11.22.63 (Stephen King / J.J Abrams – Hulu)

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11.22.63 is an American science fiction thriller mini-series based on the book the Stephen King novel of the same title. Consisting of eight episodes it was produced by Stephen King and J.J Abrams for Hulu and Fox early 2016. Jake Epping (James Franco) a recently divorced English Literature teacher from Maine, Lisbon. He is presented with the chance to travel back in time to Dallas, Texas 1960. His long-time friend Al Templeton (Chris Cooper) persuades him to attempt to prevent the assassination of JFK in 1963. However he becomes attached to the life he makes in the past. Distracted righting peoples wrong choices and circumstances, this begins to change the natural course of history and could be his original mission’s undoing.

Al Templeton: If you do something that really fucks with the past, the past fucks with you.

Al Templeton: The past doesn’t want to be changed. There are times when you feel it push back.

Stephen King is a literary icon that does not need any introduction in pop culture both novels and film and television. His reputation for cultivating fiction which resonates with people through horror, science fiction and general macabre themes is still over many decades past relevant. He used this genre devices to convey messages about the dark side of humanity usually depicting politics, mental health, family dysfunction, greed and love. Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is widely known for his work as writer, producer and director of many acclaimed action, drama and science fiction cinema and television. Most recognisable being Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Lost (2004), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) and Westworld (2016). He also maintains a close creative collaborative relationship with Steven Spielberg. With such huge respected names in this genre 11.22.63 was bound to be brought to television screen with a more cinematic feel than most one off mini series shows. At times it even feels too grand and majestic in themes both visually and narrative wise. It’s captivating which is not suprisingly the team of people involved in production. The tail end of last year also saw J.J Abrams be creatively involved in critically acclaimed ‘Westworld’ and along with other sucessful TV such as ‘Stranger Things’ could this be the new era of sci fi on the small screen.

The obvious narrative catalyst is the time travel portal which is the back of a closet in an old diner owned by Al Templeton who is Jake Epping’s best friend. This is slightly comical and funny but the actual way they travel back in time has no significance to the plot process of the story. When people go to see Romeo and Juliet at a primary school production they don’t complain that it does not look exactly like Verona, Italy. We suspend our belief for the sake of the messages and themes of the story and characters. The important foundation of the plot is not time travel and science fiction in a mechanical and logistic sense but the consequences of altering events both small and large around humanity which change the natural progress of people socially and as a global modern community.

 

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There are many small signifiers during the mini series or moments where we are constantly reminded that Jake Epping (Franco) is a modern man of a 2016. Tongue in cheek but poingnant when he so naturally asks the black female receptionist if she would a cup of coffee at work. Everyone looks at him with disgust and confusion as to why he would dare talk to a black person. He uses an iPhone to confuse some local thugs who plan to beat him up over a bet and not being suprised or dissappointed the young woman he is interested is divorced under 35yrs old.

The most touching event he puts alot of energy, time and research into changing from happening is extremely disturbing family tragedy and murder. An older community college student he teaches in 2016 suffered and survived the murder of his Mother, Brother and Sister on a Halloween night in the 60s by the hands of a sadistic, volientnt and controlling Father. Not familiar with Josh Duhmal’s previous work as an actor, i found his presence on screen captivating. At 6.5ft and atheletic he towers over characters and intimidates them into submission. Whether this is his wife and children of the group of local more harmless thugs that follow him and his leadership causing trouble in this small town. He owns a butcher shop which is both alarming and mataphorical due to his personality and how he conduct himself. He shows Jake around the factory and it’s an indication of what is to come.

“When my Daddy used to work the kill-floor …. it only took him one swing” —–Frank

At this moment Frank takes a huge sledgehammer and bludgens a cow for later food processing for retail. This is two clever things by writers. Firstly it is a moment of another genre pure visceral horror to add some other layers and themes to the whole plot but secondly it addresses the true dark nature of Frank underneath just being the local town bully and domestic abuse. This man is genuinely a potential murderer and this was highlighting it before the night of the event. Such warnings are common in real life, many serial killers have been known to kill animals early before progressing to humans. It transpires he earlier had a wife and baby in another local town that are missing. However by Jake choosing to intervene and save the family from the night of the tragedy the entire future is altered. The student in later life has not had the severe hardship of this happening to emotionally grow, see other peoples problems and appreciate life. He is another average day to day person looking after number one.

Personally I think this particular moment summarises the main themes of discussion of the mini series about triumph and awful situations making people and society as a whole reflect and connect. Pain sometimes equals revolution socially and individually internally. His idealistic vigilante hero plan to change the past actually harms what is unfortunately the universal plan for the greater good.

Von Von Lamunu

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