Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

The Time Machine

THE TIME MACHINE

(1960)


Notes: MGM adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel. 103 minutes.
Directed: George Pal
Screenplay: David Duncan

George: Rod Taylor
David Filby and descendants: Alan Young
Another friend: Sebastian Cabot
Yet another: Tom Helmore
Weena: Yvette Mimieux


Summary: Several Victorian gentlemen await the arrival of friend George, a scientist and inventor, as the eight o’clock hour sets off a din of chimes. A bedraggled George staggers in at dinner, unable to speak momentarily, and is assured he has “all the time in the world.” He alludes to December 31st, 1899, which we see in flashback, at which time this group discussed time as the imprisoning fourth dimension. George unveiled a mini time machine which disappears with a cigar at the control lever. Why isn’t it there? Because time changes space, you see. Met with exasperation, commercial advice, and speculation about the Boer War, George is discouraged. His friend David Filby remains when the others leave, and George expresses his dismay at science investing its energies into weapon development.

When alone, George seats himself at a full-sized time machine in his lab. He watches a mannequin’s clothes evolve rapidly in front of him and emerges in 1917 in his dusty boarded-up house. Across the street he mistakes James Filby for his father David, who has been killed in the big war, which of course George knows nothing about.

Back into the machine he goes and comes out in 1940, where his home is gone and the violence of the air raids makes him think it’s still the same war. Emerging in 1966, he sees an elevated train and, in a park, a plaque erected by James to his father David and regarding George himself. David’s descendant is now in a metallic suit and more bombings have people taking shelter. He is recognized by James from the 1940 visit, but firy destruction intervenes. George laments the labors of centuries being gone, and Nature responds to the violence violently too. Lava and noise drive George to his machine again.

It takes centuries for the wind and rain to erode the rock surroundings from the volcano, so thousands of centuries have gone by when, in the year 802701, he emerges into a green and seemingly paradisical world. Despite a disturbing enormous temple of some sort, he notes that “Nature [is] tamed completely,” but he laments being alone. He explores an empty banquet hall and has an anxiety attack in the woods before coming upon a group of blonde people lolling about on the banks of a stream. One woman is screaming and drowning though, and no one lifts a finger. George rescues her but she seems unfazed. She identifies herself as Weena and her people are called the Eloi, but there are no old people and no one seems to have any emotions. George is outraged at them during their banquet for letting their curiosity die, for having no government or laws or work obligations. He asks about books and is shown a library, but the books disintegrate to dust upon touch. After another lecture on responsibility, he returns to his machine but finds it has been dragged into the temple. Other creatures in the woods scurry away from him.

Weena comes along and warns about the Morlocks: we “mustn’t be out in the dark.” George declares her “like a child.” They gather sticks. She asks where he’s from. “Right here.” George is nostalgic for a time when humans were less vegetal. Weena is almost snatched, but fire seems to keep the Morlocks away. She places her hand in the fire since she has never seen it before. George apologizes for his anger and intolerance over the degeneration of the race and bewails the absence of the distinguishing spirit of self-sacrifice. Perhaps the Eloi just need a model to reawaken this. Weena doesn’t understand the concepts of past and future, and George defines the history of humankind as primarily “a grim struggle for survival, but a few voices spoke up” and made the world glorious. The Eloi are just in another dark age needing someone to show them the way, like maybe George the “tinkering mechanic” himself.

The next day the two hear the noise of machinery down a hole. Weena tells of talking rings which when spun like tops give recorded voices talking of an apocalyptic war and pollution. The realization dawns that humans divided into the masters — the Morlocks — and their cattle — the Eloi. When mature, the Eloi are taken below the surface of the planet. George starts to climb down the hole but sirens from the temple trigger a mass pseudo-somnambulatory migration of Eloi. George speechifies that their mantra “all clear” is obsolete — that they don’t have to go below as when the war was on. But he gets nowhere, and is locked outside the temple after Weena and many others have gone in.

He goes down the hole finally, and sees skeletons, which somehow clearly indicate that the Morlocks breed Eloi for food — that the Morlocks have degenerated into cannibalism. When Eloi are being whipped along, he tries to save Weena from the white-haired, glowing white-eyed, blue-skinned Morlocks. They cringe from matches, but finally one of the male Eloi helps and they escape out the hole from the firy underground. George instructs the escapees to dump sticks down the holes and an explosive cave-in ends the Morlock dynasty. Somehow we’re told that the leisure of the Eloi is also gone now.

George laments his inability to return to his time. Weena is curious about him and his availability, and about hair styles of his time. Kissy romance is stopped by the discovery of his machine in the now-open but burning temple. The doors close and separate George and Weena as a few surviving and screaming Morlocks attack. George starts the machine and the Morlocks disintegrate to skeletons. He realizes he’s going forwards again, and so pulls the lever backwards.

He comes to a stop on January 5, 1900, just outside his lab. He breaks into his own house, and this is where we began. His friends find his story “preposterous” despite an unidentifiable flower given to him by Weena which he produces. As the friends leave into the snowy night, George thanks David for his friendship. David doubles back but George is gone. Clearly he dragged the machine back in from the snow so that when he returns to the Eloi he’ll be outside the doors of the temple and with Weena. Somehow, David knows that he’s given to an urge to rebuild a civilization. He and the maid notice three books missing from the bookcase, but we don’t know what they were. “Which three books would you have taken?” David asks the maid and, obliquely, us. Welp, now “he has all the time in the world.”


Commentary: The film boasts Academy Award-winning effects. But it’s pretty annoying. Call it self-sacrifice to become the emperor of a tribe of morons, but it smells like egomania. And the Eloi don’t experience self-sacrifice? They march into the stewpots of the Morlocks!

Is it degeneration for the Morlocks to engage in cannibalism and not just the logical next step in the hierarchical construct known as the food chain: the more valued the animal the more valued its meat? And excuse me but do we have to go 78 centuries ahead for humans to become willing cattle? Ever been to Chicago O’Hare?

As for my three books: The Idiot’s Guide to Time Machine Repair, Preparing the Other Other White Meat by Julia Child, and Time of the Temptress by Violet Winspear.