Illustrated Man

Set in the backroads of America, the film enacts three of Bradbury’s short stories set in the future, with Steiger as a man named Carl telling tales behind some of his tattoos, which he insists are not to be called tattoos, but only ever “skin illustrations”, which come to life and tell the illustration’s story when stared at directly. The stories are about virtual reality (“The Veldt”), a mysterious planet (“The Long Rain”) and the end of the world (“The Last Night of the World”). Carl, accompanied by his dog, Peke, tells his tales to Willie, a traveler. The tie-in prologue tells of how Carl came to be tattooed after he encountered a mysterious woman named Felicia (Claire Bloom) in a remote farmhouse. The plot comes to a terrifying conclusion when Willie looks at the only blank patch of skin on Carl’s body and sees an image of his own murder at Carl’s hands. Willie attempts to kill Carl and then flees into the night, pursued by a still-living Carl, with the audience left undetermined as to Willie’s fate.

Story summaries

“The Veldt” – Parents in a futuristic society worry about their children’s mental health when their new virtual reality nursery, which can produce any environment the children imagine, continually projects an African veldt populated by lions feasting on carcasses. A child psychologist suggests that the automated house is not good for the children’s development, and insists they disable the automation and become more self-sufficient. The children are not pleased with this decision, but later coolly agree to it. The children trap their parents in the nursery, where they become prey to the lions. They later have lunch on the veldt with the child psychologist, who sees the lions feasting. Unlike the original story, the psychologist realises what has happened and is horrified.

“The Long Rain” – A group of astronauts are stranded on Venus, where it rains continually and heavily. The travelers make their way across the Venusian landscape to find a “sun dome”, a shelter with a large artificial light source. The first sun dome they find has been destroyed by the native Venusians. Searching for another sun dome, the characters, one by one, are driven to madness and suicide by the unrelenting rhythm of the rain. At the end of the story, only one sane astronaut remains to find a functional sun dome.

“The Last Night of the World” – Every adult on Earth has had the same vision of the Earth ending that night. A husband tells his wife that the ruling council has decided that there is nothing else to do except await the inevitable, and not to tell any children of this (to spare them). The couple and their children go through their normal routines, knowing and accepting the fact that there is no tomorrow. Unlike the original story, the ruling council has decided that all children will be put to death painlessly to spare them “the end” by being given a poison pill before going to bed, but the couple awaken the next morning to find the Earth did not end and are horrified that they have needlessly killed their children.