Film treatment: Introductory Notes:
What follows is a short film treatment that is inspired by, but is not, technically, an adaptation of the Nebula award winning novella “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcock, published in 1969. The basic spine of Moorcock’s novella is being retained – that is, the idea of a time loop in which the main character, Karl Glogauer, travels back in time (from more or less our present time) and winds up assuming the role that recorded history has ascribed to Jesus Christ, all the way to the point of being crucified.
That central idea – and nothing else – is being carried over into the treatment. Whereas the novella contains two time frames which are intercut with each other throughout the story, the treatment describes three time frames: a period that feels like the United States in the early 1950’s (but is not exactly – see note below); the future (vague in terms of the actual year, but definitely farther into the future than the first time frame presented); and the time of Christ, 33 A.D.
This radical re-conception is being employed in an effort to accommodate ideas that are better suited to this “opening up” of the source material, besides generally imagining a scenario that has a compelling “strangeness” that is hopefully more cinematic and, in the end, more entertaining. Though brilliant in its evocation of many philosophical ideas, by itself the novella feels closed in – hermetic in a way that would be uncomfortable to an average filmgoer (but not a reader). Also, it is felt that the following re-conception is, ultimately, the best way to do justice to the remarkable central conceit of the novella – without trivializing its thematic heft – so that, in a sense, this new take on the material goes full circle, pointing back to the source material with the respect it warrants.
Note on specific aspect of treatment:
The story is going to be introducing the idea of dimensions beyond the known four (depth, height, width, time), a concept already accepted for the most part in modern physics. For the purposes of this scenario, what numerous dimensions beyond the known four will translate to is the idea of different “realities” occurring at the same time. For example, if you run to catch a bus and you just make it, there you are, on the bus, in that “reality”. But if you stumbled on your way to the bus and it left before you could catch it, we’ll conjecture there might be a whole other reality in which you did, indeed, miss that bus and you’d either have to walk or catch the next one – and this, of course, would have a different ripple effect in terms of all the possible outcomes that would flow from that one moment than the first scenario would.
So, in the spirit of creative play – playing with the medium of film in a way that is interesting (since any film is a kind of “alternate reality” anyway) – the settings depicted in two of the three time frames (the “1950’s” and the “future”) will be portrayed in a very slightly skewed (by use of subtle invention of production design or details of clothes, language, etc.) manner, as if to subliminally suggest that even the “realities” that we are witnessing on the screen are ones that are the products of “having missed the bus” (unfamiliar) realities rather than “having made the bus” (familiar) realities, with some of the attendant, imagined repercussions that would logically follow.
IMITATION OF CHRIST (working title)
Film treatment by Joe Minion
Karl Glogauer is a brilliant theoretical physicist working in Southern California in the early 1950’s. Albert Einstein is still teaching at Princeton University and his theories of general and special relativity are still causing shockwaves in the realm of modern physics. The speed of light is acknowledged as the fastest speed in the known universe.
The concept of time travel is much bandied-about in the scientific world, though it is felt that, at best, it would seem (on paper) possible that time travel to the future – and only the future – is theoretically possible, and then only with the aid of an infinite mass of fuel and a transport of infinite length.
This is the arena in which Glogauer toils, often making new contributions to the field, though he is a tortured soul. He is dogged by a personality that seems downright self-destructive, a self-hating, and even sexually depraved streak that marks him as secretive, furtive character, a bit like a character in a Jim Thompson novel.
He seems to be happily married, with two children, a boy and a girl, and his research pays him enough money to afford a nice house in Pasadena. He provides for his family.
Glogauer also happens to be a member of a restricted swimming club: no Jews allowed. He regularly takes his wife and children there, and it’s a period when such indoctrination seemed acceptable, even commonplace. He appears the good husband, the concerned father. But there’s something relentlessly eating at Glogauer – the cognition of sometimes even the slightest suffering in the world (the sight of a man kicking his dog, for example, caught from the corner of his eye) – can send him plunging into a sudden downtrodden mood. It is as if he is hurtling, reluctantly, to some realization about himself, one that he is going out of his way to push back. The tone will be one of lurid melodrama…
The film will cut to a strange, not-quite utopia in the same geographic region as the 1950’s setting. This is a future that is recovered from a time when mankind had to pass though a recent period of testing itself and its ability to stave off self-destruction. This period will be made to appear very strange in that it will be a kind of exaggeration of the 1950’s and its era of nuclear families, post-war prosperity, forward-looking optimism, etc. Only it will be slightly “off”. There should be a forced self-congratulatory atmosphere, as in the actual 1950’s, but cleaned up and astringent, without the intrusion of hurtling-forward-towards-the-troubled-future elements that marked the actual 1950’s, with its interest in jazz, beat literature, drugs, psychology, etc. Put another way, this future would be the equivalent of an Andy Warhol retouching of a 1950’s photograph.
In this future time, we again see Karl Glogauer. With exposition, we see that he has been assigned the identity Karl Glogauer by the government. Or, more precisely, he has chosen that moniker, offered a list of thousands of available ones, much like today one may be offered the choice of one out of several phone numbers when installing new phone service. He made this choice after he turned up one day, reporting himself a survivor of one of the last nuclear disasters of recent (for this time period) memory.
Again, Glogauer is “betrothed” (married). He works with a team of scientists on a time machine – in this period, time travel to the past has been worked out on paper (thanks in large part to Glogauer himself), and the scientific community has been hard at work ever since in making that prospect a reality.
Karl Glogauer, in this time period, has a melancholy about him. It is remarked on from time to time by his wife, by his co-workers. Everyone around him seems happier than he is, but he seems resigned to a great and heavy sense of sadness. It seems he knows something that no one else knows. He is able to do his work with vigor enough, but he is always once removed, his center of being seeming to come from someplace far off. He is the same character as the man we saw in the “1950’s”, but without any of the tortured histrionics we will be seeing him act out in those segments of the film. Glogauer seems bottomed out now.
One of his colleagues, Jeffrey Bens, is embezzling money from his partner in a side business he co-owns. Another colleague, Lester Pullman, is plagiarizing research material from a university student to further his reputation and retain favor with “IETTO”, or Inter-Era Time Travel Organization, the government time-travel equivalent, in this future time, to the 1960’s “NASA”.
33 A. D.
The era during which Jesus Christ lived was a lawless, violent, confused time (much like most times in history!). These segments of the film will be marked by an atmosphere of utter fear and savagery, with tribe pitted against tribe. The populace is lost. Brutal Roman law exploits the citizenry, and anyone with the slightest sense of justice is searching desperately for deliverance by a Messiah.
Plunked down into this world will be Glogauer, Bens and Pullman. The first thing Glogaur will do is take his colleagues aside and give them a crash course in the historically accurate language of the time, all the time fending off their protestations and questions as to how in the hell they arrived in this godforsaken time when their mission was….
Glogauer has an affair with a Jewish woman. He has it pretty openly. His domestic life should be depicted as quite quarrelsome, the dark side of the bond of marriage. The woman with whom he has an affair is desperate and needy. He pities her – he feels compelled to answer to her every beckoning call, as he receives a strange feeling of relief.
At some point Glogauer reveals to his brother-in-law Bill that he is unhappy, that his work is getting to him. Bill, who works in Hollywood (in television), promises Glogauer that if he so desires, he could get him a job at CBS.
One of the darker aspects of these segments of the film is that we witness Glogauer occasionally mistreating his children. In the most extreme example, he strikes his young son when he sees him draw an image of a crucifix.
This incident compels Glogauer to seek help in whatever way he can. Now he is incredibly grateful for his brother-in-law’s officer and he hastily quits his position (which he has sensed is contributing to his increasing sense of panic) to the great disappointment of his superiors. They try to lure him back but he declares that he will never work in science again. He takes a job at CBS, in a department in charge of the development of the big idea in early 50’s television broadcasting: the “TV series”.
Except for Glogauer himself, who is sad, fatalistic, and glum, the people of this time walk around in a state of slightly cranked up emotions. They almost seem like Teletubbies in their cutsi-ness. There’s something about this era in which it’s become all right to emote.
We learn from a scene that takes place in the history class of one of Glogauer’s children that there is an intense glow pouring out of a black hole near the constellation Centaurus. Basically, beginning with this scene, but with the help of other scenes, we will establish that as a result of the discovery of this emanation of light, physicists have been able to finally get a peephole into the actual physical manifestation of other dimensions. What is evident, and apparently has been evident for some time in relationship to this future civilization, is that there is an “anti-existence” for all existence, and in fact it is the existence of this anti-existence which makes for a continued balance, much the way the combination of entropy and gravity makes the planets orbit the sun, the moons orbit planet, etc., without everything imploding on itself.
The universe may eventually stop expanding, but it is anti-existence that assures that it has already begun all over again in some other dimension, and since anti-existence is affected directly by existence, it can be said to be as joyless or joyful in direct proportion to the feeling of joy or lack of it in existence. It is an assurance, in other words, of an exact repeat of whatever way one is living one’s life now, and as such it is a great gift – the ultimate gift, as it is, in scientific terms, the gift of eternal life, the conquering of death.
Seen in this light, Bens’s and Pullman’s crimes against their community are rather curious, but no one has said anything about the absence of free will. Their actions, however, are depicted in a way that makes it seem as if they have no choice, no free will, as if there is some larger imperative at work here.
Glogauer throws himself into his work with the dedication and fervor of someone who seems to want to get something – the inevitable – over with as quickly as possible.
If we have not seen them before, this segment should introduce us to the curious characters of Lucy and Desi. They are quite, quite old, with very wrinkled skin. They have a bemused, accepting philosophy. They are friendly neighbors of the Glogauers, both retired. They used to be agents for people in the entertainment industry, a long time ago. They have been subject to much plastic surgery and life-enhancers, including strict diets and intakes of all sorts of vitamins and supplements, and there’s no saying how old they really are. But they’re really old. Desi is descended from people who inhabited an island that was long ago called Cuba. Lucy is a redhead.
The threesome meet John the Baptist who baptizes Glogauer, Bens and Pullman whatever for. Random murder and other acts of violence continue to permeate this troubled time. There is crying, screaming, all around. Whenever Glogauer, Bens and Pullman are alone they speak English together, the latter two sensing that somehow Glogauer had something to do with the three of them winding up in the literally godforsaken time.
To reiterate, the sheer sweating, bleeding, overheated, sun-parched frenzy of this mad time will be emphasized over and over, as if we have entered a kind of hell on earth.
One of the duties given to Glogauer in his position at CBS is to interview and make decisions about performers who are being considered for a television series. He must watch test shows, talk with the artists. Two who show up are Lucy and Desi, a handsome couple, she a redhead and he a talented singer from Cuba. They come highly recommended to Glogauer and the pressure is on him to give them a chance.
Glogauer watches their act, speaks to them, and then promises to think it over. (His affair is continuing, of course, along with other secret activities.) He decides to turn away Lucy and Desi. He argues that their humor is juvenile, and besides their little scenarios make a mockery of the husband and wife union. He predicts that if their show went on the air and people all across the country were exposed to their antics, it would spawn an entire generation or more of people who would ridicule the institution of marriage; in fact it would actually affect marriages forever, in a harmful way. Not to say what an awful precedent it would set for this powerful tool called television, making its way into every household in the country.
Lucy and Desi are told to take their act somewhere else. They take the news so hard that they decide to quit performing, and the get jobs in the mailroom at an agency representing other performers. His superiors frown upon Glogauer’s decision, his decision-making abilities are questioned, and his brother-in-law gets into a bit of trouble for paving the way in for him.
Glogauer himself starts to wonder what the hell he is doing, working at CBS. There is the sense that he has bigger fish to fry. He rents out a large space, an empty warehouse…
IETTO seems to be gearing up for the Big Day – the day when the first voyage to the past will occur. There is a lot of politicking that goes into deciding exactly what time period to go back to. It is decided Ancient Egypt, sometime around 8000 B.C.
There’s some time before the crew is to be decided. But there’s an element of fate knocking at Glogauer’s door when one evening, having dinner with his family, the call comes in to let him know he has been chosen as one of the three to man the mission. He seems to have been expecting it all along. He looks at his hands. He takes the dinner fork next to his plate, lifts it up, starts pushing it into his hand. His wife pulls it away, admonishing him: “What are you doing? Remember, whatever you do in this life is going to be something you repeat over and over, for all eternity!”
The time machine is transported by barge to the Nile valley. Glogauer, as he is the one most qualified, will be in charge of time navigation – that is, giving the machine’s computers specific instructions as to how to travel back to the precise time voted on by the folks at IETTO.
Also, his friends Bens and Pullman will be accompanying him. Glogauer doesn’t seem surprised by this either. The three of them begin training together, like astronauts…
Glogauer argues with his colleagues that, since they are there, they might as well seek out this guy Jesus Christ who was so talked about in history books and in a number of old time religions. (In these sequences Glogauer will appear more “at home” than ever.)
Along the way, having brought just enough of their own time’s technology as a kind of survival kit, Glogauer helps a few people along the way with medical advances that appear to the ones healed, and to the ones watching…as miracles. And they happened to bring along an instrument called a water tensor, which comes in handy when you’re trying to make water burst forth from dry land when you’re dying of thirst. Glogauer uses his to help a few helpless fellows falling out a capsized fishing boat, so he can walk out to them and save their lives. He appears, to them, to walk on water.
Rumors start. The Romans get word of this zany character out in the hills of Galilee…
Glogauer is spending a lot of time away from the office, hidden away in his converted warehouse space, working on…? He dares not tell a soul. Though he arouses the suspicions of his former colleagues in the scientific community.
He is continuing to treat people in a more and more difficult fashion, as though he is forcing an issue, forcing a kind of self-imposed exile, giving himself a reason to run away.
He even mistreats the woman with whom he has been having an affair, cheating on her even, and sinking to the lowest dregs of society. In due time, he gets himself fired from CBS, and pretty soon his family is in jeopardy. He is fast losing his self-respect.
He wants a way out. And one day he walks into the warehouse.
There is a bright light.
He does not walk out again.
Lucy and Desi are there to wave the time travelers off, along with their respective families. Everybody is asking if they’d bring him or her back a chunk of a pyramid, or a mummified cat, etc. There is an air of festivity.
They even break out in song. There are lyrics to the effect of thanking the emanation of intense light from the constellation near Centaurus. It sounds like a hymn. A song of thanks to the promise of joy everlasting.
Glogauer gets into a little trouble at the Temple, disrupting the activities of the moneychangers.
He and his buddies are thrown to the wolves. Pontius Pilate makes a judgment call.
A hill called Golgotha. A long, painful walk during which—
—Glogauer realizes that the understanding, gleaned during his time in the future, that there are infinite realities, means that he is the Christ for every calendar, for every reality that had believed in Christ as a historical figure, which means he is enduring this, and must endure this over and over, for every stream of time in which Christ figures as an icon. For all eternity….He is the anti-love for all the love that has streamed through the ages. His pain has made whatever love there was, possible.
Three crosses, Glogauer’s cross in the middle. Bens and Pullman to his either side.
A pounding of nails—
IT IS WORTH IT!
Music up: Choir exultantly singing “Jerusalem”, the voices rising, louder and louder… the human soundtrack to the eternal, cosmic dance of joy…Halleluiah!