Saturday, 21 September 2013

Review: About Time (second-pass)

World of Blackout Film Review

About Time Poster

About Time (second-pass Heavy spoilers)
Cert: 12A / 123 mins / Dir. Richard Curtis

…or 'Why the time-travel mechanism in the new Richard Curtis time-travel film is irretrievably broken'.

Hello. Some caveats before I start: 1) I do love this film, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to pick it the fuck apart. 2) Before any of you feel the need to tell me that time-travel doesn't exist anyway, I know that - I'm deconstructing this with the same rules that were used to build it. I'm not going to be applying the time-travel rules/mechanisms of other movies, even though I will reference them. I'm basing this on the internal logic of the film itself. 3) None of this will make sense if you haven't seen About Time. Obviously. If you want to read a spoiler-free review of the film, I did one here.

Right. *cracks knuckles*

1) In the closet.

When our hero Tim first time-jumps, it's to a New Year's Eve party the night before. At around lunchtime on New Year's Day, he zips upstairs and stands in the wardrobe, grips his hands tightly and appears at 11:59 the night before. This gives him just enough time to run down to the party and kiss the girl he fancies as the clock strikes twelve. Smashing. Well done, Tim. My question is, what happened to the original 11:58 Tim? Future-Tim doesn't zap into his body a la Quantum Leap, because the original 'didn't-kiss-the-girl' Tim wasn't standing in a wardrobe at 11:59; so in the reconfigured timeline, what happens to downstairs-Tim when his replacement arrives?

From what we see in the movie, it's not like Back To The Future where multiple-selves can exist in the same timeframe (and indeed, given the last beautiful scene with Tim and his dad on the beach, it appears that jumpers do manifest their earlier bodies when it suits the plot). So why does Tim materialise in the wardrobe?

2) I can't believe it's not butterfly.

Despite Tim's dad's assurances that the universe hasn't been (thus far) torn apart by the family's meddling in the space-time continuum, the fact remains that if the past can be changed, causality is a factor, and there is a danger of immense damage being done, not least to the jumper*1.

When Tim breaks the cardinal rule and shows his non-jumping sister his ability (and I'm not even going to complain about how he's somehow able to transport her back in time as well), they arrive at the party, change the course of history and zip back home, with Kit Kat being amazed that she's wearing different clothes and that everything really has changed.

Except in this newly created strand of the timeline, Tim and Kit Kat would have had no reason to be standing in the cupboard they return to, especially not at the time they return to. Let's not forget that there's no such thing as a small tweak, especially the larger the gap is between the present and the point you're changing. The fact that Tim says "this is going to be weird" means it's at least occurred to him, but with a change as massive as the one they engineer, their family life would be almost unrecognisable once they return to it, and there are bound to be other unfortunate side-effects which they weren't expecting.

If anything, this is illustrated by the film's failsafe device, whereby travelling back beyond a certain point changes the sex, hair-colour and personality of children unborn at that point*2. Tim's dad's assertion that "a different time or different position" can substitute an entire person is exactly why you can't realistically hope to solve any problems that will impact on any non-jumper's life. In the new timestream, how many other people died in seemingly unconnected, chaos-theory circumstances due to Kit Kat and Jimmy not being together? Would Tim's dad really just give that knowing smile at the New Year's Eve party, knowing that the boy he hasn't told about time-travel "yet" is clearly and openly messing with the timestream in an unruly way?

3) Thanks for the memories.

As I mentioned, upon returning to the cupboard, Kit Kat is amazed at her new life and how everything turned out better (y'know, as opposed to freaking out and wondering why she's just popped into a dark cupboard with her brother when she'd previously been sitting in a coffee shop thinking about how great her life is). Why is she amazed? Well, it's because she remembers both timelines. She remembers the wreck that her old life had become, and that she's now seeing Jay due to her actions at the key-point in her past. Tim however, doesn't have any knowledge of the subsequent events in the newly created timeline. When it turns out that the re-routing has resulted in Tim and Mary having a completely different baby, he still remembers the old thread with his daughter (as opposed to his 'replacement' son), despite the fact that he was present when the timeline was actually altered, and has no recollection of the restructured life he now leads (and I'm not even going to complain about the miracle that he's still living at the same house, etc). Why does Kit Kat know the new layout of reality, but not Tim? Will Kit Kat's knowledge of her alternate past fade like a dream, in time?

Just like everyone else in the world he returns to, Tim has lived through the intervening days/months/years since the junction-point, but unlike everyone else he has no genuine memories of what's happened, only what is now a false-past. He's effectively an amnesiac. He knows his family and friends up to a point, but he'll now have friendships, acquaintances, maybe even jobs that he has no knowledge of (in which case there will be entire skill-sets which have been seemingly forgotten as they haven't been learned by the returned traveller).

To make matters worse, Tim will now be unable to jump back to any point in between the rift he and Kit Kat created and their return point, as he can't remember any details in between to jump back to. Anything he wishes to alter in the new-present will have to be experimentally changed back at the junction-point. He could always jump back further, of course, but then he runs the risk of erasing the initial junction. Whichever way he chooses, making further alterations to the timeline will only compound the problems he faces on his return. The further back Tim jumps (where he's affecting a timestream change, of course; the final jump-within-jump with his dad is perfectly permissible), the more knowledge he risks losing. A persistent traveller could end up almost self-lobotomised, unable to recognise the world around him save for a few key faces, and unable to reset the timeline no matter how desperately he tries.

Which would be a great explanation for ditzy, forgetful Uncle Desmond, frankly. I think there's an untold wraparound/sequel to be told with Desmond making increasingly irrevocable changes to his timeline, and growing more and more insane with each jump. I don't think it'd be especially funny, but I want to see it. Although Desmond is introduced in the first five minutes of the film as "Mum's brother", so that's another opportunity wasted, eh Curtis?

And when I can find all that wrong with a film and still love it, it's got to be a bit special. About Time is great, but it has holes you could drive a DeLorean through...

Is the trailer representative of the film?
Mostly, although the film carries more weight than the trailer can.

Did I laugh, cry, gasp and sigh when I was supposed to?
I did.

Does it achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Pay at the cinema, Rent on DVD or just wait for it to be on the telly?
If you haven't seen it by this point, you're probably going to wait for the DVD. But yeah. Cinema.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
A little.

Will I watch it again?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream?

And because you won't be happy until I've given it a score...

And my question for YOU is…
So. What would you change? (and keep it lighthearted, yeah?)

*1 For example, Tim could have changed the timeline so that Kit Kat didn't have a car crash a year later, only to create a one where he did and was killed a week after the party. As soon as he tried to return to his present-self body, he'd cease to exist. Think, Tim, think!
*2 Although at the time of Tim and his dad's last jump, Mary is pregnant again. Not only could this conceivably (no pun intended) change the sex of the developing foetus, but also change Tim's two existing children. Again. Admittedly, the final jump doesn't directly affect any other people, being on a deserted beach, but the principal still remains, even moreso with a jump-gap like that. For crying out loud, Tim / Tim's dad! Then again, Tim's dad also says that nothing changes "until it pops out", which is clearly bollocks as babies aren't assembled in the last five minutes or pregnancy. But I digress…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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