Tan questions the role of the observer and the observed. In History’s Future this is demonstrated by changes of perspective in the narrative. Sometimes we follow the perspective of an omniscient narrator and other times we suppose we see things through the eyes of the main character. This shifting of perspective makes it possible for us to understand some images as thoughts or memories of the protagonist. It shows Tan’s interest in memory and the creativity of the human mind in remembering events of the past.
Time is another important aspect of this film; it is set in recent past, made clear by the archival images from actual events. Obviously past and present alternate each other through memories or television images in the film. However time is also present in a more abstract way; your past shapes you and leads you into a future. The movie seems to investigate what this means for all of us after the turbulent times we had. The protagonist could be understood as a representation of society.
Not remembering who he is brings the hero to assume different personalities and behaviors, which in turn influences the way other people respond to him. Thus he finds himself in divergent situations, like lying to a woman to have a one night stand with her and aggression caused by drinking. I think it is here that Tan´s references to the Garden of Earthly Delights (1505-1510) by Hieronymus Bosch become significant. The meaning of this painting is not entirely clear, but a number of scholars believe it to be a warning for immoral conduct since it is accompanied by representations of paradise and hell. Tan might, in a similar fashion, set people to think about what their behavior does to their environment and themselves.
With this film Tan explores the current human condition. She leaves her audience a little unsatisfied for her main character does not get his memories back, maybe because the search for identity never really stops. We continually need to determine our position in relation to other people and developments within society, as our actions decide our future.