Things to Come

Justin Brewer


Social Assessment 1

Things to Come


In a rare example of film, Things to Come, does not offer a traditional story arc, or stick with one main protagonist, but rather plays out like a speculative documentary. Offering an overarching moral lesson about how we should govern our future with daring and knowledge instead of violence. This film was made in 1936, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and had the screenplay written by H.G. Wells. Things to Come was an UK film, and was met with mixed reactions upon its release. The consensus of the audience was that this was much an average film though unique in its time. As a result the movie has had little impact on society, besides the wandering sickness inspiring future zombie films. Especially in comparison to what was achieved in other works over the span of H.G. Wells’s lifetime. Although it has flaws, many note that it depicts a very realistic time frame for the start of World War Two, and manages to get a good grasp of future technologies.

This film takes a generational approach to its narrative, with the same actors reprising decedents of their family’s line as the story progresses. The movie starts in Everytown, which is a mockup of an English town. In 1940a s Christmas is the main center of everyone’s attention, the looming war foreshadowed through out the first scene goes over the heads of the populace. Soon as foretold war breaks out interrupting the evening of the Cabal family’s enjoyment. The chaos of a bombing run envelopes the city, and in the echos of war the film flashes forward to an aerial battle between John Cabal and an unnamed enemy, that is promptly shot down. John then lands his plane and contemplates war with the downed fighter as gas rolls in from the enemy. Choosing to save a little girl ironically from his own gas the enemy pilot sacrifices himself to give life in an effort to aid humanity than destroy it, which is the beginning of the moral lesson. Once again moving forward, Everytown has devolved into a dictatorship run by a wartime economy. With the wandering disease a rampant biological weapon, contributing to the devolution of man down to a base level. John Cabal returns to his hometown as the member of a new organization dedicated to peace known as Wings over the World. Though he is captured and interrogated his prediction that his organization, dedicated to peace instead of war, will win comes true. As they reclaim the town through more peaceful means in order to improve the lives of its citizens instead of dominating them. With one final flash forward to the year 2036 Everytown has escalated into an underground metropolis, filled with leisure, proving that the intellectual path has merit over war, and yet discord still surfaces at the attempts to travel in space at the risk of life. The complacent citizen’s quickly rise to anger after a rousing speech and attempt to destroy the gun that will fire the space pod. The ancestor’s of John have realized this outcome and manage to race to the gun beforehand so that they may fire it out of the need for intellectual conquest. Though they succeed with the gun the rioters still manage to destroy it after it has fired. This resulting conflict is left unsolved however, as the audience is left with a metaphorical ending that results in the question if it is better to challenge the world and prosper or to stagnate in complacency like an animal. With this final thought the credits begin to roll, and although the end result was certainly not a well paced narrative, often jumping to different situations with little context, the strong moral message of the future is delivered well enough and brings a good deal of discussion in relation to the social elements of the film.

Aptly starting with the social control and culture of the film, the themes are explored very differently over the three separate time zones. In 1940, the culture of Everytown is very proud of its nation and military. There is a norm of celebrating the holiday of Christmas, and children can be seen receiving gifts associated with soldiers, and even dress as soldiers out of admiration. These people seem to value their freedom as a right, with little worry for the impending war even though it is almost upon them. Forward in time to 1970, Everytown has a similar, yet drastically heightened view of war as it has become the new norm. At this point in time it has consumed their culture leaving the town to be lead by a warlord who urges them on in constant struggle. Here no children dress as the military, and in a way every member of town serves to aid the military in there struggles against whichever enemy they are pointed against. A sanction that can be seen is with the handling of those with the wandering disease. These men and women are shot instead of treated like one would expect in a civilized world. With resources scarce this harsh way of doing things permeates the citizens over time, to accept death and war as the only way. This leads to a value of strength over intelligence in the population, as good soldiers would do better for the wartime. In a stark contrast the world of 2036 has come to accept freedom of choice and knowledge as the norms for citizens to follow, along with the values of intelligence and effort. There are roles in society dedicated to passions such as art, and little danger present, save the risk of testing the next frontier. With this lifestyle the values of peace and knowledge are key to the ending of war in order to create a lasting land of plenty and not famine. Overall the film presents these norms and values to be the building blocks towards what Wells believes is the ideal society, and therefore you can see in the language across all the eras how the intellectuals talk of peace at odds to the despots that only can speak of war to secure what they believe to be safety through force.

In the social structures that make up society the major factor of separation seems to be the intelligence of the person. The people who start war and strife within the film are depicted as selfish and forceful, not surprising as these are the traits needed continue a war for such a prolonged time. The intelligent engineers and craftsmen of the movie have an altruistic quality, instead either wishing to abolish war through progress, or looking out for the safety of their people. The few times that we see women in this film, they play supporting rolls, leading to the assumption that in all eras that the main culture is patriarchal in nature. Even the daughter of Oswald Cabal is only going on the mission because of her heritage, and not due to any special qualifications that she is shown to possess. The older men are treated in a similar manner to the women in this film. Though they are respected more, they offer the more expected roll of wisdom, yet they do not actively take part in the conflicts. This leads them to serve more of a explanation role in this culture to the children than as active workers in society. The children themselves are shown to be important in both the 1940’s and in 2036 where they are seen as the future of society and are kept in close to family to raise and educate them to be the best as possible. In 1970 the children can be seen left mostly to their own devices in the streets, suggesting that there is little family suggesting that the work of the parents supersedes raising the children. The idea of poiting towards the future is a central theme in the film, so children make up a good part of the foreshadowing in the film. We first see the little boy dressed as a soldier to represent the coming wartime world, and then the little girl in 2036 is filled with awe and whimsey at the past; which represents the success of looking towards the past while realizing that the future that exits now is better.

Of the social institutions in Things to Come, Family, the military, and the Wings over the World play the biggest parts in the film. As previously stated in both 1940 and 2054 family is shown to be enormously important to society, because they are recognized as the next ones to inherit the direction of the world. Specifically in regards to children although we see no formal means of education, it seems that the elders of the community teach the children to some degree. The military is most seen in the 1970 era, where it makes up the ruling class of society. Specifically the military is used to enforce rules and to uphold the general order of society. Wings over the World, being the establishing force of the new government in 1970 is a form of military focused on using nonlethal means assert control over territory. Unlike the totalitarian rule of Everytown, the Wings over the World are lead by a council of free men to illustrate everyone as intellectual equals that make decisions together, and do not simply follow orders. In 2036 idea of military has been phased out entirely in favor the way of peace, leaving the people to govern themselves by the norms that are upheld in that community. Although there is a governing council to delegate laws and actions ,there seems to be little enforcing these decisions. As for overall importance to the film, the institutions that uphold order being phased out is shown as a progression of mankind, in that man can lead his or her own destiny without being forced into line.

Societal change comes in a wave of destruction and then rebuilding. At the start of 1940 the war begins and humans quickly release biological weapons to use against the enemy. From polite society to war the human race gets crueler as it destroys itself through hatred. Resorting in the 1970’s to flat out killing any infected that they notice, and then going right back to war when the plague has been dealt with. Wings over the World bring back with them the change towards a common goal of civilized society again, however this time war will not be tolerated and strength will not be valued over the brain. These changes seem to come fast to the people of Everytown as right after Wings over the World has taken over, the process of rebuilding starts. Showing off the effort needed to expand Everytown in the montage, it would make sense that the next change in society is a break from working, and with the looming dangers of space travel this gives the public the trigger to act on their fears. It is not shown in the aftermath of the riot if the rest has become the new norm or not, as the last scene continues the conflict metaphorically without an answer. Through out the film, these changes are more seen in the background, as results of the other changes in environment over the course of time. It is implied that the means of conquest and discovery through effort will continue as according to the film that is the true way to overcome the base animal nature that human’s share.

Similar to societal change, the technology in this movie get’s worse before man can progress. In 1940 the technology was typical of the era, cars were present, tanks and guns were plentiful, and planes were the newest and most influential technology. As the war continued on into 1970 the importance of airplanes became a cornerstone of the military, as whoever controlled the air would win the war. Other than the remnants of technology left over Everytown has devolved into a dark age setting, where guns seem to be the only surviving technology available, and fitting for a wartime community. The rest of the town relies on horse drawn wagons or car wrecks. Medicine has reverted to the most basic practice, and people have lost the ability to manufacture goods of any kind.

It will not be until 2036 that we see the jump in technology to befit a society that holds intelligence higher than all other traits. In order to renovate Everytown after the way, Large plasma drills were used to carve out an underground city, large factories can also be seen during the rebuilding montage, in order to manufacture walls for the buildings. Over time medicine has improved to the point of extending lifespan. Sunlight is also no longer necessary to live because they have developed a way to create artificial sunlight in their cities. Furthermore in the field of aviation helicopters have replaced planes as the main method of fast transit, and they have developed rudimentary space travel via use of a rail gun. Even the media has been expanded upon with large flat screen monitors being used to communicate to the masses. The importance of technology flourishing in the final era creates the notion that without war and fear holding humanity back, true technological achievement can be made.

The environment plays second fiddle to the other topics in this film. Although we can be sure that by 1970 humanity has managed to wipe out a vast majority of habitable land through war. Pestilence comes in the form of the Wanderers disease, that ended in a mass purging of the sick, damaged the cultural environment of humans. In 2036 there is no longer a need to live outdoors so the entirety of the environment is man made by that point in time. However, it is interesting to note that the town is not heavily industrialized, but instead is mainly made of open ground for travel and meeting, and not for production as the Everytown of the past was for a wartime economy. The only outdoor area we see is the base of the gun, and although there is plant life, most of the area is covered by the same material as Everytown. At least this shows the the people of the furture were able to recreate the natural land above after it was ravaged by war.

These social aspects of society, lead to the question that by 2036 will our society match any of the predictions shown in the film? From the point of values and norms, this is a yes, in the current real world society, there has been a major push towards increased of leisure because technology that makes everyday tasks easier for humanity. Also intelligence is being sought more than ever so that the latest technology can continue to be developed for the sake of economic and societal growth. However, our social structures will not be similar, unlike in Things to Come there are still multiple races and tensions between individuals due to differing religions and opinions,which will lead to conflict. Economic stratification between classes seems to be increasing if anything, because of the gap between the rich and the poor has been statistically getting wider. So the notion that humanity can achieve peace through valuing the intelligence of the individual is a far way off. With differences comes discord and war, and there will need to be a group of officers, and military to deal with upholding defense and laws. Even in the future there will probably never be an escape from people to enforce what society deems right. In all ways the technology of the future will far outpace what was shown in the film, as even the current technology in the present is more advanced. When it comes to the environment, the real future is more likely to destroy the environment than live underground while preserving it.

In conclusion this film, while showing a strong moral towards peace through science, it was not critically a hit, nor a hit with the audience. More than anything at the time this film simply was an average experience. It won ninth best British movie of 1936, and had a budget of £300,000. Audiences today receive the film better than the original viewers. Often praising the film for its originality and view of the future from the perspective of 1936. The only notable pop culture influence the the film had was surprisingly the zombie genre, which often borrowed several traits of the wandering sickness as a base for zombie behavior. The idea that the people of the world can get along based on a common intellect, and without any enforcement is so far a dream at best, but the portrayals of technology though dated are startlingly accurate. Overall this film shows an interesting spin on how Wells viewed a future Utopian society would work, just the package that it delivers it in can be hard to follow.

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