Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Weena is Creepy: Sex and Medium in Time Machine (1960)

The transformation of an artwork into another medium inevitably causes alterations in the emphasis of the new work; in the case of film adaptation, the director must adapt a visually impoverished medium by creating concrete imagery. The process of a text’s illustration often incorporates messages not initially present or emphasized in the original piece. In the case of the 1960 adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel, The Time Machine, the director’s translation placed a new emphasis on Weena’s sexual identity and interactions with the Time Traveller. Shots of the two nuzzling, followed by a cut to the campfire; this device is a classic insinuation to sexual intercourse in mid-century cinema, and the first in a series of pseudo-sexual scenes between the two characters. The prospect of the Time Traveller’s eventual return becomes a matter for debate between the two. The Weena of the film displays a degree of jealousy that is uncharacteristic of the simplistic Eloi, implying a romantic connection that seems significantly less intense in the novel.

I don’t think that sexualizing the people of the future is automatically problematic, but I wonder about the motives that accompanied the film adapters’ decisions to sexualize such a child-like character. The Weena of the film is an elaboration of the literary Weena, a hybridization of the childlike and the sexually precocious; a futuristic Lolita, enabling the Time Traveller to make a sexual display of his dominance over time. In this sense, the film adaptation of Time Machine emphasizes colonial themes that are much more ambiguously presented (if they are presented at all) in the novel. Within the film, disparity in intellectual power and control is highlighted and married to sexuality, producing a relationship that is as sinister in its utopianism as the society of the Eloi itself.

Science fiction, according to Suvin, performs the work of analysis through “cognitive estrangement”, rendering the familiar unfamiliar, enabling us to view a concept from afar. But when viewing an object at a distance, our vision becomes increasingly distorted. The differences between the novel and film versions of The Time Machine illustrate the flexibility of the mechanisms of science fiction; an initially identical theme can take on vastly different connotations as it is translated across mediums. Sometimes this shift can illuminate, but sometimes it is regressive. In the case of the film adaptation of Time Machine, medium-specific presentations of Weena’s character (including flirtatious body language, child-like makeup and hairstyling and selective utilization of sexual cinema tropes) lead to an altered character that possesses unnervingly colonial undertones.


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