Making a movie is always a risky endeavor, but that risk is only compounded when traditional plot structure and conventional narrative arc are thrown out the window. It’s hard to sell a film that doesn’t have those bedrocks of Western storytelling as its foundation, but Things To Come is a rare film that takes the road less travelled and largely makes it out the other side intact while still managing to be fairly entertaining. It’s not the best movie you’ll see all year, but Things To Come is an achievement, even if it’s not for everyone.
The “plot” (if one can call it that) is a series of events in the life of a woman named Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert), who has a steady job as a philosophy professor, is a successful textbook author, has a mother who is obnoxiously dependent on her, two grown children, and a loving husband of 25 years. Well, that is until the loving husband reveals that he has been seeing another woman and has decided to pursue a relationship with her instead of maintaining their marriage. This is the closest the film comes to having any sort of inciting incident, as it is merely the first in a series of losses in Nathalie’s life that aren’t really bound by notions of cause and effect, but rather gradually collapse Nathalie’s comfortable existence one pillar at a time.
A film like this doesn’t work unless you have a great performer at the center of it, and thankfully Isabelle Huppert is a supremely gifted actress who carries the naturalistic story with apparent ease. As Nathalie’s life falls to pieces and the philosopher is forced to contemplate the meaning of her own existence, what could have been an exercise in expressive melodrama is instead understated so that no one scene is the culmination of these bad experiences. Instead, when taken as a whole, the film is a poetic expression of how life’s troubles can gradually become overwhelming. Moments of emotional collapse are brief, but that only makes sense in the film’s attempt to collapse months of story into a mere 100 minutes, and those moments of brief insight into Nathalie’s thoughts are arresting.
The biggest “problem” with Things To Come isn’t so much an issue with the film as it wants to be as much as it is how audiences are likely to receive such a film. There are many scenes of conversation that drop casual hints to the broader themes of the film, but nowhere does the film take a moment to explain Nathalie’s life beyond the context we’re given in this year. It’s a series of snapshots that relies heavily on the audience’s close attention and willingness to go along with daily mundanities that they may be all too familiar with. It’s not a bad choice to highlight mundanity in a story about relatable changes in a person’s life, but mundanity will never be the most engaging subject matter while watching a film, no matter how poignant the point it’s trying to make.
Things To Come may be largely plotless, but it’s far from pointless. It’s a character study for a character who has no story to tell, and her arc isn’t reliant on a journey of growth through effort, but rather one of growth through gradual necessity. It’s a very relatable story for anyone who has gone through a loss, and only more so when you take the multiple losses of your life and look at the scope of how they’ve shaped you. But being profound isn’t always the same as being entertaining, and that’s where this film falls just a bit short. Much like the events it depicts, this is a film to ponder briefly, and then move on.