Things to Come (1936)

The year is 1940, and it’s Christmas in “Everytown.” Crowds gather in the streets, buying last-minute gifts and Christmas turkeys. News boys hold broadsheets declaring “WAR STORM BREWING” and “WORLD ON THE BRINK OF WAR.”

John Cabal (Raymond Massey) reads the rumors of war, and is disheartened. He is sure that if war comes, it will mean the end of civilization as it is known.

(Image via Pavement Art)

(Image via Pavement Art)

Not only does war come, but it continues and continues for over two decades, finally ending in 1966 with a fast-spreading, contagious disease dubbed “wandering sickness.” Dr. Harding (Maurice Braddell) is working to find a cure, while others take more drastic measures. “The Boss” (Ralph Richardson), a war lord, believes that all of the sick should be immediately shot.

Violence wins out, and by 1970, the sickness has been wiped out through countless deaths. But what will the future hold for those who are left? Will The Boss continue his tyrannical reign, or is there hope for a more peaceful future?

Things to Come is based on H. G. Wells’ 1933 novel “The Shape of Things to Come” and was directed by William Cameron Menzies.

H. G. Wells is remembered as one of the masters of science fiction for very good reason. The premise of “The Shape of Things to Come” predicts a Second World War (published a mere six years before war actually broke out) and provides a speculative pre-written, less-than-ideal history of the world up to 2106. I haven’t read the novel but it’s topping my to-read list after watching this fascinating film adaptation. Wells himself wrote the screenplay, too.

Things to Come features a striking, chilling opening which had me hooked from the first frame. Crowds gather in the streets, Christmas songs are sung/played loudly… and every single newspaper in sight declares that a major war is on the horizon. This ominous, looming threat casts a dark shadow over what is usually “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The film remains engrossing for the duration of its run-time beyond this effective opening. It’s certainly a film that lives up to the potential of its premise, quite dark in tone and very thought-provoking. It’s a film full of ideas about science, progress, war, society, greed, and power.

Raymond Massey’s character of Cabal exists in stark contrast to The Boss, bringing many of those big ideas to life as a member of “Wings Over the World,” a collection of peace-seeking engineers and mechanics looking to form a world free of independent states and their inevitable conflicts. His performance is strong.

(Image via Moss Film)

(Image via Moss Film)

The film is also brilliantly staged and photographed, from that busy-street opening to the scenes of war to the eventual art deco-influenced future society that emerges. The horror of war, as well as the longevity and destructiveness of this particular war, are emphasized to the viewer in such a way that the film’s bleak depiction of the world remains on the mind long after watching. The sets are spectacular — both the ruined structures of Everytown soon after the war’s end, and the futuristic visions of the 2000s.

I was very impressed by Things to Come, a consistently engaging and imaginative take on the trajectory of the then-future, written and then filmed when the world truly was on the brink of war. I imagine many of the film’s ideas about the future seemed plausible to those hearing reports of growing unrest in Europe as World War II inched closer. Well-acted and filmed, Things to Come continues to have a strong emotional and intellectual impact on the viewer, despite the fact that the 21st century as we’re living it doesn’t quite match the film’s predictions. The score: 4.5/5

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