Things To Come, 1936

This is certainly a unique movie. The action sequences are incredible–not only are they horrifying and fairly realistic (well, futuristic too), but they’re interspersed with semi-abstract montages that add a nightmarish quality. The blobby plastic-looking tanks are a bit much, but, as I suppose they were easily-modeled, there’s plenty to give a good battle simulation. As we quickly segue from 1940 to 1970, good olde Everytown is not only literally in a post-apocalyptic state, it even has plague-infected ‘hillpeople’ survivors. In fact, we’re pretty much back to Medieval times.

Meanwhile, Passworthy (Edward Chapman) makes a blustering ninny who thinks “the last war (WWI) wasn’t as bad as all that.” Later, he’s become a warlord of sorts, strutting about in cavemen furs draped over a Teutonic uniform with “I’m master here! I’m the State!” on his lips. Cabal (Raymond Massey) has become his more civilized antagonist. The sublime multi-engine aircraft are beautiful art deco creations. And dropping paratroopers, no less, along with ‘peace gas’ (that surely puts us comfortably in 1970). The futuristic stuff keeps coming with the mining and excavating machinery; parts of an underground city of intricate beauty in 2036. Giant pneumatic tube-like elevators and monorails operate around a utopian cityscape. Plus, the interiors are equally streamlined visions of tomorrow; with a video/TV monitor, and wrist-mounted cellphones for the big-shots.

The sets reach their ultimate development once we get to the space cannon; its monumental launching apparatus reached by the sleek helicopter. By this time, the Passworthy character has become a ‘good guy’. But then, there’s Thanotocopulos (Cedric Hardwicke), a sort of Luddite rabble-rouser. Whereas Passworthy’s war-mongering characters are clearly meant to be dangerous, if not sinister, it’s hard to figure how we’re supposed to take the more ambiguous Thanotocopulos. The fact that the moon launch comes off as planned means only that the Cabal forces prevail, not that ‘the establishment’ has moral ascendancy.

I like the last few lines “If we’re no more than little animals, then we must grasp every little scrap of happiness.” Sort of an existentialist, make-the-best-of-it bit of confident resignation. I also like that Things To Come leaves us puzzled about the wisdom of our choices. A ground-breaking sci-fi movie that has a breathless scope, and anticipates so much in the genre.

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