to theaters in St. Louis (that I know of). I heard of it through one of my cousins that follows obscure science fiction more closely than I, and I eventually watched it through Amazon’s download service. It completely shocked me and it is the most horrible example of exploitation of human life I have ever seen. The same director made another movie in a similar vein, titled “Source Code”. Source Code had a much wider release, so I saw it in the theaters. Unlike Moon, Source Code was not cautionary and had a more pleasant theme (though still somewhat uncomfortable).
                The most popular hard sci-fi film is 2001: A Space Odyssey. I found it barely interesting and I read the 3 sequel novels only because the author has written some books that I do like, such as Rendezvous with Rama. Contact is another popular one, but I didn’t like it, either. A few more hard sci-fi films that I did like were Children of Men and Solaris. Solaris was written by a Polish science fiction author in 1961 and was made into a movie by a Russian director in 1972 and remade in 2002 starring George Clooney. I have seen the Russian version of Solaris and it was a philosophical treat. The most similar movie to Solaris, from a philosophical point of view, is Dark City. Both Solaris and Dark City question how we handle memories that may or may not belong to us.

NOTICE: I spent about an hour trying to find a way to either change the color of the text or make it invisible in the part concerning spoilers. While actually editing the document, my color changes worked perfectly. I was able to change the color of the text so that one was required to highlight it in order to read it. However, when I posted it here, it did not retain my changes. I know how to make the text hidden, but then there is no way to read it.