Everyone has been in that situation before: you say the wrong thing, stay out later than you should have or get that Cap Bar drink that really isn’t as good as it was hyped up to be. In these moments, we sometimes long for a way to go back in time to undo these errors, thinking how just a slight change will fix the problem and make our lives all that better.
Time travel is often portrayed in movies with some type of machine that anyone can use. The characters hop in hoping to change a historical event or gain fame and fortune. They then engage on some fantastical adventure that has consequences ranging from comical to disastrous.
Yet Richard Curtis’ British-American film “About Time” takes a much different approach to the time travel phenomenon. Domnhall Gleeson stars as a young man named Tim Lakes, who is hoping to find love by traveling to work in London. His father James, played by Bill Nighy, informs Tim on his 21st birthday that the men in the family have the ability to time travel, a secret kept from everyone, even Tim’s mom and sister. When Tim goes into any enclosed space such as a closet, all he has to do is clench his fists and think of an event in his life he would like to return to, and then he appears.
Though he fails multiple times to secure a girlfriend, he eventually ends up with the love of his life, a girl named Mary who is played by actress Rachel McAdams. The course of the film shows Tim using the ability to make changes when he deems necessary. But it’s never really about making money or boosting his social status. His father cautions him to use it only when necessary. For example, James really only used his so he could just read more books — something I’m sure all of us at UD can relate to.
As the movie goes on though, Tim learns of his powers’ limitations. For example, one scene shows Tim returning home after meeting Mary to his apartment and learns his roommate’s play has gone poorly. Tim goes back in time to ensure the play is a success. The catch? Going to the play means he doesn’t have the date with Mary, forcing him to meet her another way. Though Tim manages to secure Mary’s love, the scene demonstrates how choices have consequences, teaching Tim how to better navigate his interactions and when he chooses to go back.
But the most important twist comes later in the movie. Skip this paragraph if you wish to avoid spoilers! Tim’s father reveals that, once the men of the family have a child, they are unable to go back to any time in their life prior to the child. Doing so means major changes can happen; for example when Tim goes back in time to help his sister avoid a car accident, his daughter becomes a son in the alternate timeline because the accident happened before his daughter was born. He has to let the accident happen so that his daughter remains the same. Eventually, the final revelation hits Tim: his father has terminal lung cancer that cannot be fixed by going back. Once Tim is about to have his third child, he visits his father one last time before accepting his inevitable death.
The movie was really enjoyable to watch. It was well paced and had a great story with relatable characters and experiences (apart from time travel of course). “About Time” also does an excellent job of balancing romance and comedy with the more serious repercussions that time travel can come with. It also was interesting seeing how ethical both Tim and James are with their abilities. They never really use it for selfish purposes other than to find love in the case of Tim and to extend life with his family in the case of James. I thought it refreshing that a movie could be about time travel but not involve some over the top, universe shattering plot along with it.
Yet there are some questions that are left unanswered. For instance, it is never really explained why the men never tell their wives about the power; are women unable to have the power? Or do the men only want to keep it for themselves, and for what reason? At the end of the movie, Tim explains that he eventually stops using his power, though it is never revealed if he tells his wife or not, or if he will tell any of his children. I would be curious as to how Tim goes about these circumstances with his children.
A powerful point this movie makes is how difficult it is to accept the present. I often dwell on past experiences and mistakes, wondering what I could have done differently and thinking how nice it would be to go back and do that one thing all over again. But what Tim learns in “About Time” is that no matter how perfect you make your life, no matter how many mistakes you avoid, some parts of life are beyond your control, meaning you have to play with the cards you are dealt with. No amount of time travel could save Tim’s sister from an abusive relationship or his dad from cancer; he is forced to accept the outcomes of these situations and move on with his life.
But I think its strongest point is encouraging us to try to live in the moment as best as possible. At the end of the film, Tim follows his father’s last piece of advice; he lives the same day twice, before eventually ceasing time travel altogether. The first run through has him go through the day as normal, while the second time, he tries to notice the little things in each interaction he has that makes life beautiful and worth living. The film encourages the viewer to remember how short life really is and that, even in the midst of the mundane and repetitive everyday routines, there is so much joy and beauty to be found. Those who want a profound yet easy to watch movie experience should check out “About Time.”