Story Pile: In the Shadow of the Moon

Okay, so we have to establish up front, and this is important, that talking about what’s going on in this movie is going to involve spoilers. And just by telling you there are spoilery topics at work in this movie, you’re immediately going to have reason to go ‘oh what about X or Y’ and you may fear, in some way, that your enjoyment of this movie is spoiled, because there’s something really thoughtful, and clever, and cool in this story that you’re going to have to now feel is somewhat tainted, somewhat weaker and I may have, as it were, spoiled that for you.

Good news: You don’t have to worry about it, because this movie suuuucks.

This is a time travel movie but in order to avoid confusing you it largely doesn’t do anything with time travel. It opens with a flash-forward to an interesting event (a terrorist attack) with just enough detail to make sure you don’t know anything about it, then rewinds the story far enough to instead be about watching a generic Almost Handsome actor play an Almost Interesting Almost Detective, who we’re going to call… let’s say Josh.

That’s the basic structure of this movie, hinting at something interesting that didn’t happen, then showing you instead the continuing and enduring narrative of Wingus McDingus, as he obsessively attempts to solve a murder case that happens to involve brain-melting super-poison and a person who’s already dead. The problem is that Josh doesn’t know he’s in a time travel movie, and so he tries to deal with the narrative he’s in sensibly, until he’s finally confronted with Actual Oh Shit Time Travel, and the narrative that’s super obvious when you know it’s about time travel becomes evident to him.

Then he works out what’s going on, and… well, there’s the ‘point’ of the story, or the ‘end’ of the story, but once he works out what’s going on, he stops doing anything and the interesting thing the story’s been threatening you with, in fact, doesn’t happen.

That’s it.


There’s a bunch of stuff we can file as ‘plot holes’ and oh I know it’s so cool to be dismissive of the very idea of plot holes because people are doing things in a story that don’t make sense. There’s the all-purpose time travel story problem, where if you time travel to prevent something, then successfully prevent it, doesn’t that prevention mean you never had reason to go back and so you don’t go back and now the prevented thing is unprevented because it’s not like the universe runs on storytelling logic. That one’s a freebie. There’s also the way that someone who is travelling back in time to change the past tearfully tells her dad that he can’t go back in time and save her because


because the writers gave up. Straight up. Who cares. Christ.

Typically, complaining about plot holes in movies tends to be well why didn’t they use these other, out of context solutions, that wind up with like, Hamlet using a hanglider. Here in this one, though, the question asked is more why did this story do things this way in the first place.

In this story, the plot ‘twist’ – god that word’s doing some work – is that the young black woman who died in the opening plot beat is going backwards through time to stop a civil war by killing all the collected people whose actions would lead to its eventual occurrence. This is done thanks to a special compound that can be activated from the future, and seems to be activated to happen very near to when it’s administrated. There’s an entire subplot about how the actual method of murder is not instigated by Our Actual Protagonist, but she’s just administering the method, and then, in the future her mission control is pressing the button that kills people through time.

Now, again, I’m not trying to introduce new things to this story. I’m trying to ask:

Why the time murder?

If you’re sending someone back in time to do a series of murders that are meant to change the future, why are you using special time travel poison to kill them? There’s no aggrandising about it or making a point of the murders where someone’s brain melted and slid out their nose and you have time travel access, there are so many ways you can do these murders in ways that aren’t going to arouse suspicion, not the least of which when dealing with a crime ridden America full of torment and anguish and poor downtrodden cops being held to too high a standard by the black community (boy howdy what the fuck, movie), why aren’t you just using a gun.

Is this like when I wrote about America as a kid, and I thought guns were hard to come by?

You might think there’s more to talk about in this idea of a time travel causal movie about preventing a civil war in a right wing separatist movement, but there’s just too much stuff this movie is doing that makes it more and more unreal until the entire thing collapses under the weight of who cares, Josh. The story wants to focus on our protagonist so much because otherwise it has to explain its fantastically dumb world ideas, like the notion of a second American Civil War being spawned by right wing militias being distributed by typwriter’d manifestos and kicked off with a single bomb attack. There’s the way that the story seems to try and paint black people protesting about a black woman under arrest being turned into chunks as being a bit suspicious.

There’s the edge of a good idea in it, but it’s put in as part of a babbling rant, something that seems to be treated as silly, as a character expresses the idea, how many people would you have to kill to prevent this. This is a good sentence, but it also opens the door to unintended consequence, where there seem to be a small selection of jerkholes whose deaths would somehow simultaneously have an enormous effect (preventing a civil war) and no effect (nobody is embittered or picks up their ideas when they die at random). Bonus discomfort: These people are largely poor and working class.

If you want to prevent a civil war in America, why are you going back twenty years and trying to kill a handful of right wingers? Why aren’t you going back four hundred years and stopping chattel slavery? Of course, the reason you can’t do that is because what this story’s meant to be about is our main character becoming obsessed (with a time travelling assassin) and missing the important development of his family’s life (including that time travelling assassin).

Oh and the moon doesn’t actually matter to this stupid, stupid story.