Faster than Light
At the end of the millennium, “Blast From the Past” took a look back, tapping into the retro nostalgia that hit at the same time. Brendan Frasier plays Adam Webber, a young man raised in a bomb shelter by parents for whom the early sixties never ended. Adam’s father, Calvin Webber, played by the always amazing Christopher Walken, who mistook a plane crash for the beginning of World War III, has locked the family in a bomb shelter for thirty-five years.
Adam has never seen the real world. Instead he’s grown up a bubble boy, a cultural bubble boy, living in a projection of the early sixties as an ideal past. Adam Webber’s conception of the world was colored by the determined optimism and cultural inheritance of the early sixties, uncomplicated by the later events of the sixties or any fragments from the darker underside of real life. This makes Adam a virtual innocent, not ready for the technological advances and cultural turbulences that have changed the world by 1997, but not ready for the darker and more complicated sides of human nature.
Adam’s idea of the world is the idealistic one his father and mother have conveyed to him. An ideal world colored by classic American value and virtues, by Boy Scout ideals and a sunny optimistic approach to everything. Like a bubble boy, Adam has no immune system, but not against infection or disease (though in real life that would have been a problem as well), but against greed, cynicism, abuse, deception and manipulation. A golden boy, Adam is completely unready for modern day Los Angeles and the debauchery and corruption there.
The classic idea of Science Fiction futurism is to project a future that assumes that things keep on going the way they are. Thus Science Fiction written in the 50’s imagines a future where the trends and events of the 50’s kept on going. Science Fiction written in the 60’s assumed a future where the trends and events of the 60’s continued on producing a world very much like the futuristic version of the 60’s. Adam is a product of that miniature kind of the world. A world of three. Now he must confront a world of millions. A world of actual real people who are not ideals, but have lighter and darker sides, and complexities, rather than stereotypes.
Adam however is equipped with a number of advantages.His values may not be compatible with Los Angeles, but they give him an inner strength that allows him to cope with a difficult and dangerous world and still maintain his good cheer and that allow him to rise above the malice directed at him.
He is also extremely wealthy now. His father’s collections of bonds and baseball cards are worth a large sum now, enough of a fortune to let Adam and his parents live in style, if they can ever adapt to the modern world.
Adam is also physically agile and an excellent dancer thanks to decades of sessions with his mother and father in the fallout shelter. Of course his dancing is decades out of date, but luckily Los Angeles is retro enough that swing dancing is back, allowing Adam to impress Eve with his skills on the dance floor.
Like his biblical namesake, Adam is a new man in a new world, and searching for Eve. The world around him, from the sky and the busy streets to a multiracial society and cars all around, is a new creation for him. But what really drives Adam is finding a mate. The crux of the movie is whether Adam can succeed at winning the heart of his Eve (Alicia Silverstone) competing against the smooth sophisticated L.A. man. While Troy (Dave Foley) sneers at Adam’s backward ways and mores, Adam has the grounded values and character to win Eve over.
Adam shows his class and worth, but he doesn’t simplistically triumph over the decadence of modern day Los Angeles either. While that might have been the simplistic romantic comedy cliche, Adam is alternately pitied and treated as insane, nearly broken and institutionalized, before finally finding happiness with Eve and buying his parents a home in the distance, without letting them know that they squandered thirty-five years of their life living unnecessarily hiding underground.
Fundamentally naive and simple to a fault and nearly to the point of idiocy at times, the movie gives Adam an ace in the hole, in the form of wealth. Without it the ending might not have been quite as easy or happy to obtain. Ironically of all the values of the early sixties that the movie trumpets, it’s his father’s pursuit of money that allows Adam and his father and mother to live life on the surface on their own terms.
“Blast From the Past” glosses over the darker heritage of the fifties and early sixties. It invests Adam with chivalry and courtesy, but glosses over the sexism and misogyny of the time. It makes Adam an open and tolerant fellow, without any of the racism and prejudice of the period. Devoid of any of the paranoia, intolerance or narrow- mindedness of the era, Adam emerges as a kind of perfect man, lacking only in basic common sense.
While Adam Webber emerges to the surface, fearful of the mutants his father described, and seeking a non-mutant wife– in reality he is the mutant. The one who stands out and remains radically different in a strange new world.