Progression and Regression in “Things to Come”


What do years of war bring? What do years of peace bring? William Cameron Menzies’s film, Things to Come, based on a novel by H.G. Wells, shows these two extremes in a dystopian future. After extended war, the human race reverts back to barbarism and no longer know how to fly planes. After extended peacetime, humans make too much progress, and the object of life is not progress, it is living. Either way, too much regression or too much progression will cause humans to lose sight of what it means to live.

In Everytown, during the long war, they cannot fly planes because they have no oil or gasoline. If we are not careful about our resources and finding alternatives to fossil fuel, this could become reality in the twenty-first century. In this way, the film is warning us of the dangers of mass destruction and mass war. On the other hand, the film warns that two much progress can take away from life and actually make us less human. So what is the message that one is supposed to take away from the film? Everything in moderation? War is bad, but so is scientific and technological progress?

Ironically, both in the time of war and in the time of peace, authoritarian leaders rose to power. There was the barbaric “Chief”, and there was the forward-looking Oswald Cabal. These leaders also have similar mindsets. The chief wants to conquer the hill people, while Cabal wants to conquer the moon, then the universe.  Is this a comment on the nature of rulers, regardless of outside influences? What is the film attempting to get across to its audience?

5 thoughts on “Progression and Regression in “Things to Come”

  1. Both leaders represented in the film are absolute rulers. No larger council or body hold the leaders accountable. Though many in the Interwar Period turned against democratic governments because they moved so slowly, the slower pace those governments also ensured that there was balance of power. Is Wells arguing through these examples that a return to that type of government is more beneficial than the experiments into authoritarian rule?

  2. I think that the message that this film gets across is that progress and technology can negatively affect the nature of rulers. Progress is typically considered to be a positive thing, however, in “Things to Come,” Menzies shows that it can lead to an obsession with power. This film was substantial, because it challenged the overwhelming mindset that advances in technology, and progress in general were entirely beneficial to mankind.

  3. The message of “Things to Come” is a common one in the works of H.G. Wells. Wells was fearful of the technological advances that the world was making. He feared that as man became more and more advanced that they would become less and less dependent on hard work and labour. As a result we would digress as a society because we would not have to work for anything in our life. This dependance on technology would cause man to regress into a much more primitive form.

  4. I believe that the film is trying to show that progress cannot be stopped. The thirst for continuos innovation and the solutions to all of the questions of the universe is engrained in human DNA. At the end of the film Cabal is asked what will happen next after the moon has been conquered, and he replies, “once mankind has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of mankind, still he will only be beginning.” Someone out there will always be pushing the limits of progress because human beings are, and forever will be curious creatures.

  5. I think that the film is getting at the theme of moderation, and thought before blind action. I think that it is similar to the previous anti-scientific progress sources stating that there is a need to control how far we should allow technology to develop and possibly cause destruction when used by warmongering leaders. At the same time the use of planes as a symbol show that technology was also necessary to being individuals and free. I think that the film shows an interesting balance of those two ideas in its argument for moderation. I also think that the desires and intentions of a leader are also connected to the theme of technology and moderation.

Comments are closed.