Time travel is my favorite genre of fiction. It allows us to examine the consequences of our choices and the questions of free will. From the silly to the complex, I find myself invested in how storytellers interpret the concept. How does time travel work? And does the story adhere to the established rules? The answers are always fascinating.
Because I love time travel so much and because this is my website and I can do what I want, I decided to create a series of articles looking at the various types of time travel fiction. Each article will focus on a specific “genre” of time travel and the film/television/literature set within. Some stories will fall into various genres, so I’ll do my best to make the most sense of them.
Previously I focused on genres such as missions in the past, paradoxes, and broken records. I also took an extended look at The Constant and being unstuck in time. Now, it’s time to delve into some of the miscellany of time travel. Without further ado, I present to you…
Some Other Time Travel Stuff I Wanted to Talk About
So yeah, sometimes time travel stories don’t fit great into a single genre. While each of the following films/stories/concepts could potentially be shoved into corresponding genres, I decided to simply talk about each on their own. To avoid some of these would be a disservice to time travel discussion. So hang with me as we jump from topic to topic.
I knew I would have to talk about Primer at some point in these time travel pieces. As I wrote each of the previous articles, Primer was always lurking. The film itself is intimidating and to create any cohesive reflection on it even more so. But alas, I will attempt to do just that.
Primer is an independent film created by Shane Carruth in 2004 that is the most challenging time travel film I have ever watched. The film never even tries to hold your hand. Instead, you are simply observing the madness and trying to follow along. It was clear that Carruth wanted to not only make a smart, thought provoking film, but also a puzzle that you needed to solve.
Step 1: Cut a Hole in the Box
The basic premise of the film is that two engineers have stumbled upon a way to time travel. Through some scientific explanation, you go into a box and travel back in time for as long as you are in the box. For example, if you want to travel backwards in time 2 hours, you get into the box for 2 hours.
If you have been reading along, it’s probably no surprise to you that I love this method of time travel. Why? Because it has restrictions. You can only realistically travel so far back, probably no more than a few days or a week. Because, you know, you’re trapped in a box. Restrictions make for great time travel stories. Primer has a unique and awesome method of time travel.
Unraveling the Puzzle
If you watch Primer once, it won’t make much sense. If you watch it twice, it still won’t make a whole lot of sense. Upon your third time watching it, you might start to see what is happening. This isn’t like your mom watching Inception. Primer is incredibly hard to understand. People make things like this to try to explain it.
Do you need to understand the film to appreciate it? I would argue no. Part of the fun is trying to see how far into the film you can make it before you are completely lost. Each time you watch it, you’ll get a little further. You may never truly understand the whole film. I know I don’t. But I still love it.
I suppose there is some level of trust involved, that the film is solvable and not just some random nonsense thrown up on the screen. It has things that are truly random, like when an acquaintance appears to have time traveled with no explanation, but that randomness only adds to the films layers. Not everything can be explained. Time travel is dangerous and unpredictable. How far can you go before you no longer understand what is happening?
If you are big into time travel, but haven’t seen Primer, go watch it now. It’s a must watch.
We never really touched on the popular time travel genre of traveling into the future. It’s the most scientifically plausible time travel scenario and probably the easiest to pull off without any leaps in logic. You take a person and send them forward in time. No concerns about disrupting timelines or paradoxes or anything of that nature. Instead, it becomes an examination of human advancement.
One aspect of this future-focused time travel genre that I find interesting is the idea of a future devolution of mankind. An early example can be found in The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. When traveling to the distant future, mankind has split into two species, neither of which are the typical idea of “future”. Instead, we have a society that has very much returned to nature, for better or worse.
I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones. – Albert Einstein
This belief is not uncommon, that man is destined to destroy itself. And if not destroy, simply advance so far in technology that our own physical bodies serve little purpose beyond existing for pleasure (Wall-E).
They blew it up!
And this whole section is really just an excuse for me to talk about Planet of the Apes. The film is based on the realistic premise of near-light speed travel and time relevance, essentially sending out crew into the distant future. They crash on a mysterious planet filled with talking apes and hi-jinks ensue.
What is surely most memorable about Planet of the Apes is the twist ending. This barbaric, ape-filled planet of the future is not some alien land, but Earth itself. It’s a great twist and really plays into the idea of future devolution. With the Earth reveal, the film becomes a commentary on ourselves and our world. Perhaps we are not destined for the stars, but instead for devolution and eventual extinction.
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Scott: If you’ve got a time machine, why don’t you just go back and kill Austin Powers when he’s sitting on the crapper or something?
Dr. Evil: How about, no, Scott? Okay?
Let’s end with one of the most ridiculous time travel send-ups out there: Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. While there are other comedic films (Hot Tub Time Machine, perhaps) that focus on time travel more than this one, I really love how much The Spy Who Shagged Me just doesn’t care about time travel conventions.
The whole plot is overly complicated and ridiculous, as should be expected. Instead of killing Austin Powers in the past, Dr. Evil steals his “mojo” in an attempt to defeat Austin in the present. It is a perfect parody of spy films and time travel, emphasizing the absurdity of each.
Most anyone could go on and on about how the time traveling in Austin Powers makes absolutely zero sense. And in turn, no one would care, because time travel rarely makes sense anyways. I’m not saying that The Spy Who Shagged Me is trying to make some deeper commentary on time travel films, but it’s a perfect example showcasing that we should sit back and enjoy.
Basil: I suggest you don’t worry about this sort of thing, and just enjoy yourself. (looking at camera) That goes for you all, too.
Ultimately I think that is what time travel films are all about. In these Time for Time Travel articles, I spent a lot of time picking apart various intricacies of time travel stories, but I also expressed (hopefully) that it doesn’t really matter. I love every single piece I have written about. It’s fun to think deeper about how they work or don’t work, but that shouldn’t override your enjoyment of the story.
For now, this is where I leave you on the topic of time travel. Personally, I had a lot of fun writing about my favorite genre and I hope you found some enjoyment as well. With such an all encompassing genre like time travel, I surely missed some obvious stories. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please share below or hit me up on Twitter. Thanks for reading!