China to the Future
China to the Future Netflix

As Hoai-Tran Bui of Slash Film wrote, Netflix dropped China's mega-blockbuster sci-fi film The Wandering Earth with almost zero promotion. It's as if the American media services provider was trying to hide the fact that they had acquired it. That they want to disown it. That what would be best is if it passed in silence. And it's working. No one is talking about what can be considered, next to last year's Pacific Rim: Uprising, a work that has world-historical importance.

This is not the same story with Avengers: Endgame. That film's historical significance is weak or negligible when compared to The Wandering Earth. (Indeed, one can argue that an analysis of Dwayne Johnson's Skyscraper will provide more historical information of our times than all of the Avengers films combined.) The story of Endgame is really about a return of the New Deal era. This is the meaning of Captain America's refusal to return from the past. The film ends with his face, which softly glows with the tranquility of having lived through the US's best years—between the end of the World War II and the crises of the 1970s. But this historical information tells us nothing about the future of an economic system that produces not only commodities sold on the world market, but the movement of history itself.

World history did not exist in any meaningful way until capitalism. Many are totally in the dark of this fact because the pedagogical habit in the West has been to link capitalism to developments in the deep, human past that it, in fact, has nothing to do with. Indeed, the idea that history has a forward direction is entirely new. It's a concept that's still in a cradle made by the Victorians, a society that removed a future concluding with the Day of Judgement and replaced it with one that only gets better, progress. China, which will be the next defining capitalist power, has fully adopted this new narrative and applied to it new features that are expressed in the film that all Americans should watch on Netflix, The Wandering Earth.

China saves the world!
China saves the world! Netflix

My guess is that Netflix is not promoting this film because, simply, the US plays a very minor role in its plot. To escape our solar system—which is being turned to ash by a Sun that, for reasons not explained, is growing and growing—humans, led by the Chinese, transform the planet into a spaceship that will transport the human race to the solar system of Alpha Centauri, which is 4.37 light-years away. It will take the Earth Spaceship forever to get there. But on the way, the spaceship runs into trouble: the gravity of Jupiter.

What we see in this film—which is loud, frenetic, and filled with sublime industrial and cosmic moments, blasts for fire and rockets, falling boulders and chunks of ice and blocks of concrete—is that humanity will be saved by the Chinese. The Russians are given some credit. The French are handed an important role late in the film. But the US? Almost nothing beyond a nod to the villain of Stanley Kubrick's 2001, HAL (in Wandering it's called MOSS—it speaks robotic Chinese and American English). The ideological rupture in this work is that the US does not even come close to saving the world.

Americans may not be prepared for a future depicted in this way. Also, this audience will find its subject matter—which is, of course, life after the Earth's climate has irrevocably changed—not gripping enough. But make no mistake, The Wandering Earth is about climate change, and it makes it clear that the US is just too out of it to guide humanity through the crisis. The world will have to turn to a form of leadership that, the film believes, can break with moribund American capitalism. This is the Communist Party of China speaking, and the fascinating thing is that it does so without making it clear how Chinese communism is fundamentally distinct from the form of history, capitalist, that brought it to world-historical prominence. But what's certain is that the film is selling the world, or at least China's huge population, the idea that the gears of the future are now in the political economic couplet of Beijing/Shanghai.

What is advertised in The Wandering Earth is that China can do something about climate change, and the US cannot.