Study Guide for Things to Come

1. Filmographic Reference

Things to Come (vt The Shape of Things to Come, Whither Mankind?). Dir. William Cameron Menzies. UK: London Films, 1936. 130 min. US Release by United Artists, 113 min. Alexander Korda, prod. H. G. Wells, script, from his The Shape of Things to Come (1933).

2. Major Cast

John Cabal/Oswald Cabal: Raymond Massey Passworthy/Raymond: Edward Chapman
Theotocopulos: Cedric Hardwicke Roxana: Margaretta Scott
The Boss: Ralph Richardson Dr. Harding: Maurice Barddell
Mrs. Cabal: Sophie Stewart Mr. Cabal: Allan Jeayes
Horrie Passworthy: Pickles Livingson Airman: John Clement

3. Setting

  1. Everytown (UK, and rather Londonish), Christmas Eve, 1940: the start of World War II in the film. (In our world, WWII started in the 1930s, with the war in Europe going full scale on 1 Sept. 1939.)
  2. Everytown (or anywhere) and environs in 1966--a wasteland under the tyrannical rule of The Boss.
  3. Everytown (or anywhere) in 2036, a futuristic, technocratic utopia.

4. Plot

The fall of civilization through war and the following plague of "wandering sickness." Followed by barbarism and tyranny.

The re-establishment of civilization by a cabal (see cast list, above) of scientists and other trained professionals. (Technocracy: Rule by those trained in various techniques, mostly scientific and engineering techniques; Wells favored on "open conspiracy" of educated people to take over the world and run it efficiently, sanely, and humanely [see his A Modern Utopia]).

Utopia and its discontents. "In this peaceful, prosperous and sterile city[,] trouble brews. A noted sculptor, Theotocopulos . . ., tries to lead a revolt, hoping to return society to the more humanistic ways of yesterday. [Oswald] Cabal . . . stops the revolt and instigates the launching of a space ship to the moon"--crewed by Cabal's son and Raymond's daughter. "Perhaps on the new land there may be a more compassionate way of life" (James R. Parish and Michael R. Pitts, The Great Science Fiction Pictures [1977]).

5. Questions and Comments

  1. Some people have admired S. F. for its prediction of the future. How well does Things to Come predict our world?
  2. Both the Axis and Allied powers generally refrained from gas and biological warfare against each other, but the US did drop two atomic bombs on Japan. A-bombs had appeared in S. F. at least as early as the first Buck Rogers stories in 1928-29, and Aldous Huxley said that he really should have included them in Brave New World (1932) since the idea was much discussed when he wrote the story. Why no A-bombs in Things to Come? In the 1990s, is it just as well that Things to Come has a nonnuclear holocaust? (Either because we're farther away from nuke war than ever--or rather closer to it....)
  3. Note images of humans and machines in Things to Come. How do you respond to such images? (What appears bigger and more important?) Does the imagery go with the theme of technocracy? Do you prefer technocrats running the world to politicians such as "The Boss," or those who led the world into the war that ended our civilization?
  4. For more on Things to Come, see J. P. Telotte, A Distant Technology: Science Fiction Film and the Machine Age, ch. 6, sections III-IV.