For those of you in Oxford, Brad Winderbaum's short student film The Futurist will be screening at The Oxford Film Festival on May fourth (9:50pm), fifth (9:10pm), and ninth (7:20pm) at the Phoenix Picture House. You can pick up tickets through the festival website. I will be at all three screenings, representing Brad, and may be saying a few words to introduce the film on which I am credited as a "production advisor." Time travel, romance, and superheroes: what more do you want. Be there.
I know that very few readers will have seen The Futurist film, but, because it is showing here in Oxford, I am going to blog about it anyway.
The Futurist is a superhero movie that subverts the conventions of the genre, but in an unlikely way. We have already seen superhero comics play with the themes of mere humanity (Watchmen), ethics (The Authority, Powers), fiction (Animal Man), and post-humanism (Morrison’s New X-Men). The twist in The Futurist involves the theme, common in the genre, of fate. Most superhero stories are either about our hero’s ability to thwart some kind of inevitable doom (Hellboy), or our hero learning to accept his place in some grand providential scheme (The Matrix). In The Futurist, Charles Guthrie finds himself arbitrarily slammed into a destiny that is his doom (the destiny in the film is anything but God-given); but, rather than escape it, learns to draw power from it: the knowledge of his arbitrarily destined death is the source of temporary but amazing powers.
In just about every time travel movie there is the inevitable question the filmmakers try to keep you from asking: once you know your future, what happens if you do something else? If your variation changes your future shouldn’t that have been your vision of your future? Most films avoid the question by positing the vision as a possible future (Back to the Future 2), or by incorporating our hero’s knowledge into the vision of the future (in The Matrix the Oracle tells Neo not to worry about the vase he is about to break, causing him to break it). In the first case the drama is taking the path to the best alternate future; in the second our hero’s ignorance of his fate – an ignorance shared by the audience – means he (and we) never know what will happen next. In the world of The Futurist, something else happens: our hero and the audience know exactly what will happen; his destiny is both inevitable and perfectly clear, and he cannot choose any other path and no one can or will. Until that fateful day, he will never die.
And yet the concept is still engaging and dramatic, because it plays into the kinds of narratives we have seen before, though in a weird way. In a superhero film there is a certain amount of safety: without seeing the film, we know Superman will not die in Superman Returns. The Futurist plugs into our knowledge that our hero cannot die and makes it a plot point, finally providing a solid narrative reason for those all too common film moments in which the bad guys fire a hail of bullets at, say, Batman, but none ever hit him in the face. The mere presence of the Futurist guarantees that they will never kill him.
A fully thought through concept of Fate and an action sequence cliché would have spelt death for a lesser man, but not for the Futurist.