Time travelling is the stuff of science fiction. It’s the stuff of speculative theoretical physics. The usual speculations is whether it is possible to change the past and with it the future. As a plot device, it is also a way to reflect on the nature of relationships, because some time traveling is done only in the mind.
The obvious place to start is with ‘Time Traveler’s Wife‘, if only because it is the most poignant of the set. It deals with time travel in a way that faces up to all the possible complications.
In Time Traveler’s Wife the Him – Henry – travels through time involuntarily. He keeps revisiting the places that were emotionally important to him. His relationship with his wife Clare (Rachel McAdams) spans time – as he has kept meeting him from the time she was six to… well, you’ll have to see the movie to find out. In some of the other movies on this list, time traveling makes it possible to change the past, to change the future. Not this one. Also in this movie time travel does not create more time.
Based on the novel ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. The novel is better, it has more time for the romance to develop. However, because so much had to be cut in the movie, the fragmentary nature of the life of Henry and Clare comes through very well.
‘About Time‘, also with Rachel McAdams, this time as Mary is also about a guy who travels in time. However, Tim travels consciously and takes the form of himself at a younger age. In this case the men in the family can all do it and his dad therefore introduces him to his powers at the ripe age of 21. Quite a difference from finding out at 6 when your mom dies.
Like Henry though, Tim is the choreographer of his own life. He makes sure to find the love of his life and meet her and mostly uses his power to make the life of everyone closest to him as good as possible. And that is the main difference with Time Traveler’s Wife: this is an upbeat movie where time travel helps make life better. In the end it is even an advocacy for mindfulness: you don’t need to travel in time, if you just remember to live each moment to the fullest.
Don’t get me wrong: this is a fun feel good romance movie – time travel doesn’t stand in the way of that. And there is enough drama to make it interesting and not too predictable.
However, what both these movies have in common is that the women are more accessories to life than conscious agents. It’s the men who live the drama. The women are interesting, loving and strong, but also somewhat marginal. Tim is a Lawyer. His Mary is a ‘reader’ for a publisher. An interesting job, but not one that involves a lot of wordly activity. Similarly Henry’s Clare is an artist from a rich family who is kept, in the end, by the millions Henry wins for her, being a good if absent provider. What they have in common is that they are both lived by their men.
In ‘The Lakehouse‘ Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Kate Forster who moves into a Lake House and starts corresponding through time (2 years back) with Alex Wyler, an architect. This movie illustrates one basic truth in life: we all travel through time. The thing is, we travel one way. Through their letters though, Kate and Alex fall in love despite the two years time-difference. The time traveling letters do, in the end, change the future. This is a classic love story, in that sense, after all.
In ‘Kate & Leopold‘ combines historical romance (the late 19th century) with time travel through rips in the time-space continuum. Kate, played by Meg Ryan, is a 21st century woman who works in market research. Leopold is a 19th century Duke with corresponding debts and romantic dreams of science, technology and love. He is also the inventor of the elevator. However, because of those royal debts, he needs to marry a rich wife. When he travels into the future, elevators all over the world disappear – they haven’t been invented.
The theme of the movie is authenticity, with the duke and the time-travel scientist not believed and the world of advertising exposed. The ending is the ultimate escape fantasy. Why else would a successful career woman marry a 19th century duke by going into a past where she will have to live with the constraints put on women at that time? It just doesn’t make sense. It does make a nice movie though.