Spoilers for ‘Spiderhead’ below
The cinema is experiencing a literary moment of science fictionwith some recent science fiction proposals that will be classics in the future. With the film and television adaptations of successful novels (‘Ready Player One’, ‘Dune’ -by the way, ‘Dune 2’ is already in development-, ‘Brave New World’ and, the most ambitious, ‘The Three Body Problem’) and the new adaptations of stories short films (‘Arrival’, ‘The Invisible Man’ and now ‘Spiderhead’), the big and small screens are searching the library for new material. And not just by drawing on the brilliant work of Philip K. Dick.
Premiered on June 17, ‘Spider-head’, from Netflixis based on ‘Escape from Spiderhehead’, a short story by George Saunders, which first appeared in ‘The New Yorker’ in 2010. The story is a first-person account of an imprisoned man who participates in laboratory experiments. The experiments become increasingly sadistic as he is forced to watch other test subjects receive painful injections known as Darkenfloxx™, causing them to temporarily endure extreme fear and suffering.
The tone of the story is in keeping with much of Saunders’s work, which is often features blue-collar men and women working in mostly callous capitalist environments. Just like his other stories, ‘Escape from Spiderhead’ also features layers of heartfelt humor under these mostly melancholic circumstances.
The Netflix adaptation tries to capture these complex tonalities, adding an easy-to-listen soundtrack, with generally mixed results. Structured more like a cinematic act than a full movie, the original story has been expanded to include more information about the imprisoned man, Jeff, and his fellow inmates. The film also changes Jeff’s crime and relationship with those in the outside world. Although these changes have not forced filmmaker Joseph Kosinski, whose latest film ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ has outperformed Marvel at the box office, to also alter the ending of the story, the writers have chosen to forego Saunders’s more tragic ending in favor of of a conventional Hollywood-style fugue.
That’s right are the two endings of the story.
How the Netflix version ends
After refusing to administer Darkenfloxx to the women he slept with, Jeff (Miles Teller) is asked to do the same to Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett).who will have his own movie in the DCU as Black Canary), her best friend and sentimental partner.
Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth, who will release ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ next month), who Jeff initially believes is testing each drug separately for different purposes – a love drug for love, a fear drug for fear, etc.- he is actually trying a different drug, but one designed to induce absolute obedience. However, before Lizzy’s experiment, Jeff convinces Abnesti’s assistant to remove the obedience drug from his package and equip Abnesti with the drug. Jeff then uses the drug controls on Abnesti, who resists.
Jeff saves Lizzy in time, but Abnesti has already fled, causing the entire prison to fall on Jeff and Lizzy, who are trying to escape. Meanwhile, Abnesti’s assistant has notified the authorities of the illegal experiments taking place on the island. They arrive in time to see Abnesti take off in a biplane. However, Abnesti’s backpack has been damaged in her altercation with Jeff, and she experiences a drug overload, causing her to crash into the island’s mountain.
Jeff and Lizzy manage to escape by boat.
Before his escape, Jeff learns that he has already been paroled and has been held captive on the island illegally., meaning that once he escapes, he will presumably be able to return to his life without fear of being caught. The same goes for Lizzy.
How does the short story end?
Much of the film departs from the story. Jeff doesn’t kill his girlfriend and his friend in a car accident. Instead, he kills his friend with a brick as they fight. Jeff doesn’t have any romantic relationships in or out of prison (so there is no Lizzy) and he calls his mom when she gets a chance to use the phone.
Although many of the experiments in the story are similar to those in the film, we learn nothing about Abnesti or the company. The drug of obedience is used in the story, but it is not the main objective of the experiments. (the experiments focus more on the development of a love drug).
As in the movie, Darkenfloxx’s first forced contact for one of Jeff’s sexual partners ends with his death.. The final scene of the story, however, involves a second forced Darkenfloxx, but with another sexual partner, not a romantic interest. Jeff refuses. Abnesti then leaves the room to get permission to use the obedience drug on Jeff, who discovers the controls of the pack on him and throws it out a nearby vent. His backpack breaks, releasing all the drugs simultaneously, including his own Darkenfloxx. The narrator then describes his final ascent.
“From the other side of the forest, by common accord, the birds left their trees and rushed upwards. I joined them, flew among them, they did not recognize me as something apart from them, and I was happy, so happy, because for For the first time in years, and forever, I hadn’t killed, and never would.
We are led to believe that Jeff escapes Spiderhead through suicide.
Will there be a ‘Spiderhead 2’?
By not killing Jeff, hehe filmmakers have left open the possibility of a sequel. However, it is not yet known if there will be a Spiderhead 2. It is likely that Netflix will wait to know the success of the film among its subscribers before launching itself for a second part.
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