Cold Lazarus is the companion piece to Karaoke (see our review), and the last work Dennis Potter wrote as he struggled against his fatal illness. While Karaoke can stand on its own, Cold Lazarus is best understood as a companion piece or sequel to it. Donald Feeld, the writer from Karaoke (and, in many respects, Dennis Potter’s alter ego), hints at his own final project in Karaoke, one in which he wishes to combine virtual reality and cryogenics. That, then, is what Potter did here.
Cold Lazarus is set in the year 2368. A group of scientists at a cryogenic laboratory have come close to being able to revive the memories of a preserved brain, projecting it in fits and spurts on a huge screen at the lab. The brain — the mind that they are mining — is, of course, none other than that of Donald Feeld, and therefore many of the memories are actually scenes from Karaoke.
All is not well in the 24th century. To get the mind to reveal its secrets is an expensive proposition, and the ultra-rich Martina Masdon for whom the scientists work isn’t pleased with how her money is being wasted. A friend of Masdon’s, multimedia mogul (president of Uniplanet Total Entertainment) David Siltz, sees a great opportunity here: he sees the memories as marvelous reality-TV (and VR — virtual reality, now available via big headsets), and he tries to get the scientists to work for him (a betrayal Masdon would never permit). There is also a subversive anti-technological group, RON (Reality or Nothing) that sabotages the technologically-dominated world of that time.
In Potter’s dystopia technology, especially media, dominates all. Virtual Reality helmets and TV are the great escape, while cigarettes and similar substances are outlawed. Society seems little changed, and the caricatures of the wealthy Masdon and the entertainment-mogul Siltz are merely more exaggerated and more powerful versions of stock contemporary figures.
The scientists, led by Emma Porlock, are fascinated by their discovery, but also wary of it. They come to realize that meddling with this mind and decidedly not letting it rest in peace may not be the right thing to do. “We are his torturers,” they come to understand. The memories they see are a varied lot, including scenes from football matches, Feeld’s final days, as well as a horrific sexual assault perpetrated on the young Feeld.
Some of the scientists sympathize (passively and actively) with RON, and there are dangers both in everyday life as well as this particular experiment that begins to attract too much attention.
Tempted to sell out to Siltz, they also have qualms. But, as Siltz reminds them: “your defrosted lump of gristle is going to be plugged into everybody’s TV and VR helmet, no matter what !”
Potter tells a decent story, but much of it is too simplistic. Evil is presented in unbelievable caricature, and the 24th century resembles a 1950s vision of it (looking even worse in the TV version). There are some good points, and some genuine drama, but it is also a somewhat messy script. It is a good enough read, but not Potter in top form. The highpoints are the interplay between Feeld and the scientists — Potter gets some of this just right — but much of the rest is over the top and undermines what Potter tried to accomplish.
3.18GB | 3 h 21 min | 688×432 | avi