Time Travel in Pop Culture: The Right and the Wrong

By Steve McCullough on


Time travel. That most intriguing of concepts and ideas in both the imagination and movies. A plot device that can truly make or break a movie, regardless of said movies overall quality. Some movies do it well, others...others fuck it up. This article will have an example of each.

Who Did it Wrong: Looper (2012)

First, watch Looper on iTunes

The concept of this movie is awesome. The execution of said concept left a lot to be desired. But besides the overall mehness of this movie, it featured time travel and thus it qualifies for this list.

The premise (spoiler alert, obviously, c'mon you should know by now that most articles on the internet are going to have spoilers, but there's always that one asshole who's all "ohmygod spoilers!" and then the rest of us are all "what the hell the Princess Bride came out in 1987 what have you done with your life". I'd rather avoid peasants such as they.) of this movie is that the mob in the future sends people back in time to be executed by hired hitmen. This is all well and good, kind of, until the plot happens.

I'm-trying-too-hard-to-look-like-Bruce-Willis Joseph Gordan-Levitt fails to kill his 30-years-in-the-future self who was sent back to be executed. They call this "closing the loop" (long story, not important), and almost every character does it. Again, okay fine, you dispose of your future self and no real alteration to the time stream happens. When you fail to kill your future self, as happens in the movie, mountains of shit goes down. Everything that makes that future version of you, him (or her), is now null and void. 30 fucking years of that persons life is now gone. Never happened. Nada. Memories, actions, monumental life events, has all disappeared. This means that the person they will become is still being decided, by the person they were 30 years ago. Who's alive with them presently. Like at the same time. Do you see what I'm getting at? They wouldn't know who they are. The moment their past self failed to kill the future self, history is altered, and the future self would probably collapse under the crushing weight of 30 fucking years of history changing in the blink of an eye. They will have literally lost damn near everything about themselves. I'd be surprised if they could even continue to function normally. In all likelihood they would turn into some kind of mist and only be somewhat anchored in reality. After all, what happens in their past self dies, or becomes maimed in those 30 years? That didn't happen before. Time gon' be fucked, yo. This isn't to mention that the premise of this movie, after all, is that many people are doing this. Now, what if your future self was, say, an important person? By altering history, the future mob you work for might be different, might not even exist. They might not have been able to send all those bodies back in time in the first place.

Holy shitballs Batman, maybe this entire movie might not have been possible.

Actually, I'd be okay with that.

So...Who Did it Right?: Timeline (novel) 1999

Grab a copy of Timeline by Michael Crichton from iTunes.

Pretty standard-ish concept here. Guy goes back in time. Guy gets lost back in time. Friends go save him. Yada yada yada, this is one of my favourite books ever. What's especially awesome about it is that it actually makes sense. Allow me to explain.

They (author Michael Crichton, and his dinosaur plushie stuffed with sweet, sweet, Jurassic Park money) explain how time travel is possible, in layman's terms. It doesn't just...happen. And he makes it especially clear that they aren't traveling through time, per se, but to another dimension, similar to their own, but different. Thus they aren't traveling through time as much as they are traveling from point A (our dimension) to point B (distant, turn left at the second wormhole, dimension). So right off the bat, good. Great, even. We have ourselves a far-fetched, but believable, plot device.

Skipping over most major plot points (see spoiler warning, above), our main characters get to a point where they must make a difficult decision. Either try and stay neutral in the 14th century war waging around them, or else help the French take the English castle and try to escape in the aftermath. Long story short, their decision results in the French capturing the English castle using a secret tunnel underneath it that the people from the future showed them. However, what's so cool about this, and why this is time travel done right, is that this was supposed to happen. Midway through thinking out the plan, the dedicated historian of the group realizes that in history, their history, at least, the French capture the castle, using a secret tunnel. That's all that is known 600 years later, but it is enough for them to realize that they play a pivotal role in history, and by the time they make it back to the present, they realize that every step they took, and every decision they made, had already been done before, by them, 600 years ago.

Kind of hard to wrap your head around, isn't it? Which is probably why so few movies or novels get time travel right.

With love,
Steve