Thursday, 19 December 2013

About Time (3½ Stars)

Talk about misrepresented films. Almost all the reviews of this film I had read, including The Infallible Wikipedia, call it a romantic comedy. Maybe they didn't watch it properly? Or maybe they got bored and fell asleep after the first half? It's true, the film begins as if it's a romantic comedy, but as it progresses it becomes apparent that the "romance" element plays a lesser role in the film.

Shortly after his 21st birthday Tim Lake is told by his father that all the men in their family inherit a gift: they can travel in time. It isn't a general time-travelling gift that they can go anywhere they please. What they can do is travel back to a point in their own lives and relive the moment for as long as they wish before jumping back to the present. If they are careful nothing will have changed when they come back. On the other hand, maybe a change was intended, and on returning they can see if it's worked.

Rather than using his powers for gaining wealth -- like going back a week to pick the correct Lotto numbers -- Tim travels back in time to get a girlfriend. As an awkward young man he often leaves a bad first impression, so it's good that Tim can go back and keep correcting his mistakes until he finally gets it right. As he soon finds out, he can't make any girl love him, but having spoken to a girl he likes before the first meeting gives him a distinct advantage. Tim gets the girl within the first half of the film. If it had been intended as a romantic comedy it would have ended there. For the second half of the film we see his relationship with his sister and his father, as well as philosophical discussions on time travel itself.

I don't want to give away too many spoilers, especially since this is a relatively new film. What I do want to say is that there are many logical contradictions. "Rules" about time travel are stated by Tim's father, but later in the film they don't seem to apply any more. I'm not talking about temporal paradoxes, I'm talking about things that the writer/director Richard Curtis didn't think through when he was writing the story.

The film's final message, the lesson learnt by Tim, is that even if you can travel back in time you shouldn't do it. It's better to live every day as it comes and enjoy it. This is a cop out. It's an easy thing for Tim to say, since he ends the film as a happily married man with everything he wants in life. How many of us can relate to that? I would give so much to have Tim's gift, and I would erase all the big mistakes of my life. I wouldn't stop chiselling at my old life until the present turns out just right. In fact, this is just what Tim does in the film. He's a hypocrite saying that time travel is unnecessary, since it's time travel that has led to his happy life.

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