Science fiction isn’t usually too good at predicting the future — that’s not what it’s for. (If you want a genre of writing that IS good at predicting the future, I would suggest historical fiction. The human race can be depressing, can’t it?) But twenty minutes into Oldrich Lipský’s I KILLED EINSTEIN, GENTLEMEN, I perceived the act of actual prophecy taking place, in a flash.
A group of time travelers are preparing to jet backwards to 1911 from the far-flung future year of 1999, on a humanitarian mission to assassinate Albert Einstein (they don’t consider it murder because he’s been dead for years anyway). You see, the future is plagued with gamma radiation from the G Bomb, which has caused all the women to become bearded, and some of them are refusing to shave, and so there’s nothing else for it. Killing Albert will divert the course of physics and thus, possibly, prevent the beard plague.
The designated hitman is joined in the high-tech control room by his wife, who insists on taking a picture with her departing husband, and to do this she gestures with a wand. The tip emits a flash, and the image is then unscrolled from what turns out to be the first selfie-stick. Of course it’s a combined camera and selfie-stick, so it’s still a little futuristic even today, but still. I was impressed.
Mildly impressed by the film, too. Czech fantasies tend to err on the side of whimsy, I think because censorship prevented any satire with real bite from being attempted, but movies like Karel Zeman’s Verne adaptations, which mimic the look of old pen-and-ink illos, and stuff like THE CASSANDRA CAT which has amazing colour tricks, often deliver a lot of visual pleasure along with the not-too-funny running about. Lipský was the king of this kind of toothless zaniness, but the comedy here has a bit of bite, a bit of misanthropy, even. The first attempt at Einstein’s life is made by roping in a 1910 child to do the dirty deed, on the basis that he can’t be prosecuted. The second attempt results in the child getting flattened by a falling chandelier causing one of the time travelers, who is his future offspring, to wink silently out of existence. And there’s some good atomic age irony when the team sort-of succeed in their mission only to be faced with a new existential threat more terrible than bearded ladies — men with bosoms. The only solution to this is to reinvent the bomb. It makes sense — kind of — when you see it.
There are also crazy images like a Siamese kitten with an aerial in its back — plus a lot of stupid and degrading striptease stuff. Well, it WAS the seventies. Also, this IS a farce — like the superbly-titled TOMORROW I’LL WAKE UP AND SCALD MYSELF WITH TEA, or BACK TO THE FUTURE II, or PRIMER or recent Dr Who, the makers have realised that a natural form for a time travel story to take is farce — the ever-multiplying complications, the solutions that create ever-knottier problems, the law of unintended consequences as universal rule. See also Ursula LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven for a non-time-travel-based version of the farce plot structure in a science fiction form.