“I’m too old for radicality.”
When the foundations of our lives shift, how do we begin to rebuild? In Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Things to Come, a middle aged woman faces sudden changes and must set about finding the course she wants for her life.
Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy professor who has a fairly happy and comfortable life with her husband Heinz (André Marcon). Her mother can be a bit demanding and Nathalie must include time in her schedule to deal with her mother’s needs, but it is the kind of thing we get used to as we reach that age. Nathalie loves her job and working with her students. She takes pride in those who move on in the field. Then in rapid succession her husband announces he has found someone else and her mother dies. Suddenly Nathalie finds herself with freedom to do as she will—but what does she want to do with that freedom?
In the process she also discovers that there have been changes in the world that she may not have noticed. Her publisher wants to make changes in her textbook for marketing reasons, but it goes against her grain. When she connects with a former student, she visits him at the commune he lives at with others who have adopted an anarchistic approach. There is a sense that without the comfortable environment of her former life she may not really fit in the world around her.
This plays out with a very understated dramatic sense. As is often the case in real life, the events that happen to us, even those with major consequences, are often not tumultuous. We may even overlook the import of an event at the time and only see its meaning in retrospect. The new path she finds is also one of subtle change. As such, this film plays out in a very measured pace.
There is a certain intellectual component to the film as well. Since she teaches philosophy there are various questions and writers that find their way into the story. So we may note a family vacation to the grave of French writer Chateaubriand, or discussions of Blaise Pascal’s Pensees, or even a subtle comparison of the music of Woody Guthrie to Brahms.
The film doesn’t use or require a great deal of emotion to move the story along (although it isn’t a cold, barren piece). It is really more a film for the mind than the heart (although it isn’t heartless). It asks us to consider the main theme of essays she grades early in the film: “Can we put ourselves in the place of others?” We are asked to consider if we can put ourselves in Nathalie’s place and contemplate the changes of life that occur through the years and perhaps to reflect on those changes that have influenced us that we may not have noticed.