Is society evolving or devolving? H.G. Wells set out to answer this same question in the late 1800s with his book The Time Machine. This movie played on TCM the other night and I found myself watching it in a new way, from the perspective of one seeking to answer that question myself, rather than one seeking pure entertainment. Though the filmmaker took liberties with the author's original work and imposed upon the story the social issues of his own time with more specificity than Wells could have done, I found it fascinating to see how both envisioned what today might be like and what the distant future might hold. Would man evolve or would his own basal self-destructive tendencies wipe away all traces of the spirit of him?
The film was produced in 1960, but H.G. Wells' novel was first published in 1895. Was H.G. Wells clairvoyant? Some believe he was. Either that or he was a master of sociology and skilled in recognizing patterns of behavior, as all good writers should be. True, the film version superimposes the overriding social issues of the filmmaker's day, particularly society's all-consuming fear of self-annihilation and the precise means by which they would effect it. But Wells laid the foundation for it; I think largely drawing upon the book of Revelations in the bible. Like the author, the filmmaker suggests that intelligent life, in the shadow of cataclysmic events, would cease and that man would be, because of overwhelming loss and physical and emotional devastation, unable to continue his intellectual and social evolution, thus becoming Eloi, mindless servants (not to mention lunch) for the Morlocks. And yet, that part of mankind, the Morlocks, supposedly the lesser human of the two groups who continued to exist in sub Earth, had somehow maintained and continued to advance their mechanical and technical knowledge sufficiently enough to design and construct dwellings for their Eloi stock above ground, futuristic equivalents to today's cattle pens. To a degree, the Morlocks possessed some vestige of compassion for the Eloi and chose not to leave them to fend for themselves. They nurtured and harvested the Eloi's food, provided them shelter, and clothing. Wells' suggestion that modesty would play some part in the Morlocks' thinking is fascinating. We leave our cattle, sheep, pigs, and other animals to run about in their natural dressings and in the case of most leave them to the weather, too. Are we a bit more or less than the Morlocks in that regard? Was the writer and the filmmaker suggesting that mere provision of food, shelter, and clothing would be the lingering remnant of moral and social consciousness of humanity and all that we can hope for?
When I first watched this movie nearly thirty years ago I was enthralled by it, and even a bit fearful of what it suggested. Wells' book cut even deeper. I couldn't wait for time to pass to see if what the movie maker portrayed and what the writer had written would come to pass. Today, with so many of those things feared and uneasily anticipated having come to nothing, I wonder what H.G. Wells might think of our society if his prediction for humanity's future would be the same? Would he, I wonder, suggest that we are still devolving into the Morlocks or would we warrant the presumption of a more socially conscious, gentle, more fully-human and intellectually prolific version of the Eloi?
You can read the text of The Time Machine online at http://www.bartleby.com/1000/