Monday, May 05, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Things to Come

Things to Come (1936) 6/10
Science fiction showing one hundred years in one anonymous city ("Everytown"), based on the work of H.G. Wells. The film begins in 1940 when (a fictional) World War II breaks out; war lasts decades, at which point, bombing and germ warfare have devasted civilization. In 1970, Everytown, now a primitive feudal state, is invaded by "Wings Over the World," a newly-formed world government, ruled by a scientific elite, that has re-started manufacturing and air travel. By 2036, society is a technological utopia.

You will often hear people talk about the times we live in as an ironic age, and about the 1930s and 1940s as being without irony. Things to Come is really a perfect expression of that. It is the least ironic movie ever made. I really wish I'd seen it with a bunch of drunken gays, because it simply longs for camp.

You can see how this movie must have been exciting and startling in 1936, and certainly all of the dialogue about ideas (as opposed to relationships or adventure) is interesting, and must have been kind of thrilling. It opens with an ordinary British family (Everytown is London in thin disguise) discussing the coming war; they discuss whether war is ever necessary, and the cost to culture, medicine, and technology. Sure enough, the pessimist wins out; strategic bombing destroys civilization, a plague devastates what's left of society, manufacturing ceases, and the streets of Everytown in 1970 strong resemble 1570.

There's a raw beauty in these scenes, the bombastic "Boss" (Ralph Richardson) is utterly over the top, but the use of cars as horse-drawn carts, and of scraps of old clothes with fur attached as royal robes, is kind of stunning. Then the mighty airman (Raymond Massey) comes. And I do love how, when civilization is rebuilt (in Basra of all places) it's a priority to make sure clothing is futuristic. I'm looking at the guy and thinking, If I were retooling dormant factories, I'd stick with pre-existing molds for efficiency. But no. Gotta have those jumpsuits. The Boss fights back, with like nothing, so it doesn't last long, and John Cabal (Massey) informs us that from now on, it's world government, no religion, and the rule of the Airmen, hurrah. It's all kind of creepy.

Now there's a scene of rebuilding. It's like a love song to manufacturing and technology, about 2 minutes of close-ups of rock-blasting and dye-casting and assembly, all to highly inspirational music. And I thought, these people really love science. Really. Love.

Skip forward to 2036 and everyone is wearing jumpsuits or tunics. And capes. With big-ass shoulder pads. Seriously, I needed to watch this with Chris March. Life is incredibly perfect, except for, you know, the dictatorship. But it's totally benevolent and good for you and run by scientists. Scientists are high-minded and only make decisions that are for the good of high-minded things. There is nothing wrong with that model.

Anyway, it's all utopian. No hunger or poverty or bad weather (underground cities!). And they're just now getting around to shooting a "rocket gun" at the moon. This upsets some people, who think all this progress is just too much. Mankind needs a rest. Progress, progress, progress, it's so tiring. And seriously, this is the actual argument. I'm not leaving out any of the nuance. But of course, the Luddites lose and the rocket gun launches, causing Raymond Massey (playing his own great-grandson) to give a speech about how cool progress is and how without it, life sucks.

(This cross-post has big-ass shoulder pads.)