Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Future is Already There

The film adaption of The Time Machine confusingly blends dystopian sci-fi themes with pedophilic romanticism providing a broad critique of human nature while buttressing the ideology of progress. In the wake of a 367 year long war between “the East and the West,” future England is a seemingly peaceful world full of blonde haired and blue eyed teenagers. George, our similarly Aryan narrator, is terrified to learn that human progress has “ceased” and that a humanoid, man-eating and cave dwelling species has the monopoly of violence and technology. The lesson of the film is that man’s desire for technological advancement is linked to war, destruction and the complete desecration of the environment. All tropes well within “science fiction’s continuing affinity for the dystopian rather than the utopian, with fantasies of cyclical regression or totalitarian empires of the future” (Penley 67). The guiding principles which lead to deaths in the Boer War, we are told, will also bring on nuclear apocalypse.

What strikes me as particularly strange about the narrative constructed by George Pal is that our narrator is both the father of the technologies which destroy mankind and the liberator who frees his offspring from those same oppressive technologies. In the opening scenes of the film we are told that George is familiar with a cohort of scientists who work for the military designing weapons of mass destruction. He is attracted to and repulsed by the positive scientific rationale of his peers. He recognizes the terrible destruction of technological progress but wishes to reimagine technologies use.

But George offers only a partial revision of technologies destructive potential. After witnessing three world wars, each the result of ever more terrifying technologies, he laments that the Eloi have no (observable) technology. Their simple, peaceful and ignorant existence terrifies him. Instead of exploring the benefits of a society not wedded to a progressive narrative of continual improvement he instantly declares them unworthy of thousands of years of human “building and rebuilding.” George unironically attempts to impress upon his na├»ve audience the value of endless successions of violence.

During the climax of the film, it is George who willfully burns the last remaining technological apparatuses from the underground world (and never does he question if these machines are required for the production of food, clothes or clean air). George is the author of Earth’s original destruction and attempts to re-author the narrative of “progress” almost a million years later by destroying what is left of human ingenuity.

The narrative structure of the film becomes truly paradoxical when, in his frustration over his peers disbelief, George returns to the future to spend eternity with his simple-minded descendants and to teach them the true value of technology and progress. George takes with him three books – which are unnamed – in what we can only assume is his attempt to reignite the positive, rational scientific discourse of the 19th century almost a million years later. George, a decidedly 19th century man both in his dress and worldview, can only ever recreate the historical conditions which allow him to feel comfortable and be powerful. Instead of returning to the Eloi to live in their simple bliss with the occasional threat of being abducted by Morlocks – which would never attack him since he lacks the Eloi’s conditioning to the Morlock siren – he returns “back to the future” with the hope of recreating the past.

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