‘In The Shadow Of The Moon’ (2019) : Is The Murder Of An Individual Involved In A Future Evil Act Ever Justified?
‘‘There are some things a man must not do to save a nation.’’
John O’Leary (1830–1907)
We open with an empty shattered office building with no sign of life and as the camera tracks along we see outside another building that has been almost completely destroyed and small fires still blaze at its base. A flag flutters down and it is similar to the Stars and Stripes but we know this flag is slightly, but crucially different. There are fewer Stars. Something is very wrong; the screen goes black and then there appears the time and place: Philadelphia 2024.
Next on the black screen we are given another date: 1988. But we are now in a past Philadelphia. We witness various people going about their lives. A pianist plays to an audience, a bus driver drives and a cook, well, cooks. We zoom in on the female bus driver and we are shown the book she is reading; it is a biography of Thomas Jefferson. A person in a hoodie is seen in the alleyway and they begin to run. Suddenly blood starts to pour from the orifices of each person we have seen and they slump down and are dead.
We see at the same time a cop with a pregnant wife prepare for his graveyard shift. They are obviously very much in love. He meets his partner outside and they drive to the scene of the crash which has occurred because the bus driver lost control of the bus when she died. He notices puncture wounds on the back of her neck. Even though he is only a cop he follows up on his discovery to find that the others had the same puncture wounds, three to the neck. A call comes in that a woman has just been attacked and has the three marks on her. But she is still alive.
On arrival they question her. But within moments she has bled to death like the others. However, they now have a description of the perpetrator which is circulated. On their patrol of the area they spot the suspect and give chase. This leads them to a subway station where our hero confronts the suspect. She is a female. She tells him information that only he knows. They fight and as he shoots her, with her futuristic device, she falls into an oncoming train and is splattered everywhere.
However, she returns from the dead, nine years later in 1997 to continue to kill seemingly random people. Our hero is now a detective and once again goes after her with little success. At the station he is confronted by a young physicist who suggests that the moon is responsible for creating a bridge between two different worlds. He is ignored. In the original autopsy in 1988 a bullet is found in the girl’s arm. But no gun was fired.
She returns again in 2006 but he is no longer a detective and his life has fallen apart because of his obsession with finding her. His daughter is living with her uncle. She mentions her boyfriend to him but he doesn’t even remember that he has met ‘George’ twice. He is not in a good place physically nor mentally.
However, he is closer to the truth then ever before. He has discovered that the killings are not random but involve the deliberate murder of people involved in extreme political views and who are planning an uprising in America.
He again comes across the girl dressed exactly the same as she is in every iteration. She has killed again and is still in the home of one of these people who have received propaganda in a book sent to them from the erstwhile leader of the future insurgency. This is where he shoots her in the arm. There is a chase where she escapes via a drainage tunnel that leads to a machine that is obviously from the future. Our hero watches as it fills with liquid and she and the machine disappear before his very eyes and ours.
It is now 2015 and we see our hero on the beach where he last saw the girl (who was of mixed race) disappear. He is studying the moon with a telescope and obviously waiting for her to return, as the nine-year cycle has now elapsed, again. He is however being watched very closely by someone. It is the crazy young physicist who we see working on the device that the girl has used to murder people with. They are linked somehow.
Our hero receives a phone call from his daughter who wants him to be at the birth of her baby. She tells him that ‘George’ wants him there to. He is going to be a grandfather. As he finishes the call the not so young anymore, crazy physicist, turns up and kidnaps him. When our hero wakes tied-up in a van being driven by the physicist he gets an explanation as to what has been going on although most of us should already have figured it out. It involves going back in time to prevent a future civil war that takes place in 2024, hence, the opening shot of the, I assume, huge bomb going off in Philadelphia.
But to stop the first American Civil War who would you decide to kill? But killing one or two major players in the decision to start the war would that be enough? As of course there were thousands of people prepared to die for their cause whether from the North or South. To stop another Civil War is the reason for the supposedly random murders now occurring over 27 years. But they are not random.
Our physicist is at pains to provide justification for their actions in terminating right-wing opponents. He is stating categorically that for them the ends justify the means. But then this could also be argued by those American ‘patriots’ who are involved in the future insurgency. As he is waxing eloquently our hero manages to untie himself and escape from the van as it crashes.
As she arrives back to 2015 our battered and bruised hero is waiting for her. He intends to kill her. He has not been persuaded by the arguments put forward by the politically motivated physicist. But as he aims the gun at her she pulls off her hood and we see her properly for the first time. She then tells him that he will not shoot her at which he laughs. He has spent 27 years to get to this moment. He has been going forward and she has been going backwards. As she starts her speech on the beach it slowly begins to dawn on him and us who she really is. She is his — about to be born — granddaughter?! Wow. We knew they were connected but that they are related is a brilliant twist and does give this film an added dimension which I for one was not expecting. It is a powerful and highly emotive scene.
She explains the purpose of her mission. In a riff on one of the Terminator themes she tells her grandfather that he is going to make her into what she is now; a highly capable assassin. Much like how Sarah Connor makes her son capable of leading the resistance against the cyborgs. Yet he will eventually kill his own granddaughter in another 27 years time. But we are in the now and we witness our hero at the hospital holding his newly-born granddaughter and everything returning to the way it was and the building in Philadelphia that we saw at the start of this film is undamaged because no bombing attack will now take place as those responsible are being terminated from the future. Simple really. And far too easy.
A happy ending or is it? I put my hand up and admit I thoroughly enjoyed the film. The variation on the time travel trope of returning to kill Hitler was most intriguing and in this iteration very original in its internal timeline configuration. This idea has always been controversial and has involved much moral debate. It has also been famously lampooned by the mischievous and irreverent ‘Deadpool’. So which version of Hitler would you terminate? Hitler as a baby? Hitler as a medic in World War One? Or perhaps, the easiest morally, Hitler as Fuhrer?
But of course, the killing of Hitler trope, raises one of the most fundamental moral problems regarding such an enterprise and is a serious moral and ethical issue for ‘In The Shadow Of The Moon’. For what crime are you condemning the individual to death for? Killing Hitler, as a baby, is for a future crime. Killing every individual in the film is for a future crime. One could only kill Hitler with some justification when he has committed a heinous act. Of course ‘‘heinous’’ will mean different things to different people and political persuasion. Perhaps the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923 when Hitler was charged with treason could suffice. Hitler was extremely lucky to escape the firing squad then. Another huge historical : What If? Yet until the bomb goes off in Philadelphia in 2024 these individuals have committed no crime. They are innocent.
This is I believe tacitly acknowledged through the continuing attempt by our hero to track down and arrest the murderer. He spends 27 years of his life which almost destroys him and his relationship with his daughter trying to apprehend the suspect. However there is a massive U-turn at the end when he realises who the suspect really is. Of course this is a highly human response. How could he now kill his own granddaughter? But why not? She is traveling through time assassinating individuals who will, we are told, take part in a violent overthrow of the United States of America because of their political position and views. The evidence?
Yet, what is it, that we are actually shown. A biography of Thomas Jefferson in the first part of the film. Then we see a murdered academic who has a biography of George Washington. Hardly seditious materials. However the film does show us some of the contents of the propaganda letter the leader is sending out to his followers. It mentions the phrase ‘‘American patriots’’ and the phrase resonates with the past and the present of American political movements and their links to the far-right/alt. right. Are we then condemning people for their political beliefs just based upon biographies of American leaders and a piece of possible far-right propaganda? I think the answer is unfortunately and dangerously, Yes.
Isn’t this just a reverse McCarthyism where those being hunted are not Communists but this time are right-wing followers and sympathisers who may or may not be fascists. Let me be clear I am no apologist or supporter of extreme views, especially any that suggest the violent overthrow of a country but I am concerned about the targeting of any group in a democratic society; a society which believes in the right to free speech. What would have been the response to the film if those shown being murdered had biographies of Marx and Lenin and a letter from Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn?
So can we ever justify the termination of individuals who are responsible for future crimes? Is killing Hitler justifiable? My answer is: No. Categorically: No. Where would this retrospective justice begin and end? Only for use in large scale historical events? Can I go back and alter events that I consider to be detrimental to my life? Even very serious ones? Where would this end? In timelines of pure anarchy where nothing is set and everything changes, theoretically on a daily basis, or at least after every nine — year cycle.
There is a further deeper question that the film tacitly acknowledges and raises but does not commit to: How do you stop an idea? The political idea that underpins the oncoming second American civil war is fascism. The answer is here, to kill those disseminating this political creed. But is there really enough time in the nine — year cycles to carry out the murder of thousands. But, this does not deal with the cause. For the casus belli is the idea. So how do you kill an idea? For the idea of fascism is still out there.
The idea of fascism in the film is spread by typed letter. The film is set in the beginning before the smartphone had become ubiquitous. Nowadays any idea of whatever political persuasion can be spread at the press of a button. So how do you stop the idea, that in the film, causes the insurgency? The murder by injected toxin isn’t going to do it. Perhaps you would have to contemplate going back in time and terminating Alexander Bell, this time. Here we go again. Cue ‘Deadpool’.
We have come a long way since the now iconic film, Terminator showed us a man sent back in time to save the leader of the future resistance and sacrifice himself in the process. Not forgetting of course actually creating the leader as well. It is not a good sign that a human is this time, in our time of 2019, returning to kill other humans who will be involved in another American Civil War. Killing not to save the human race but killing over the definition of and who is most worthy to be described as, a true American patriot.
As we all know politics in America as it is in Britain is dangerously divided, but preemptive murder is not the solution. In fact it could be argued that it could well cause the second American Civil War by its extra-judicial murder of the innocent, however unpleasant the views held by the victims and however unpleasant these individuals are personally. This is a time-travelling War on Terror with the same exact mistakes the original scheme has committed: the murder of too many innocent people.
There are just some things a man or woman (in a hoodie) from the future must not do to save a nation.