Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Book to Movie: The Discarded (2007)

Book to Movie: The Discarded (2007)
Teleplay by Harlan Ellison
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Based on the short story, The Discarded by Harlan Ellison

In 2007, Harlan Ellison, already an old hand at writing teleplays, adapted his short story, The Discarded, from Paingod and Other Delusions for the ABC TV miniseries, Masters of Science Fiction. Ellison stayed true to his own story and the result was perhaps the best of that show’s limited run.

The teleplay very closely mirrors the short story. We get much more dialogue between de facto captain, Bedzyk and his sidekick Samswope who is always accompanied by his second head. This is to develop the characters where the short story used a narrative voice.

Bedzyk (played by Brian Dennehy) has a malformed arm. As mentioned, Samswope has a second, smaller head which opens its mouth every now and then to claim to be the real Samswope. Samswope and Bedzyk have a closer relationship in the teleplay than they do the short story.

The television episode opens just as in the short story with the woman killing herself by repeatedly ramming her head into the space station’s window. Bedzyk orders a cleanup and the body is unceremoniously jettisoned out a portal. Such is life and death aboard this ship filled with the mutants of earth, exiled for their grotesque mutations.

Bedzyk learns from one of the station’s occupants that a ship bound from earth is en route to the station. The ship arrives and Ambassador Barney Curnan from Earth Central arrives, dressed resplendently in his sharp, white uniform. He tells Bedzyk he has a proposal for him.

Bedzyk, Samswope, the station’s de facto navigator, Frenchy, and Curnan retire to the atrium to discuss what Curnan has to say. Bedzyk makes it clear from the beginning he’s not really interested in anything anybody from earth has to say.

Curnan says that the mutations did not stop with the exile of the mutants nearly a generation before. They stopped for awhile, but have commenced again. This time, the disease, known as VIGUM is spreading faster. They have a cure, but to produce mass quantities, they need the blood of first generation infected. In exchange, the Discards can return to earth. Curnan says the inhabitants of earth regret having exiled their fellow man and will welcome them back.

A mutant is standing nearby. When he hears Bedzyk reject Curnan’s proposal out of hand, he moves in to attack. He accidentally kills the station’s navigator. The commotion brings the rest of the station’s inhabitants. Samswope argues with Bedzyk and soon all of the ships residents are arguing with Bedzyk to give them the chance to go home. Bedzyk reminds them that they have always relied on him for his leadership and they ought to stick with him now and not believe the honeyed words from the man from earth.

Samswope has heard enough. He grabs a metal pole and hits Bedzyk over the head. The blow kills Bedzyk. Samswope is momentarily stricken with grief for having killed his friend, but quickly remembers that he has the opportunity to return to earth. Curnan’s proposal is agreed to by acclamation.

Medical technicians are brought to the ship and the process of drawing a blood supply commences. The Discarded develop friendships with the technicians and look forward to reuniting on earth. The technicians leave with the promise to send a ship to retrieve the discarded.

Word comes to Samswope that a ship is again en route from earth. As the ship nears, Samswope weds two women and one man. The mood aboard the ship is jolly and excited. The ship docks and the Discarded prepare to leave for home. When the door opens, instead of a crew to help them aboard, they are greeted by dozens of new mutants who are joining the population of exiles. Among them is Ambassador Curnan.

Samswope goes to the atrium and commits suicide by repeatedly bashing his main head against the window, just as the woman did at the beginning of the show. His body is unceremoniously dumped into space.

Each episode of the Masters of Science Fiction is a morality tale drawn from the works of great writers in the field. In this case, the moral was, even when man realizes he’s committed a horrible injustice, he’s bound to repeat it.

What immediately came to my mind after seeing Ellison’s story on television was the case of the Japanese Americans interred during World War II. It was supported at the time because of paranoia of an enemy agent lurking among the Japanese population. It was a source of embarrassment for the American government for many years. President Reagan issued a formal apology for the action in 1986, acknowledging it as a grave injustice. But then came 9/11. We have not gone so far as to inter Muslims, but they are subject to more restrictions and bigotry than other Americans. Our sins against our fellow Americans are not as egregious as they were to the Japanese of the 1940s, but it is still a sin and it is the same sin.

Ellison wrote this story in 1957, long before 9/11. Not only is he a brilliant writer, but, unfortunately, a prescient one.

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