Wednesday, March 25, 2015

All You Zombies' Predestination

"I create the things that haunt me
The ghosts you see here came with me
I create my consequences
I have weaved my history."

Ego Likeness - Weave

Read All You Zombies. Watch Predestination. If you're a Heinlein fan or not, if you like time travel stories or need a crash course in their twists and turns, if you're just in the mood for a thought-provoking bit of speculation, just do it.

As a rule, nobody wants to adapt the big names of Science Fiction. Good SciFi tends to be just a smidge more cerebral than Star Wars and what's worse, pushes some heavy-handed social commentary. Sure everyone's heard of Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World and 1984 but as long as you don't make big-budget movies out of them, as long as you keep them out of pop-culture, you can censor them by inundation and relegate them to the status of high school English class homework assignments, chores to be forgotten and not thoughts to be engaged. Meanwhile, look at the shiny new lazorz by Industrial Light & Magic, conveniently fired off by an anti-intellectual messianic bad-boy whose every action is dictated by his mechanical devotion to his mate and tribal unit.

Nobody adapts Robert Heinlein. Aside from The Puppet Masters the mass-media have succeeded in linking Heinlein's name (if known to the public at all) to the cheesily militaristic Starship Troopers. Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress or the rest of his commentary on sex/race relations, religion and individualism, well now, that's safely excluded from the zeitgeist. I dare you, just try pitching a faithful adaptation of Job: A Comedy of Justice to Time Warner. You'll never get past the snipers and attack dogs.

But hey, we did get an amateurish rendition of Atlas Shrugged pushed onto the market recently, so maybe it's time to acknowledge Heinlein too, the guy who called himself so individualistic he'd make Ayn Rand look like a communist. Maybe some Hollywood studio can make some money off paying lip-service to one of the greats, get in on that niche market of... nope, keep dreaming. Gotta depend on the Aussies for that (though to their credit, Sony did step in to leech some money off grabbing the distribution rights, right neighborly of 'em.)

And damnit, it's good. Not great, but good. It respects the short story both in form and spirit in all but one aspect, which I'll address in a moment. Granted, they did pick a very short story to give themselves wiggle room, but still, it's all there. I don't mean just All You Zombies, though the bar discussion script plays admirably to Heinlein's... err, leines. I mean the somewhat industrial take on SF which comes through in most of his writing, the characters' lives as active professionals and the unapologetic emphasis on individual action. The brothers Spierig do him justice.

Except for one glitch: Mr. Robertson.

All You Zombies is a story about self-determination. In lending such an influential plot role to a character outside the, let's call it "continuity" of the main characters, the film's script undercut Heinlein's central theme. That outsider orchestration, though relatively light, diminishes the main characters' agency. The better or worse, the pain or satisfaction of their choices are nothing compared to the choice itself, to refusing to surrender the power of choice, that refusal to become one of the zombies who know not their own selves. It's not the proper role of one of the zombies to judge the necessity of those actions.

No comments:

Post a Comment