Of the Evolution of Concepts in Science-Fiction

A small reflection about scifi and eras.

Courtesy of Tunnelmotion

Disclaimer: This paper contains spoilers for Terminus (1987), Moon (2014), The Invention of Morel.

In 1987, Pierre-William Glenn released on the French silver screen a movie named Terminus. A post-apocalyptic flick, in which Johnny Halliday — probably France’s most famous singer even though he is actually Belgian — plays a trucker with a bionic arm. Did anyone say Furiosa? Anyway, I once watched this movie in a small theatre thanks to a rare screening from an even more rare magazine named Distorsion.

This séance was presented by the filmmaker himself. I would bet you a ton of money, that I do not have, that Halliday would have never set foot in some tiny shithole in order to promote a movie that didn’t make its money back. The director’s foreword was interesting nonetheless. It taught me the movie was shot à l’italienne — meaning they shot a scene in one language before shooting it in another tongue back to back. But I also learn that the filmmaker lost almost all his money because of this. For he sunk and sunk big dollars in it thinking this post-apocalyptic German-French road-trip would be the next big thing.

It wasn’t.

I really do remember the sadness, the fatigue in its creator’s eyes. The joy he had screening this to like 30 people, almost thirty years after its intial release. Pierre-William stated that people at the time didn’t understand the movie. That the whole plot passed over them. If you ask me, the story is quite simple. There’s a trucker who participates in some Death Race, Roger Coman style, with its talking truck Monstre ; along the way he helps a young boy and a lone woman who are chased by bad guys. At the end of the film we discover that the whole aim of the event is to hide the transport of clones underneath the cover of a sporting tournament. Metal-Arm-wielding hero has saved the day, audience had some chase scenes and great decorum. Everyone is happy.

Thing is, it is never really implied that those are clones which our heroes find into gigantic green vials at the back of an unmarked truck during the final sequence. We have to guess it, but the conclusion is just the most rationnal one. And this led me to think. In 1987, unsuspecting viewers did not know what to make of this ending, for they did not get what it was trying to tell them. That some dark shady power used a race in order to move around clones which appeared to be an illicit cargo.

And yeah, this probably led to unfocused spectators walking out of the theater wondering what the hell they just witnessed.

Stills from Moon

I thought of this recently, for during the pandemic I decided to show Moon to my girlfriend. We would then go on to watch Mute which is the sequel and is on Netflix. The plot of David bowie’s son — Duncan Jones — movie is quite simple. Sam Bell played by Sam Rockwell, is a lone worker on a moon base, extracting gas and mineral in order to fuel Earth’s never ending greed for energy. After an accident, he wakes up and everything is not as it seems.

Sure, Moon nods towards 2001 a Space Odyssey, especially in the way it is shot but what I really want to talk about is the story. You see, during the course of the movie, Sam finally discovers he’s not alone. In fact there is quite a good numbers of Sam which are being ressurected every once in a while in a never ending slavery cycle.

But what’s interesting is, my girlfriend isn’t really fond of scifi. She’s an horror/fantasy aficionado but not really a space-opera nerd. Yet as soon as she saw the former Sam begins to appears sick, she was like: “He is dying, for he has a expiration date. That’s sad.” I don’t think of this as some big revelation, I think every spectator who saw the movie thought the exact same thing but it got me thinking.

An expiration date on a human being is not something that appears surreal to us, even when we don’t consume science-fiction. Expiration dates are a commodity, and clone stories are quite common. The mix of both those concept appears natural to anyone living in amass market society slowly crawling towards its burning death.

Yet, releasing this very movie 30 years prior and maybe people would have needed a tidbit more explanation…

Stills from the movie L’année dernière à Marienbad

Which leads me to the Invention of Morel. In 1940, Adolfo Bioy Casares released what he allegedly titled his first novel. This is false, it is his seventh but the writer somehow erased his previous works in order to be remembered solely by what he considered his most grand pieces.

My uncle had given me this book when I was seventeen. And I didn’t remember it quite well although it left me with a somewhat good vague souvenir. There really is no surprise as to why this book is considered a classic in French litterature. In its plot, a political refugee flee to an allegedly desert island only to discover that he is not alone! Bunch of people are moving around! At first, our man starts to spy on them, but then he falls in love with a beautiful young woman. After quite some time stalking her, he tries to talk to her but she ignores him. This leads to frustration and lenghty passages in which our narrator is really, really torn in pieces by this woman who dare not even look upon him. She isn’t the sole person that cannot see him, though, like nobody appears to be able to perceive our main protagonist.

At this point of my paper, everyone is like yawning, saying yeah those are holograms. Like the dude is speaking to captured images of a previous era and all he does is crywanking over some woman not being open enough to his advances. All of those are fair. But let’s not forget the book was written in the 40s. And it would be a safe bet to think that, at the time, white cis male scholars who read such a tale were gripping their books with whitening phalanges, wondering what was gonna happen next.

This just goes on to prove, that some scifi concept became so deeply-embeded in our pop-culture, that they don’t surprise us anymore. Without even being tropes, they’re just normal, regular ideas that we heard so much there is no novelty to it. Those who follow me know I always like to talk about prism, how everyone’s mindset shape the world around them, it’s funny to notice, even time plays a part in such a process.

Next week is French Frights week. Stay Tuned for we’re gonna talk of The Village of Shadows!

Releasing a paper every Friday.

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