THREE ETERNAL MODERN GOSPELS IN TIME OF WAR
H.G. WELLS — T.S. ELIOT — C.S. LEWIS
TRUMP DENIED SALVATION
PART TWO: H.G. WELLS, THE TIME MACHINE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2- H.G. WELLS, THE TIME MACHINE, (Guide de la littérature britannique des origines à nos jours, eds Jean Pouvelle & Jean-Pierre Demarche, Ellipses, Paris, 2008)
3- THE TIME MACHINE, A DYSTOPIC UTOPIA (2007)
H.G. WELLS, THE TIME MACHINE — PRÉSENTATION en français
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU, Université Paris Dauphine et Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne
H.G. Wells (1866–1946), fils du régisseur d’un grand domaine, après des études universitaires qui le mènent à l’enseignement, est connu pour ses écrits de science-fiction, romanesques, journalistiques et politiques. Beaucoup sont aujourd’hui oubliés. Survivent cependant ses écrits de science-fiction de sa jeunesse qui ont donné lieu à plusieurs adaptations pour le cinéma ou la télévision. Militant convaincu et très actif du mouvement socialiste (Fabian Society) ses œuvres expriment son désir de progrès social, mais aussi sa hantise devant les dangers de la science moderne et surtout devant le monde que cette science moderne, tant biologique qu’économique (Darwin et Marx), permet de déduire de ses théories, particulièrement quand darwinisme, darwinisme social et marxisme sont associés. Sa vision souvent apocalyptique est le témoin de la montée et de la chute du totalitarisme racial des Nazis d’un côté et de la montée apparemment inéluctable du totalitarisme social du bolchévisme stalinien.
2- Œuvres Essentielles 8 lignes
The Time Machine (1895)
The Island of Dr.Moreau (1896)
The Invisible Man (1897)
The War of the Worlds (1998)
The New Machiavelli (1911)
Mind at the End of Its Tether (1946)
Le livre commence, à la toute fin du 19ème siècle, par une discussion entre le « Time Traveller » qui n’aura jamais la moindre identité et quelques-uns de ses amis sur l’espace et ses trois dimensions ainsi que le statut de la quatrième dimension, le temps sur lequel le « Time Traveller » affirme mener des expérimentations pour pouvoir y voyager. Il fait la démonstration de cette expérimentation avec un modèle réduit de ce qu’il appelle une machine à voyager dans le temps. Il la fait disparaître. Puis il leur montre la vraie machine. Rendez-vous est pris pour la semaine suivante. Le « Time Traveller » est en retard pour le diner mais finalement, après que ses amis aient commencé à manger, il arrive dans un état plutôt inquiétant bien que sain et sauf et, après un peu de vin et de nourriture, il commence à raconter son histoire. Il a voyagé dans l’avenir jusqu’à l’année 802 701 où il vient de vivre pendant huit jours. Il a découvert là un monde à la nature florissante et riche. A la surface vit dans la plus totale oisiveté une espèce humaine, les Eloi, qui a régressé au point de n’avoir plus d’écriture, de commerce, d’industrie, de machines, de mémoire et donc d’histoire. Leur langage est sommaire. Ils ont tous le même âge. Il semble n’y avoir ni enfants ni vieux. Ils sont insouciants, ne semblent éprouver aucun sentiment par rapport aux autres ou à eux-mêmes, bien que Weena, une femme Eloi qu’il sauve de la noyade dans l’indifférence totale des témoins, semble s’attacher à lui et donc éprouver une forme de gratitude. Il les interprète comme les descendants de la société moderne de totale sécurité. C’est le communisme pour lui menant à une régression de civilisation par la perte de la compétition pour la vie, ou la survie, par la perte de l’insécurité, ainsi que par l’accomplissement de la perfection physique du fait des progrès de la médecine et de la science. Cependant ils éprouvent encore de la peur, la peur de la nuit. C’est alors qu’il réalise qu’une seconde espèce d’humanoïdes existe, les Morlocks qui vivent sous la terre, sont les descendants directs de la classe ouvrière, comme les Eloi sont les descendants de la classe capitaliste. Ils ne sortent que la nuit pour chasser les Eloi et leur fournir tout ce dont ils ont besoin pour survivre. Il met alors bout à bout le communisme et le darwinisme et pose l’hypothèse de l’évolution de deux espèces humaines distinctes à partir de deux classes sociales en conformité avec leurs modes de vie. Le capitaliste évolue donc vers une espèce vivant dans la totale oisiveté et entretenue par le travail de l’autre espèce, une espèce exclusivement fructivore. L’ouvrier évolue vers une espèce souterraine consacrée au travail industriel et entièrement enfermée dans la nuit et l’obscurité, une espèce exclusivement carnivore. On a là la vision la plus antagonique possible du monde capitaliste de la fin du 19ème siècle que le « Time Traveller » explique comme la production directe de l’évolution des espèces de Darwin appliquée à l’analyse de la société en deux classes antagoniques de Marx. La surprise vient du fait que ce sont les Morlocks qui sont les prédateurs des Eloi qui ne sont plus que du bétail. A son arrivée il a « atterri » devant une sorte de temple surmonté d’un Sphinx et a laissé sa machine là. Les Morlocks se sont emparés de sa machine et l’ont enfermée dans le socle de ce temple sans qu’on ne précise d’ailleurs la finalité de ce temple. Incapable d’ouvrir les portes, il décide d’aller leur demander des comptes dans leur monde souterrain. Il descend donc dans leur antre souterrain et en réchappe de justesse mais après avoir eu de visu confirmation de leur statut de chasseurs d’Eloi et donc de celui de bétail ou de gibier des Eloi. Il visite ensuite, avec Weena, ce que nous pouvons estimer rester du Science Museum de Londres (le Palais de Porcelaine Verte) et récupère des allumettes et du camphre car il a remarqué que les Morlocks sont effrayés par la moindre lumière, mais aussi il recherche un moyen de faire tomber les portes du temple où sa machine est enfermée, un explosif d’un type ou d’un autre, explosif qu’il ne trouve pas. Piégés par la nuit, Weena et lui-même font un feu pour écarter les Morlocks. Mais il s’endort et à son réveil Weena a disparu. Il la cherche mais ne la trouve pas. Il retourne alors au temple où sa machine est enfermée et c’est là que les Morlocks lui tendent un piège avec sa machine comme appât dans le temple où ils l’avaient enfermée en ouvrant les portes de celui-ci. Il se précipite, se réapproprie sa machine et n’échappe que de justesse grâce à elle. Il fuit donc et fait une incursion dans un avenir encore plus lointain où la vie, après une étape supplémentaire d’évolution, est réduite à des crabes géants rouges à la surface de la terre sur lesquels poussent une sorte d’algue verte qui sert de nourriture à des papillons géants blancs qui sont les proies des prédateurs crustacés. Ici donc l’évolution a continué à faire régresser la vie vers des formes primitives, mais toujours deux formes animales antagoniques et une forme végétale qui sert de nourriture à l’une des deux formes animales qui sert à son tour de nourriture à l’autre qui porte sur son propre corps la dite nourriture végétale. On remarquera que le « TimeTraveller » nous révèle aussi que la terre ne tourne plus et fait donc face de façon immobile au soleil. C’est alors qu’il revient dans son présent et raconte son histoire, fleur à l’appui ramenée de ce temps lointain, histoire que personne ne veut croire, même pas le narrateur anonyme qui se veut pourtant son ami. Il rentre sa machine dans son laboratoire et repart, cette fois pour ne pas en revenir, dans cet avenir inconnu.
Il s’agit là d’un livre fondamental qui ne peut se comprendre que remis dans son contexte historique mais que les adaptations plus ou moins récentes pour le cinéma peuvent aussi expliquer par contraste idéologique. C’est une œuvre profondément idéologique et même politique. Son contexte est bien sûr le même que celui de Zola quand il écrit Germinal en 1885. Germinal fait partie intégrante de ce contexte. De la même façon il faut saisir Jules Verne dans ce contexte et particulièrement 20 000 lieues sous les mers (1870). Nous pourrions aussi penser au roman postérieur de Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World (1912). H.G. Wells imagine une invention technique phénoménale, une machine à voyager dans le temps, tout comme Jules Verne avait inventé une machine à voyager sous les mers, le Nautilus. L’idée commune est d’aller au-delà du moment et du lieu présent. H.G. Wells imagine alors ce que le monde peut être dans un temps à venir, alors que Jules Verne n’imaginait que ce qu’un homme doté du pouvoir de voyager sous les mers pourrait en faire, et quelles seraient ses motivations. Mais le contexte le plus important est le contexte social et politique. Nous sommes engagés en Europe dans une industrialisation absolument sauvage que Zola dénonce dans son roman Germinal, dénonciation en forme de mise en garde à la bourgeoisie industrielle qu’ils préparent une révolution sociale s’ils n’acceptent pas de mieux partager la valeur ajoutée du travail. Cette situation a donné naissance à la littérature socialiste, et surtout bien sûr au travail scientifique en économie de Karl Marx, amplifié ensuite par l’approche politique communiste qui pose que la société est coupée en deux classes antagoniques, le prolétariat (ou classe ouvrière) et la bourgeoisie (ou classe capitaliste). Dans la même période se développe la théorie de l’évolution des espèces de Charles Darwin. Cette théorie a déjà produit ce que l’on appelle le darwinisme social, très fort aux Etats-Unis par exemple qui dit que l’on n’a que la position sociale que nos qualités intrinsèques nous garantissent : les riches sont riches parce qu’ils sont honnêtes et les pauvres ne sont pauvres que parce qu’ils ont des défauts qui sont condamnés par Dieu lui-même dans la perspective du darwinisme social chrétien (Russell Conwell, Acres of Diamonds, pour n’en citer qu’un). Ici H.G. Wells imagine un monde résultant du croisement du marxisme le plus orthodoxe et du darwinisme qui poserait que les conditions permanentes de vie entraineraient une sélection naturelle à l’intérieur de ces groupes. Le résultat est effrayant, mais en ce temps-là la frayeur majeure était justement celle du mouvement social et celle de l’emballement de la science et de la technique. La vision de H.G. Wells est parfaitement pessimiste en ce sens qu’il double la première évolution qui produit les Eloi et les Morlocks d’une deuxième qui produit un retour encore plus en arrière. Wells voit une évolution négative menant nécessairement à une régression de l’espèce et de la civilisation. Il voit aussi dans la science de son temps le principe fondamental que le monde est divisé en deux espèces, groupes ou ensembles antagoniques qui ne peuvent survivre l’un sans l’autre mais qui ne peuvent vivre que l’un de l’autre. Le couple proie-prédateur est donc le couple fondamental pour Wells, un couple qui fonde l’histoire et une histoire qui ne revient qu’en arrière à partir du moment où l’homme est entré dans l’ère de l’industrialisation. Est-ce une mise en garde ? On peut le voir comme cela. Mais il me semble que c’est une vision bien trop noire pour être ou n’être qu’une mise en garde. En définitive Les Morlocks gagnent deux fois : en maintenant leur domination des Eloi contre le « Time Traveller », et en disparaissant, comme les Eloi, pour cependant survivre en crabes géants, comme les Eloi survivent en papillons géants. L’adaptation de George Pal (1960) pose la reconquête de la volonté de se défendre chez les Eloi, mais la survie des Morlocks à leur défaite qui n’est qu’une défaite et non la perte de la guerre, et ouvre un tout autre discours, y compris dans le second départ du « Time Traveller » (devenu George) avec trois livres pour reconstruire une civilisation, discours que Simon Wells va amplifier en 2002 en posant la destruction complète des Morlocks (génocide) par des Eloi qui avaient su conserver et même inventer un début de civilisation que le « Time Traveller » (devenu Dr.Alexander Hartdegen) va essayer de transformer et de revivifier.
5- Citations, Anglais + traduction
‘Communism,’ said I to myself… There were no hedges, no signs of propriety rights, no evidence of agriculture, the whole earth had become a garden… It seemed to me I had happened upon humanity upon the wane. (31–33)
‘Le communisme’ me dis-je. Il n’y avait ni haies, ni signes de propriété, ni agriculture visible. La terre entière était devenu un jardin. Il me semblait avoir retrouvé l’humanité en plein déclin.
Social triumphs, too, had been effected… There were no signs of struggle, neither social nor economical struggle. The shop, the advertisement, traffic, all that commerce which constitutes the body of our world, was gone… A social paradise. The difficulty of increasing population had been met, I guessed, and population had ceased to increase. (34)
Des triomphes sociaux avaient aussi été produits. Il n’y avait aucun signe de lutte, ni sociale ni économique. Les magasins, les publicités, le trafic routier, toutes ces activités qui constituent le corps de notre monde avaient disparu. Paradis social. Le problème de la croissance démographique avait été résolu, présumais-je, et la population avait cessé d’augmenter.
My belief in a perfect conquest of nature… Humanity had been strong, energetic, and intelligent, and had used all its abundant vitality to alter the conditions under which it lived… Under the new conditions of perfect comfort and security, that restless energy, that with us is strength, would become weakness… The weak are as well-equipped as the strong, are indeed no longer weak. Better equipped indeed they are, for the strong would be fretted by an energy for which there was no outlet. (35)
Ma foi en une parfaite conquête de la nature. L’humanité avait été forte, pleine d’énergie et intelligente et elle avait utilisé toute cette abondante vitalité pour modifier les conditions dans lesquelles elle vivait. Dans les nouvelles conditions de parfaits confort et sécurité, cette énergie impétueuse, qui pour nous est une force, deviendrait une faiblesse. Les faibles sont aussi bien dotés que les forts, et ne sont même plus des faibles. Mieux dotés en fait car les forts seraient tourmentés par une énergie pour laquelle ils n’auraient aucun exutoire.
THE TIME MACHINE, A DYSTOPIC UTOPIA
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU
University of Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
University of Paris Dauphine
Herbert Georges Wells (1866–1946) witnessed eighty years of our developing industrial world during which all basic productive activities bloomed to produce our present mass consumer society based on mass production and the industrial and agricultural, financial, services, communications, entertainment and labor mass markets. He witnessed the growth of the two extreme ideologies produced by this industrial world, communism (or Stalinism) and Nazism (or fascism). He also witnessed the development of biology and particularly Darwinism and his evolution of species, the survival of the fittest, and the birth and elaboration of the theory of relativity and the physics that emerged from it or at the same time. Finally, he witnessed, both in Europe and the USA, the junction of the analysis of society in two antagonistic classes and their class struggle for domination, even reduced to the American simplified approach of the rich and the poor, what he calls himself the “haves” and the “have-nots” (53) [i] on one hand, and Darwinism on the other hand. He died in 1946 after witnessing the fall of the extreme racist form of this social Darwinism (Nazism and fascism) but also the seemingly triumphant expansion of the second form of it, Stalinism.
The Time Machine was published in 1895 [ii]. We should also consider Wells’ The Invisible Man (1897). Wells first warns us about the biological–and social–danger of our social Darwinism in The Time Machine and about the plain criminal danger of the uncontrolled development of science in The Invisible Man. This cannot represent a fear of the modern world since Wells was a socialist, but the sign of an independent mind in symbiosis with a quickly changing world.
I will concentrate on the ideological message of The Time Machine along with two adaptations of this short novel to the silver screen [iii]. George Pal’s (1960) shows how the book was read before 1968, the turning point towards mass-consumerism and mass-communication [iv]. Simon Wells’ (2002) shows how it is read after the no-return turning point of globalization, September 11 and the war on terror. These two adaptations deviate from the original novella in concordance with their times. I will consider these two films in Marshall McLuhan’s perspective that states the message is the medium, which implies the meaning of the films can only be considered from the moment the films meet an audience. The audience gives meaning to the film that is nothing but a hollow shell otherwise. Note this approach is similar to Kenneth Burke’s dramatist theory. This implies that a film’s meaning will change through time along with the audience that builds meaning into the film.
I./ Opening the story
In Wells’ The Time Machine, the Time Traveler (TT) has no name, lives in London and is British. He is an inventor with no other specification. This makes him neutral in front of the world, maybe an objective witness, an objective beacon on the road of humanity at the end of the 19th century, just before the 20th. The story is told by him on a first dinner occasion to a panel of friends: An Argumentative Person (Filby), a Psychologist, a Very Young Man, a Provincial Mayor, a Medical Man, and the I who narrates the whole story. This first discussion has to do with the fourth dimension, i.e. Time, as a necessary dimension to capture reality beyond the three spatial dimensions. Time is the only dimension along which we cannot freely run up and down. TT pretends the reverse and that he has been experimenting already. On a second dinner occasion, he tells his first journey to the future after a dramatic late arrival. The witnesses are the I-narrator and “four or five men”: The Medical Man, the Editor of a well-known daily paper (Blank, a rather surprising name for a press editor), the Psychologist, a certain Journalist, and a “quiet shy man with a beard” who will never say a word (12–15).
George Pal’s film (1960) has become a cult film essentially because of the time machine itself. As soon as we adapt a science-fiction book to the silver screen, we have to create a visual and sonorous transcription of some of the literary elements. It is a limitation, since the words then only have one meaning that has been made referential in the process. But it is also a tremendous development since the words become real objects that we can see and hear. That’s probably why this film has become a cult film because it visualized the time machine in an absolutely smashing way. It has remained a model for such a machine, just like Jules Verne’s submarine in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in the 1954 adaptation, particularly the organ scene in the submarine.
The film visualizes time, instead of speaking about it, in the whole opening sequence with the crossing of the screen by timepieces, starting with a sundial, then an hourglass, then watches and clocks. Altogether thirteen ending with Big Ben. The number 13 is ominous and Big Ben is an allusion to all the dangers it has faced in history, particularly during WWII (one can visit the Houses of Parliament and see one of the door arches that has been kept in its damaged state caused by the bombings). Then the title explodes amidst flashes of lightning and thunderbolts. This visualization of time goes on with various falling elements crossing the screen to symbolize the seasons, like falling leaves for autumn and falling snow for winter. The film opens on January 5, 1900, with the second dinner party and George (TT in the film, the middle name of the author and the first name of the director) arrives late in a pitiful state. His story will start with a flashback to the first party (was it a dinner party, we don’t know) on “the last day of the year”, December 31, 1899, punctuated with “Happy New Year” and “Happy New Century” wishes. Apart from this flashback structure, the film is faithful to the book.
The characters are the same in the two meetings: The I-narrator is David Filby, a shopkeeper from across the street dealing in women’s fashion; Dr. Philip Hillyer, an MD; Anthony Bridewell and Walter Kemp who are not socially specified. The film keeps the storytelling structure of the book. The housekeeper is also densified and her name Mrs. Watchett is perfectly adapted to her function: to watch over George’s destiny.
Simon Wells’ film (2002) is quite different. First of all, TT has a full proper name, Alexander Hartdegen. He is a professor at Columbia University in New York. The film starts at 3:00 p.m. on a school clock and the end-of-school bell. Mr. David Filby is a colleague of Alexander’s. We have thus moved from London to New York and from the middle class (small bourgeoisie and professions) to university professors. But the main change is that Alexander has a girlfriend, Emma and on that first night in late December he is proposing to her and offering her an engagement ring in Central Park. Unluckily they are mugged and in the struggle that ensues Emma is shot dead by the mugger. She kept her ring but she lost her life. This seriously changes something in Alexander’s life. He will devise his time machine to travel back in time and change the past. As his conversation with Mr. Filby shows just a few hours before he travels back to the past:
“Mr. Filby: Nothing will ever change what happened.
“Alexander: No, you’re wrong, because I will change it. Come back here in a week.
“Mr. Filby: We’ll continue this conversation in a week.
“Alexander: In a week we’ll never even have had this conversation.”
The machine when it travels through time is contained in a timeless bubble and this artifact will be used strategically and dramatically later on because everything that falls out of it is captured by time. The journey back in time enables Alexander to get Emma away from the mugging, from Central Park, and yet there she is hit by a car and a cart and she dies on the sidewalk. Alexander is then convinced of one thing: “Why can’t I change [the past]? I could come back a thousand times and see her die a thousand ways.” And that is the reason why he will travel to the future, away from the past and the present, but also with the fair intention of finding an answer to his question.
These three beginnings, exactly Pal’s first 17mn (to the end of the New Year’s Eve dinner) and Simon Wells’ 22mn (up to Emma’s second death), enable the students to identify the narrator: two in the book and in Pal’s film, but none in Simon Wells’ film. This leads to the importance of the narrator as a distance builder and of the camera as a narrator or as an unseen voyeur narrating what it is seeing. Thus the film is a tale in its own technical dimension(s) (shooting and editing). Hence a discussion on the narrating techniques of a literary narrator and of a cinema camera. The next discussion emerges directly from this one: what is the implication of the audience, each individual viewer, in their viewing, in the story they are told? The book builds a distance. Pal’s film builds a distance in a medium that is based on the projection of the viewer into the voyeuristically evoked situation. Simon Wells’ film implies no direct distance. The subsequent discussion concerns time and the basic difference between past/present and future and the fact that it is a purely human conceptual construction of what is surviving for the rest of the natural world. This may lead to the Buddhist concept of “dukkha”, the birth-life-death-rebirth cycle. Finally, we come to the main character, from the nameless man to the American university professor, and of course his human dimension and his human motivations from mere intellectual curiosity to the desire to change the past to resuscitate his lost love. [v]
II./ The voyage to the future
For Wells, the voyage to the future is hardly described. It is insignificant in itself. The change to the future world is only the result of time and natural or social evolution. We are before the World Wars and cannot consider these events as even possible. Note here Wells brings his TT back but after a trip even further in the future showing the continuation of the prediction or prophecy.
George Pal introduces a big ideological change that reflects his time. George at first experiments the machine on his first trip just to make sure it works and to witness the world’s development. Then he stops now and then to check the world out. His first stop in the early 1900s is centered on the change of women’s dressing fashion as seen in the changing garb of the manikin in Filby’s shop-window. This is used visually (a visual realization of the passing of time, discovery for the character but memory for us viewers) all along the first phase of the trip. The second stop is in 1917 and he meets with James Filby, David’s son, in military uniform. He learns about WWI. His next stop is in 1940 when London is crushed by German planes and bombs. He discovers WWII. His third stop will be in 1966 (science fiction is starting here), in the midst of an alert and ringing sirens to make people go to shelters. It is the “mushrooms”, the “atom bomb” and this starts a volcanic eruption that nearly burns George alive. He escapes with his machine but is trapped in a mass of rock for a long time. The film gives an explanation to the change it is going to describe: the military nature of human society that is seen as having to turn the Cold War into a very hot war in 1966. This is a direct reflection of the time. We are just two years before the crisis of the Soviet missiles in Cuba and peaceful coexistence has not yet been invented. The fourth and last stop will be in 802,701. There will be no further exploration to the future, cutting off the final vision of the book. But TT will come back to tell his story.
In Simon Wells’ film, Alexander Hartdegen travels slowly at first. He starts on January 18, 1899. We see changes in the street, cars and of course the women’s clothing shop-window across the street (with three manikins instead of one in the previous film, shifting from London size to New York size). Then New York is built all around the time machine, with planes, satellites and space stations in the air and stratosphere to show the passing of time. The first stop is on May 24, 2030. He discovers the Fifth Avenue Public Library and there the Information Unit, a virtual man, NY-114, “a compendium of all human knowledge”. He has an answer to Alexander’s question. He cannot change the past “because one cannot travel into the past”, an ironical answer for the viewer of the film.
He stops again in 2037. New York is being devastated and under an evacuation order because the moon is breaking up and falling to the earth’s surface. He escapes this catastrophe. And he travels unconscious till July 16, 802,701. We have seen in the meanwhile the earth shaping and reshaping itself several times.
Now great changes appear after a blackout sequence when he wakes up in the world of the future. But he will never come back, which means the story is not told by Alexander Hartdegen to an audience. It is told to us by the filmmaker directly with the go-between of an audience inside the film. This shows how the medium has changed: today we expect to be able to project ourselves into the film completely with no rhetorical conventional precaution. This is a direct result of two other media by far dominant in 2002: television and the Internet. Here we meet Marshall McLuhan again. Television is an all-sensory medium and this dimension is used in films today by “uploading” the audience into the virtual world.
III./ The Eloi
In Wells’ book, TT arrives in 802,701 AD and lands among a human species who call themselves the Eloi. He considers they are the future of humanity at once. Hence the description of the Eloi is essential. They are “beautiful, graceful but childlike and frail” (24). They have the “intellectual level of one of our five-year-old children” (26). They are “strict vegetarians”, “frugivorous” people (29). They speak but their language has tremendously regressed as a human language. It only has “concrete substantives and verbs” and its “sentences [are] very simple [and only contain] two words” (43). We have to suspend our disbelief because the conclusion he reaches in a few hours is just impossible and would require a serious knowledge of this foreign language. This impression of being confronted with an unbelievable fact or conclusion is often present in the book, but it does not impair the value of the book. It is a sort of ellipse, as we say in the cinema. The regression is then amplified by the listing of all they do not have, hence they’ve lost: no sepulture, no aged or infirm people, no machinery, no appliances, no creative tendency, no shops, no workshops, no importations (45) and no writing (70).
His first explanation is that our industrial society has produced absolute security and with science and medicine absolute health. But this has produced a “paradisiac” (31–32) “garden” (32). It is “communism” (31), understand a classless society beyond the socialist revolution, Marx’s dream, a “social paradise” (34) based on selective breeding. The weak have been totally integrated. But this is the “sunset of mankind”, “humanity upon the wane” (33). The result is the “fate of energy in security: art, eroticism, languor and decay” (35). The people are frail. They live by picking fruit and that’s all. In other words, communism by dropping any kind of insecurity due to the end of class struggle produces a spineless and unenergetic homogenized humanity.
Yet TT includes two warnings to the listeners and readers in his tale. “Later, I was to appreciate how far it fell short of the reality” (32) and “very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough–as most wrong theories are!” (36) A second theory will soon appear.
This clear-cut storytelling, with the Eloi first and the Morlocks second is not kept in the films.
George Pal intertwines the two together. George’s rough landing is in the Eloi world at the foot of a Morlock Sphinx temple. He discovers the Eloi and the Morlocks in a very faithful way and enables us to see what was described and explained in the book. We can see how indifferent the Eloi are about life and death when Weena, a young Eloi woman, drowns. George will have to save her because of the total indifference of the other Eloi. The Eloi can understand and speak English straight away. That’s quite an ellipse in the film. They have no government, no laws. Nobody works. Food just grows. They have books but these books are crumbling to dust. They can’t write nor read. And they are afraid of the dark. Weena though seems to have gotten attached to George who saved her. So she knows about the value of life somehow, like the others since their fear reveals they want to stay alive, and she is grateful, which is more than the others’ indifference. She even follows him in the night to warn him against the Morlocks.
George has a harsh word at this moment: “The human race has been reduced to living vegetables”. And Weena goes even further: “There is no past. There is no future.” And George dreams of “someone to show [them] the way out.” The film introduces history, no real explanation but Weena takes George to a place where he can listen to speaking rings. There he learns that the nuclear war whose beginning he had witnessed in 1966 lasted 326 years. When it stopped, after the last oxygen factory was destroyed, humanity divided in two. One part went underground to survive. They will become the Morlocks. And the other part will stay under the sun. They will become the Eloi. The Eloi became the servants, the cattle of the Morlocks who have “degenerated into the lowest form of human life, cannibalism.” Note this last word implies the two species are human, hence that they should live in harmony.
One change is introduced then. The Sphinx temple is equipped with sirens and when they ring all Eloi are hypnotized, like the people in London were conditioned to go to a shelter in 1940 or 1966, and they walk into the Sphinx Temple till the sirens stop and the doors close. Those taken will not come back and nobody is bothered or bothering.
This small episode is central because the film is going to diverge from the book tremendously. George is going to try to save the captured Eloi, particularly Weena.
Simon Wells comes back to the novel’s model and we have only one world at first. Alexander Hatdegen is taken care of by a woman, Mara, and a girl, Kalen. The Eloi are hostile, speak another language except for those two women and girl who speak English. The Eloi live in an artificial habitat upon the flank of cliffs over water and they bring up all ladders at night. In spite of that Alexander’s watch will disappear during the night, stolen by some unidentified visitor. Alexander will have a nightmare showing some monstrous articulated skull looking like an entrance to some underground city. It is a hint about his mind being controlled from the outside by some vibes. There are no old people, but the Eloi go down in the daytime and with boats go to a plain where they have constructed some strange windmills that seem to be dedicated to the memory of those who have departed because “we don’t speak of them. We remember them”. This concept of memory is interesting here since it is an attachment to the past, which was denied in the previous film, and in the book. But they also practice some agriculture. They also have some artifacts like lamps and they know some medicine since they take care of Alexander. But they are still afraid of the dark and they all have bad dreams and nightmares. Hence a direct apprehension of the Eloi fear of some mysterious unnamed living beings is built in the film.
IV./ The Morlocks
Wells introduces the second theory as suggested by the survival of “fear” (47) among these Eloi. He will understand this fear when he discovers the second species of human descendants, the Morlocks. They are the perfect antithesis (used with its pure Marxist value) of the Eloi. They live underground in total darkness. They take care of all industrial activities. They are white and are at once described as “monsters” (50).
Then we have the second vision of the world. The Eloi, the “upperworlders” (59), are the descendants of the “capitalist” (52), and the Morlocks, the “monster” (50) who is “nauseatingly inhuman” (60), with “pale, chinless faces, great lidless pinkish-grey eyes” (60), “inhuman and malign” (62), lives in the “underworld” (52), are the descendants of the “laborer” (52). Then social Darwinism is injected into the Marxist class struggle vision. Communism will not emerge from capitalism but two antagonistic human species will and history will impose the Darwinist survival of the fitter species, turning the Eloi into nothing but “fatted cattle” (68) and “meat” (67) for the Morlocks who are carnivorous hunters. Communism is the future of the capitalist class only, whereas Darwinism will make the laborer the dominant species. In other words, this reversal of social history via biology is Wells’ particular approach to human history, which is a political message: the vision of communism at the end of the 19th century is absurd in its paradisiac Marxist approach and justified, though for all the wrong reasons, in the apocalyptic bourgeois vision.
To finally prove his point Wells shows how the Morlocks use the Time Machine they had taken away at the beginning as some bait in a trap to attract TT and capture him to become some exotic and tastier meat. They are hunters for sure.
George Pal did not follow the model as for his presentation of the Morlocks, as we have seen. His presentation is a lot more dynamic. So George goes down into the underworld through one of the shafts and there he plays liberator, fights against the Morlocks with his fists and a torch, finally gets some responsive support from the captured Eloi and a couple actually start fighting: they are human beings and can resist a situation dangerous for their own survival. It is contradictory because they recover their survival instinct and hence become like wild animals again after having been domesticated into cattle. But this human revival–is it really human? –is through violence, which is what caused the very destruction of humanity and its degeneracy, so that we can wonder about the final morality of the tale.
The film also introduces another twist. George sets the underworld on fire. It explodes and caves in, just after all the Eloi have been able to escape. But then the doors of the Sphinx temple open and the time machine is there visible. George will rush to it and he will find out it is a trap. In other words, the Morlocks are not destroyed and they are ready to fight and they have identified the main leader. So we wonder what can come out of this. Anyway, George manages to recapture his machine and escape. He slowly goes forward so that we can see the Morlock he has knocked out slowly decay and decompose. But then he goes backward and is back in London, on January 5, 1900, with his friends.
Simon Wells goes slightly further. The Morlocks attack in the daytime when a horn is blown and hunt the Eloi down till the horn is blown again. The Eloi don’t fight back. Alexander tries to move them. With the help of the girl, he goes to the place where ghosts are, the Fifth Avenue Public Library where Alexander meets NY-114 again. He gets some answers. After the moon broke down “what was once one race is now two. One above and one below. Two distinct species that have evolved.” Those below survive by hunting those above like game. It is possible because those above have “no knowledge of the past, no ambition for the future,” which is in contradiction with the remembering we have already spoken of. He is also given some indication how to get down below: “just follow the breathing”.
Here we can see a contradiction between this faithful vision of the Eloi as submissive and the rather advanced level of civilization they have reached by themselves. There is no reference to any Marxist or social Darwinist explanation. It is the result of “800,000 years of evolution”, dixit the Über-Morlock, the chief of the Morlocks who has a name sounding like that of some SS officer.
We discover the underworld. Entirely dedicated to industrial work, it is a mine and a furnace at the same time. The Morlocks are carnivorous and the Eloi are their cattle or game.
After many fights, he is made a prisoner and brought to the Über-Morlock. The Morlock leader’s power is based on the moderating control he has developed over their minds: “without that control, they would exhaust the food supply in a matter of months.” Mara is there too and seems to be some kind of sexual necessity for the reproduction of the Über-Morlock.
He demonstrates his power by showing to Alexander what his future would have been if Emma had not been killed: a happy family with the time machine buried at the bottom of a drawer [vi]. The Über-Morlock’s conclusion is: “If she had lived [the time machine] would never have existed. So how could you use your machine to go back to save her? You are the inescapable result of your tragedy. Just like I. I am the inescapable result of you.” With this answer, Alexander is ordered back to his time with his time machine.
The ideology is clearly not political but ethical or even logical: Emma’s death makes Alexander build the time machine and he goes back in time to save her not understanding that without her being dead the time machine is no longer possible, and his trip back would no longer even be feasible. Yet the time machine would be necessary for her to survive her own death. This contradiction in the very existence of the time machine is going to kill her over and over again if necessary. Then Morlocks and Eloi, the result of a cosmic catastrophe, are here explained as the result of the illogical human mind. It is this lack of logic that lets the gate open to the worst possible evolutions against which humans are unable to prepare themselves, which are unpreventable. Human nature contains both the Eloi and the Morlock (Eros and Thanatos, libido and death instinct) and any catastrophe is going to liberate the two, eventually in two separate species, thanks to biological evolution.
That’s when the film departs completely from the book.
V./ The end
Wells adds an important episode to his story. After the narrow escape from capture by the Morlocks, TT jumps “millions of days”, “thousands of millions” (90) of days forward and discovers the Earth in a more advanced state. “The earth has come to rest with one face to the sun” (91). He can see two colors: “a harsh reddish color” (91) and “intensely green”, “rich green” (91). This green is identified as “forest moss” or “lichen” (91), then a “greenish incrustation-like” vegetation on the red beings he thought at first were rocks but are “a monstrous crab-like creature”: “the many palps of its complicated mouth… the antenna of another monster crab… its evil eyes were wriggling on their stalks… its vast ungainly claws, smeared with an algae slime…” (92–93). He realizes this after seeing “far away… a huge white butterfly goes slanting and fluttering up into the sky…” (92). The upperworlders have become butterflies and the underworlders have become crabs. Life is still there but history and historical time were lost in a regression back to biological, geological and cosmic times. Life is eternal but human life is only transient and on a very small timescale.
TT can come back, tell his story and then go back to the future again and, like all prophets or messiahs, never come back to our world anymore. No one will believe him except the I-narrator, but with a twist:
“But to me the future is still black and blank [remember the name of the Press Editor]–is a vast ignorance, lit at a few casual places by the memory of his story. And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers–shriveled now, and brown and flat and brittle–to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.” (102–103)
The twist transforms the novella into a warning to us. We have to both get out of the dichotomous society of the Capitalist and the Laborer but without losing the energy that can only come from a certain dose of insecurity. How can we balance security and insecurity, comfort for all and competition? This is an absolutely postmodern question, social justice, and it is probably the answer to the death of extreme utopias like Nazism and Stalinism and to the absolute necessity to share all commodities and wealth without throwing the competition-baby away with the antagonistic-social-dichotomy-water of the bath.
George Pal is in the same line. George will go away because no one believes him really. He will drag his time machine back inside, that is to say outside the Sphinx temple, take three unidentified books and disappear. David Filby will give the concluding morality: “It is not like George to return empty-handed to try to rebuild a civilization without a plan. He must have taken something with him.” But the objective is clear: “Help the Eloi build a new world.”
The main change is that the Eloi are able to learn how to resist and fight and it will only take one cultivated person and three books for these Eloi to rebuild a whole civilization. We have become tremendously optimistic about the human race, at least the Eloi, though we must not forget the survival of the Morlocks and their need to go on hunting. Wells got lost along the way but the film had to have some kind of positive ending in 1960. Never, even in the deepest crisis of the Cold War, the Soviet Missiles in Cuba, had the world, at least the Western world, at least the little French section I knew at the time (Khrushchev visited France in 1960, invited by de Gaulle) lost faith in the possible solution of any crisis of this type, in the peaceful future of humanity, peaceful coexistence. This resilient hope is reflected in the film too. Human beings can resist anything and rebuild their human civilization even against the worst odds possible. We could see–at the time it was quite obvious–the Morlocks as being the Soviets and the Eloi as being the West, but today this narrow meaning is definitely passé.
Quite different is Simon Wells’ film. The meaning of the film is not the meaning the director intended to put in the film, at times one or two years before the film came out, but the meaning the audience is going to see or project into the film, according to Marshall McLuhan’s approach of mass-communication or Kenneth Burke’s dramatist hypothesis.
First Alexander uses the machine to kill the Über-Morlock by attracting him into the timeless bubble and then getting most of his body out of it for it to be disintegrated. Then he turns the time machine into a time bomb. He blocks the mechanism with his watch and set it to run fast into the future. Then he saves Mara and he escapes from the underworld. The time machine and its timeless bubble explode projecting the bubble of timelessness and virtual future time into the underground city that is utterly destroyed, all the Morlocks along with it, a complete genocide. The previous film introduced this idea of destroying the Morlocks though some had survived. Here the genocide is successful. The accusation of cannibalism in the previous film against the Morlocks is matched here by a far worse hypothesis but on the side of Alexander: the complete genocidal destruction of the hostile human species as opposed to the good human species. At this moment the film reveals a pretty deep derangement in the film industry: how can a film incite people into thinking as acceptable, even in a virtual situation, the complete destruction of a human species seen as hostile? How can we state that, because a human group or species is aggressive, we, as a human group or species who are their preys, have the right to destroy the predators in a genocidal sacrifice? It is morally unacceptable. Even after September 11 and within the frame of the war on terror. It is a resurgence, in a morally justified context, of the deep aggressive death instinct residing in our psyche that civilization is supposed to curb down.
The end of the film transforms Wells’ pessimistic warning dystopia into a utopia founded on a genocide: Alexander starts a school with NY-114 to rebuild human civilization among the Eloi. In one word, it furthers the idea introduced by George Pal, an idea that is not present in the book. If George Pal’s hypothesis could be seen as the result of the Cold War, we have to wonder how Simon Wells can have come to his radical furthering of this hypothesis, since the scenario was written probably a long time before September 11. He envisaged such a genocide in a situation that was more or less normal after the end of the Cold War.
To remain post-modern is very difficult. It is quite easy to show the connection of each work, the book, and the films, with the periods in which they were produced. From a purely ideological point of view, they are straightforward products of their times. If we were to examine the three works from an artistic point of view, we would probably come to the idea that Wells’ dystopia has the form of that type of novel at the end of the 19th century and has aged: double indirect narration. The first film is very well done and acted but is rather simplistic in the visual worlds it creates. We definitely see the zipper in the back of the Morlocks, and the clear-cut division of the world in two antagonistic visual universes is too simple though it is acceptable as a dream, a vision, hence a simplified discourse because it is richly encrusted in a 19th-century world. The same remark applies to the second film. But the special effects are extremely good and the visual effects are perfect. But this time there is a discourse that cannot be considered as a simplified dreamlike vision because we do not come back to 19th century New York: we stay in 802,701. Hence this future world is entirely accepted as morally, ideologically, historically and even materialistically possible. The final scene makes it even more difficult for one to keep a distance from the virtual universe because it is connected to and justified by love and saving both Mara, the woman Alexander loves, and Kalen, the child this woman loves, along with the Eloi community. In the same way, any distance-keeping is difficult because of the progressive discourse on education and re-building civilization that Alexander is assuming in this world in which he has trapped himself. That’s where Wells’ warning is completely lost. There is no warning at all, except that we have to get ready to totally destroy our human enemies.
Burke, Kenneth, A Grammar of Motives, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1969
McLuhan, Marshall, Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Routledge, London, 1997 (1964)
Pal, George, The Time Machine, 1960, Warner Home Video DVD, 2002
Verne, Jules, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 20 000 lieues sous la mer, 1870
Wells, Herbert George, The Time Machine and The Invisible Man, Signet Classic, New York, 1984
Wells Simon, The Time Machine, 2002, Warner Home Video DVD, 2002
Zola, Emile, Germinal, 1985
[i] All references will provide the page numbers in the Signet Classic edition (ISBN 0–451–52238–9).
[ii] Wells cannot be isolated from the rest of Europe which is a whole in spite or because of the wars on the continent, and the theme of the society divided in two antagonistic groups is by far general at that time from Wells to Zola or Gorki, and many others.
[iii] As for audio-visual adaptations there is a lot less choice than we may think. IMDb.com (Internet Movie Data-base) only gives two films (the two we are going to consider) plus two TV films (1978 by Henning Schellerup, and 1949 by Robert Barr) and one video that has nothing to do with H.G. Wells. Then IMDb gives 19 results with “the time machine” in their titles that are expansions of the original title. Most of them have nothing to do with H.G. Wells.
[iv] In 1969 the US federal government launched a research program for a new communications medium joining the telephone and the computer, the future Internet.
[v] I am interested in the status of the narrator and, in the film, of the camera as voyeur and narrator in clear reference to Marshall McLuhan and Kenneth Burke. It generally leads to a widening of the interest and to other films like Clive Barker’s early student films, particularly his Faust or Salome, or Andy Warhol’s Flesh (the beginning again), or Metropolis and many others. We then identify the various levels of narration in a film from the purely semantic (linguistic) meaning to the symbolic syntax of what we see and hear or the syntax of both shooting and editing. These two films are a perfect starter in that direction because they shift from a double narrator to none at all, hence to wondering where the narrator is. If we consider the endings then it is obvious the character has to stay in that future in Simon Wells’ film since there is no present day narrator, no possible natural return, and vice versa the ending determines the absence of a narrator.
[vi] This is an important characteristic of films as a medium. The very structure of this flash-forward to an alternative ending has been used by other directors and a good cinema audience is able to connect such correspondences on which any director plays: inner mediatic anaphora for the director or cultural kataphora for the audience. Here Simon Wells uses the same “figure of shooting or editing” as in The Last Temptation of Christ and the vision Christ has of what his family life could have been with Mary Magdalene if he had not been crucified. The Über-Morlock is then an embodiment of the devil himself. Then the underworld is hell with a reference to Dante’s Inferno and the progressive descent from one circle to the next, a very common reference in 20th century culture and arts, particularly the cinema. Cf. Rachel Falconer, Hell in Contemporary Literature, Western Descent Narratives Since 1945, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2005.