Clock Winds Down

As with every month, we reach the end feeling there are still too many hours of exploration left. Too many films and programmes and books and other distractions that are relevant to the theme, but with no time machine in sight to go back and somehow fit it into our schedules.

This is that end.

We leave you with lists!

Amber’s Top Time Travelling Teams (That Don’t Include The Doctor)

In order of cinematic release/initial air date, here are the five films (and one programme) whose travelling teams make me happiest or whatever-feeling-is-appropriate-est. And I spared myself some agony by making this specifically not about Doctor Who.

Time Bandits (1981)

The Time Bandits teamI first saw this film as a child, so I appreciated that one of our time travellers was, like me, a human child in the real world who got to escape into an adventure. Beyond that, this is a crazy crew who seemed unlikely to succeed (for so many reasons), but they do it anyway. They’ve got rough edges (and some rough middle parts) and might not be the team I’d want to travel with, but so delightful to watch!

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1985)

The Bill & Ted's teamSpeaking of delightful to watch, Bill S. Preston, Esquire, and Ted “Theodore” Logan are also that. For me, part of the appeal is that they remind me of skater boys I hung out with. Not the brightest, but good-hearted. I am a sucker for a good heart. The occasional presence of Rufus, Napolean, Billy the Kid, Socrates, Sigmund Freud, Beethoven, Genghis Khan, and (my favourite, played by the awesome Jane Wiedlin) Joan of Arc adds a sort of frantic fun to what could arguably be classed as a feel-good film.

(Arguably Keanu Reeves’s best performance, though I’m torn with Alex Winter because he got to be a Lost Boy…)

Quantum Leap (March 26, 1989-1993)

The Quantum Leap teamA lot of times, “odd couple” sort of situations don’t really work for me. But the nice mix of brilliant and kind time traveller Sam with irreverent and brash holographically-projected-into-the-past Al works well. Part of that might be that the framework here isn’t a sit-com but a drama. Add in the fact that, whilst they work to save the world over and over again, they are both striving to get Sam un-stuck from his time travel, and you’ve got a more interesting context for this team. I might have occasionally crushed on Sam or gotten emotional over his exploits and his situation.

Back to the Future (3 July, 1989)

The Back to the Future teamI couldn’t show my face certain places if I didn’t mention Doc and Marty. Fortunately, I’m happy to mention them, even without that threat. Whilst I think all the things in my list are important, this one was arguably the most important of the lot (and that release date tells me it was a summer blockbuster thing). The lunacy of Doc was great for laughs, whilst the “normal kid” character of Marty made it easier for us to non-mad-scientist types to feel connected to the story. Who didn’t walk away wanting a DeLorean and a hoverboard? Or maybe even a mad scientist friend to help change our present via a past adventure…

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

The Safety Not Guaranteed teamThis film wasn’t one I anticipated liking as much as I did. And the thing that really made me love it was the team of Darius and Kenneth. Honestly, I’m a bit of a sucker for weirdos and their budding relationships. Plus, I’m a sucker for the way Aubrey Plaza plays disaffected. And the character of Kenneth, whilst we have reason to suspect his sanity, is a likeable guy. Are you starting to see that I’m a sucker for good guys? Someone disaffected and someone good in a film that’s not exactly mainstream is a good start for me.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Our team here for the actual time travelling are Wolverine and Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat). I love superheroes, and I really love X-Men. (Being not-normal is a good thing? Tell me more…) Even if most of the action we see is Wolverine, what I love is that his big, tough guy self is only able to do this with the help of a smaller female. I wish we lived in a post-sexist world where that sort of thing wouldn’t matter to me, but we don’t and it does. And the way she pushes on and, in her own way, shows she’s just as tough as burly Wolverine? Yeah! Plus, thanks, Kitty, for having a power that lets us see younger Xavier and Erik (aka Magneto) and Hank (aka Beast) and and and…well, now that I’ve wandered from time travelling teams to pretty people, time to let Cat do her winding up list…

(Of note, though I’ve stuck with time travel and not just things where time is squishy, I do want to call out that Quicksilver’s speed allows him to interact with things in a way that would make him out of sync with “normal” time and certainly involved in some wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff…Just with a little more sneering than we’d see from the Doctor.)

X-Men from the past and the future

Cat’s Top Making-A-Change Time Travel Films

One of the greatest tropes with time travel is the desire to go back and change things. To make the small adjustment that will alter life for the better. In short, when faced with options to redirect the course of history, we suddenly all become the Doctor going back to kill Hitler. Usually anything with time travel brushes this off with dire warnings about not changing anything (think Butterfly Effect), but sometimes stories lean into that possibility, creating a narrative that cannot exist without that one express foundation: change everything. Here, following Amber’s method of release date, are some stellar uses of this idea in film (and one where I stretch the definition a bit to include a great movie). We’ve already covered some films that do this very well indeed: X-men: Days of Future Past12 Monkeys, most of the Back to the Futures. These are the ones without their own dedicated web space on our page.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

T2All of the Terminator movies follow the same trail. Save John Connor, save the world. It might be more appropriate to list the first film in that regard, because it introduced the idea and feels like the stakes were even higher, but I think the second movie is a little more fun. There. I said it. It’s not often I give James Cameron any credit for anything, but he can churn out an exciting action sequel better than most anyone. T2 also has fantastic effects, particularly groundbreaking for that time, and who doesn’t love using Arnold for good, not vengeance?

Groundhog Day (1993)

groundhog-dayIt’s going to be difficult to refrain from all-out fangirling right here, because this is one the best movies of all time. Actually, I’d wager it’s one of the most important movies of all time. Expertly crafted by the late, great Harold Ramis and screenwriter Danny Rubin, Groundhog Day manipulates time to teach greater lessons about humanity. When Bill Murray as Phil Connors, narcissistic TV reporter extraordinaire, is forced to repeat every Groundhog Day for what Ramis claims is anywhere from 10-40 years (and other folks have done more in-depth estimations with that timeline) he is strong-armed into examining the purpose of humanity. As part of that, he’s forced to change his self-centered ways. Groundhog Day uses time manipulation to stare down the barrel of what exactly us crazy humans are doing here on this planet. The results are staggering. Nothing religious, nothing preachy, but overall themes of love and service and decency resound against a backdrop of the most hilarious writing and acting you ever did see.

Midnight in Paris (2011)

midnightThis might be cheating, but Midnight in Paris‘s sojourn into the past is used to teach lessons and change the course of a life, so I’m keeping it. This is also a great example of a time usage we haven’t discussed too much, save for the sci-fi themes in my Doctor Who post: the modern man blasted into history. As one of the lighter and (in my opinion) less odious of Woody Allen’s movies, Midnight in Paris succeeds in crafting a beautiful history while gently explaining why that past isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Owen Wilson’s Gil might have completely romanticized Paris in the 1920s, but it soon becomes clear that his magical time traveling car is not there to solely indulge his whims and add fruit to his fancy. It appears to show Gil that not all that glitters is gold. Like Groundhog Day, this films exists to teach a broader moral to those watching. Those who always live at the mercy of past, even in positive ways, are doomed to ruin the present.

Looper (2012)

looper

Alright, let’s get off this touchy-feely theme of personal growth and get back to nitty-gritty time travel for the course of history. Rian Johnson is one of those ridiculously talented writer-directors (please watch Brick; it will blow your mind). With Looper, using time travel as a way to change the trajectory of the world isn’t good enough. No, he has to take the endless possibilities with time travel and couch the message of changing history within a mind-bending action flick that plays with multiple timelines, each one having weight in the current story. Maybe confusing, but since the results are so slick and, well, cool, it’s hard to complain.

A Wrinkle In Mind

Picture of space with text by Madeleine L'Engle: A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.The problem with deciding to write about books by Madeleine L’Engle is that many of them are connected via characters or families of characters. Even when Cat and I decided that we had to include what we thought of as the Wrinkle In Time books, we immediately hit the issue of her having grown up with a set that included the first four of (according to the internet) five books in a series (that link to another half dozen or more books via shared characters) and I had grown up in a home that had purchased a set prior to 1986 and, thus, included only three books. Because of that, in Cat’s mind there are four books and in my mind there are three. And, in the minds of others, as I’ve said, it’s a larger number than that. (Plus, we have a different opinion about the right order of the last two books for that same reason.)

Because the fifth book (which I’ve not read) is more about an O’Keefe descendant and just the Murray parents but the first four are focused on the Murry children, and because we were both really more familiar with the first four, we drew the line there. (Though I’d have drawn the line at three, both out of my initial conditioning and because the fourth book focuses on two different Murry children than the first three.) So, as you can see, even choosing what to do here was sort of a wrinkle in mind. (Yes, I’m a laugh.) The one thing we absolutely and strongly agreed on was that these are important books and we welcomed a reason to re-read them and share our thoughts.

Fortunately, though we both love all four books (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters), we each love a different two best. It’s easier to let go of writing about one of them when you know it’s in the talented hands of someone who might love it a little more than you do…

I’ll try to avoid spoilers, just in case you haven’t read these. I want you to have the same experience of discovery that I did. Cat will do the same, bringing up just the barest of plot points to give you a slight tease (and maybe to stir the memory if you’ve read them but it’s been a while). Most discussion will focus on L’Engle’s brilliance, on personal connection, and on themes. Hopefully, this will only enhance any reading you choose to undertake.

A Wrinkle in Time – Amber

Cover of the edition of Wrinkle In Time that Amber grew up withIn A Wrinkle in Time, time travel is achieved by people folding space/time via a tesseract. It seems this is done simply using a mental power…And, really, the time folding/travelling isn’t as important as you’d think given the title of the book. To my mind, only the part where people are returned home just before they left for adventures is clear time travel use. For me, the most interesting time travel, if you will, comes from the real world, not the story. This book was published in 1962. 1962. If you don’t feel like that’s forever ago, read this and pay attention to what a different place 1962 United States was. And then, as you read the other books, notice how many years there are between the publication (and the writing) of each. For instance, A Wind in the Door was published in 1973 (and a note in the book makes it clear that it wasn’t written until 1970). Reading the books all in a row, decades later, you might notice how L’Engle doesn’t try to write later books in a tone that is the same as 1962 or that places the books in (or as close as would be realistic in terms of time passed for the characters) years close to that. New aesthetics, new household items, new ways of speaking that are modern to when she writes are there.

Another interesting aspect, especially of the first few books, is the state of young adult literature. Specifically, that it didn’t really exist. L’Engle had a hard time finding a publisher for this first book because it wasn’t a children’s book (too smart for kids, they said…and I can see how some of it is even smarter than more recently written adult fiction) and it wasn’t an adult’s book (I’m guessing due to having kids as the main characters). She insisted all along that she was writing for people. Full stop. Not for kids specifically, nor for adults specifically.

The other thing that was unexpected (and unremembered) was the unabashed religiosity of the author and some of her characters. In modern times, that’s not the norm. On the other side of it, for the time she wrote it in, it wasn’t Christian enough. There was some hubbub over the fact that she actually dared to have her characters put people such as Buddha, Michelangelo, and Einstein on the same level as Christ. For me, neither the overt religiosity nor giving importance to scientists and thinkers and the like is a problem. In fact, some of what was likely a political statement on L’Engle’s part resonates with some of my own spiritual beliefs, which gives me some extra glee.

Somehow, though, she wrote this story and got it published…And it’s one that I loved as a child and love as an adult. One that, among other themes, taught me that too much forced conformity is bad, that sacrificing oneself for the greater good is a high purpose, that faith and belief and love (all in a broad sense) are powerful, that those things can live in harmony with science, that even small or “different” people can make a great impact, that we humans can be important even in a universe with spectacular creatures, and that doing things to shine light and hold back the darkness (which we see in violence and unkindness and other negative human behaviours towards other humans and the rest of creation) is something we all have part in. Lessons that can speak to us, no matter our age or the decade in which we live as we read this.

Want to read a little bit of unpublished stuff from the book (some that calls out the politics a little more clearly)? Just in time for us, they’ve found a cut passage! A passage that should be mandatory reading for politicians, fear-mongers, and the humans who are being kept in check by security theatre and other false shows of “keeping things safe.”

And I couldn’t pass up a chance to posit this: A Wrinkle In Time was published in 1962, and one of it’s main time travelling characters goes by the name of Mrs. Who. The first episode of Doctor Who aired in November 1963. Coincidence?

If you’ve already read the book (and, seriously, I wouldn’t watch this otherwise, as it is a massive spoiler and I also wouldn’t want its silliness to taint your reading experience…these books are all Very Serious for me) and you are in need of a laugh, some kids did a silly 90 second video re-enactment of the book. (I’m so serious about you not watching if you haven’t read that I’m opting not to embed the video. Very Serious!)

A Wind in the Door – Amber

Cover of the edition of Wind in the Door that Amber grew up with(Don’t worry; having said all my “thoughts about the series in general” in the previous section, this one won’t be nearly as verbose.)

In A Wind in the Door, time travel is achieved by supernatural powers that aren’t really detailed (hello, cherubim and Teacher). As with A Wrinkle in Time, the time travel isn’t super important (time that flows at a different rate is more important here). But it’s there and I’m happy to call that enough to talk about these books in hopes that you’ll read them. One thing to note about this “series” is that L’Engle wrote them such that you could read just one, any one, of them and be fine. The stories aren’t connected in a way that you need to read multiple to understand fully or even to get plots tied up.

One thing that, to me, was clearest in this book (though it permeates all four) is the author’s interest in scientific theories. She weaves bits of science in. As I mentioned before, there’s unabashed religiosity (she didn’t like being called a Christian writer, but she saw no need to set aside some of what she knew/believed as she wrote), and, to my delight, it’s side-by-side with a love of science. The parents of the sibling protagonists in this series are both (both! even the woman…even in 1962!) highly educated and brilliant scientists. As someone who feels no struggle with having love for both spirituality and science, I love this. And the little ideas L’Engle uses as the science springboards for her fictions are intriguing, even if not up-to-date with current understanding.

With this book, though the story is important, I seem more likely to recall lessons learnt than to recall actual events. Even though I just re-read it last week and connected enough that I cried. Actual “tears running down my face” crying. (I’m not really a massive cry-er, but I did get choked up with A Wrinkle In Time and A Swiftly Tilting Planet as well.)

This book shares some themes with the first. It has some important self sacrifice…which, now that I think about it, is an interesting balance to the lesson about the worth of individuality (of not giving oneself up in a way) and the value of people who are different that I also find in both books. But the unique lessons here speak to me and my personal experience at least as strongly.

  • “If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate.” This is a truth I have lived. When I really came to know who I am, I stopped hating myself and others. Does L’Engle have the secret to world peace in that sentence?
  • In the whole of creation, all things are known, named, and needed. In fact, one of the running themes in all four books is the interconnectedness of all creation.
  • “Where” doesn’t matter and doesn’t stop the things that do matter (like love and light). As a girl with loved ones, creative companions, and inspirations spread all over this world, I feel that deeply.
  • “Time isn’t any more important than size. All that is required of you is to be in the Now, in this moment which has been given us.” I am pretty horrible at living in the now, but the fact that I see that there are very small things of great importance/impact and large things of lesser importance/impact and that we can, if we try, do some good and connect in spite of size, gives me hope I’ll one day do better at disregarding time, at making the most of this moment…my Now.

Many Waters – Cat

manywatersConfession time: this was absolutely my Most Read book of the entire series when I was younger. My copy is trashed, the pages wrinkled and torn, the spine so warped that the book looks twice as thick as it actually is. But what can I say? I loved it. Going back as an adult and revisiting L’Engle’s remarkable series, I can finally see that this is by far the worst of the lot. It’s more similar in spirit to the overwrought soapy romances L’Engle went towards later in her career (I’m thinking A Ring of Endless Light type material) and lacks the resonating depth of the other works in the Time series. I’ll admit that straight up. It diverts from Meg and Charles Wallace, the themes aren’t as groundbreaking and full of scope for children and adults, and quite frankly the relationships are kind of creepy when you dwell on them for too long.

Bu, as a kid, I ate up the tale of Murry twins Sandy and Dennys like it was a hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream. An apt metaphor, particularly when you think of the other books as the hearty elements of a meal—the meat, vegetables, vitamins—and this as the frothy dessert that feels good in the moment but leaves some lingering regret and/or shame.

Still, there are things to appreciate. For one, it’s one of the more overt usages of time in the series, with the twins being transported back millions of years to the era of Noah. With that comes some fascinating musings on Biblical culture. Many Waters was the first time I had heard of seraphim or nephilim, and it was kind of rad to read Bible verses later on and see these terms pop out at me, now with a highly individualized, but completely fleshed out world behind them. L’Engle’s thoughts on the relationship between mortals and the divine is wonderful, as always. She has this method of widening the possibilities in Christianity, resisting narrow interpretation and making it the more welcoming, warm religion that I personally identify with. Using the singing of the stars, creating angels that have feelings (even if they are, again, somewhat questionable), these were traits that made Heaven less scary and more familiar.

I also kind of loved the diversion away from Meg and Charles Wallace. Meg was sometimes so close to my own self that spending time with her was occasionally wearying. And Charles Wallace can be too remote, too intimidatingly wise. They’re wonderful, and I’ve learned to grow into Meg comfortably, as I’ve grown into myself comfortably, but, as a kid, it felt better seeing characters so unlike me and who had previously been everything I disliked (popular, athletic, irksome in their cold rationality) learn more about their place in the world and soften towards the unknown. Sandy and Dennys became bastions of hope, signals that with a little time—or a little time traveling—everyone can learn and everyone can contribute to the unifying splendor of this earth.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet – Cat

swiftlytiltJust as Many Waters was my Most Read book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet was my Most Favorite. To my delight, it remains so to this day. Which shouldn’t be surprising, because this book is incredible. Absolutely incredible. It takes L’Engle’s typical themes of family, humanity’s interconnectedness, and the conflation of religion and science, and uses all of them to full potential. To me, this book is the culmination of L’Engle’s work. I know that there’s technically another book following the O’Keefe family. But to me this is the end, perfect and shining and whole (again, later Many Waters publishing date notwithstanding).

A Swiftly Tilting Planet is the only book in the Time series to deal only with time, not with space. In that way it’s thematically similar to Here, the comic I touched on earlier, with one location constant throughout a relentlessly shifting time. Charles Wallace tries to piece together the history of America and fictional Latin American country Vespugia, while also discovering the connections between Welshmen and Indians and the intricate history of the O’Keefe matriarch, all set against a backdrop of impending nuclear destruction. Through it all he technically does not move. Everything is improbably set in the same area. In fact, messing with space is highly discouraged. It’s an interesting plot point that serves to drive home the importance of each and every place. Yes, while all these threads diverge in the same Connecticut meadow, it could be any location with a history as rich and as impactful. It’s a rendition of time whose weight stays with me, long after the reading is done.

Beyond having an interesting time twist, the book itself is full to bursting with beauty. L’Engle gets to stretch her authorial wings a little, bringing in the power of mythology and poetry and literature. She emphasizes how the slightest choices can be vitally significant, manifesting that concept through a steady appreciation for story as a method of warning and teaching. Her characters, each group throughout the ages, rely on songs and poems and books to carry on their belief and help build up moral reasoning. It’s a message that deeply resonates with me as someone who believes that, without story, civilization is lost.

The struggle between light and dark, a persistent motif through the Time series, and interpreted through both science and the power of the Divine, is also expressed in a clear and chillingly lovely way in this novel. One thing I appreciate about L’Engle is the diversity she brings to the heavens. Each book has a different manifestation of heavenly messengers—Wrinkle has the Mrs’s, Wind has Progo, Waters is full of seraphim and singing stars, and Planet has the majestic unicorn Gaudior. These are all agents of light, and they aren’t the homogeneous throngs that exist in most Christianity. It’s a touch that perfectly exemplifies all that is right and good with this series. L’Engle’s work, as Amber discussed, is incredibly ahead of its time, an imaginative and increasingly prescient vision of the world. Her view of humanity, of faith and ration, of goodness in all forms and sizes, adds to an overwhelming message of hope, a clarion call of our capability for positive change as a people.

Like Sands Through the Hourglass

I have always been a time traveler.

It’s the way my brain works, constantly circling back through my history. Where was I a year ago? Two years ago? How have I changed? Where was I then? Every moment measures against the one before, even so incrementally—from now to yesterday, one month, a year, five years. How did I spend Halloween as a child? What was I doing a year ago today? And more importantly, have I grown?

meThis manifests in an uncanny mind for dates and occasions. I remember the dates of those huge relationship moments, my first kiss, first betrayal, first moment of soul-crushing “what am I even doing right now?”. Those are compared against each other every year (spoiler: for most I prefer where I currently am on that date). But there are less monumental moments that stubbornly resist slipping away. There’s the day a friend cancelled on a concert during a season of incredible loneliness, and I can’t forget the date when I sobbed on my dorm room floor over the abandonment. There’s the perfect day of napping on blankets in the park after camping, sun and water and the freedom of summer. There’s childhood and the formation of adulthood, all housed in some wrinkle or turn of brain matter.

It gets a little chaotic living throughout time. There’s a tension between how much attention I’m giving to the present and how much of myself is mired in the remembrances of the past.

I’m not the only time traveler. It seems like there are a couple different ways to manifest this fascination with what’s come before.

One way is to let the past consume you and to drag it like a fifty-ton albatross on your back. This type of time traveler is the over-enforcer, not learning from the magic of flying through the eons, but forcing the ages to bend to a personal view of what life should be. It’s Doc Brown going to the Wild West and putting flux capacitors on trains. Yes, let’s drag along all the accoutrements of what we want and completely debilitate any lessons to be learned in the time-hopping.

"Perfect on Paper" -- Ted (Josh Radnor) and the gang celebrates Halloween, on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, Monday, Oct. 31 (8:00-8:300 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS © 2011 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.I think the perfect example of this is Ted Mosby in How I Met Your Mother, particularly in the Slutty Pumpkin storyline, a.k.a. the most anti-climactic payoff of a bit throughout the show (and that’s saying something for a program that regularly introduced great concepts only to drive them into the ground). After meeting “the Slutty Pumpkin” at a rooftop Halloween party and promptly losing her number, Ted becomes obsessed with finding this girl he’s pinned hopes and dreams and impossible expectations on. For the next several years, he shows up at the same place with the same stale hanging chad costume. Dated, hopeless, and obstinately past-bent, Ted encapsulates the danger of the wistful time traveler. Sometimes the machine gets broken, the expectations get too large, and they can leave you irreparably damaged. Or at the very least, looking like a fool in a costume of outdated cultural references.

This is like obsessing over that first kiss, or setting aside August 18th as a remote date because that’s when you got your heart broken. There’s joy in bittersweet look-backs, but there’s dangerous track ahead if that wistfulness gains control.

The best version of nostalgic  time-traveling comes when the moments and the weight they carry are allowed to coexist alongside each other, the sweet memories rubbing elbows with the present and making it all the better.

HereRichard McGuire’s comic Here shows this remarkably. Originally published as a six-page spread in 1989, then expanded into full color and 300 pages in 2014, Here breaks with linear development in favor of illustrating how time and space work with each other. Here takes place entirely in one space, showing one room (or, where one room will be/was), and illustrating its existence throughout hundreds and thousands of years. McGuire doesn’t tell a story through characters, there’s no connecting narrative thread, it’s just the space and whatever occupied it in 1963, or 1607, or hundreds of years in the future. Sometimes a single panel will possess several fractures, showing the different eras bumped up beside each other, a cut out of the 1930 surrounded by events from 2003, showing that age old tale—the more time changes, the more time stays the same.

It’s a view that could be interpreted cynically. That we as humanity are insignificant blips, that our actions don’t have repercussion, that, regardless of ambition or genius, we are all boats borne back ceaselessly against the tide of time. But there’s another, far more comforting view, the kind of lovely, hippie, metaphysical lens that indicates, hey, we’re all part of this tapestry. We’re weaving something. In the crazy quilt of life we are slight patterns contributing to a whole.

2001This is the time traveling I approve of, and the type I strive to do in my constant rememberings. I’m not trapped in the past. I’m whizzing past the wormhole of time, instances stacking on top of each other, connecting with my past, using the lessons in the present, and seeing them all as shades of the future. I look at the entirety and can’t help being awed.

I Can’t Trace Time

Grab your popcorn and settle in, because I’m giving you plenty to watch in this post.

There’s a lot to be said about cause and effect when we’re looking at time travel. For this post, the cause we’ll be focusing on is one small film. Specifically, the 28-minute, black and white, French film La Jetée, released in 1962. Whilst not the first time travel film, it’s certainly one of the earlier ones. And because it’s so short and, in my opinion, so important and enjoyable, I’m going to insist you watch it before you read on. Yes, really. You can find it on assorted paid services online, but I’m going to embed a copy I found on Vimeo and hope it doesn’t get taken down before you watch it. (If you speak French or Spanish, you can do a web search and find plenty of other copies posted online that are in French and—in some cases—have Spanish subtitles.)

1 la jetee from GCVA Manchester on Vimeo.

La Jetee promotional posterBecause of the impact of this film, you can search the internet and find many an essay on it and, in most of those, you’ll find mentions of the effects of this cause, aka the visual offspring of La Jetée. And, having drawn your attention to this film, I want to call out some of those offspring.

The most obvious to you will be the 1995 film 12 Monkeys. And it’s unabashed in that case, even acknowledging this heavy influence in the opening credits. Most striking to you may well be the method of time travel that both seem to share, and that cramped and gritty space from which the time traveller sets out on his journey.Promotional shot of Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt for 12 Monkeys

(You can also then argue that the TV programme with the same name and trying to make something of the same story ought to be listed as another ripple out from this cause, but the 12 Monkeys TV programme keeps making me wish we’d be done with Time Travel month so that I never feel like I have to watch it again. I’d apologise to SyFy for that, but I feel that the viewers—and the original film—are the ones owed an apology from them.)

You might also, especially once you’ve drawn the 12 Monkeys connection, have thought of the 2011 film Source Code. (Bonus Bowie connection: Source Code is directed by Bowie’s son, a talent in his own right, Duncan Jones.) Though it’s time travel cause was far less dramatic, as was the amount the traveller journeyed back, he starts from a space that reminds us clearly of that in La Jetée and 12 Monkeys. Arguably, the theme of people without control of their own destinies being sent back to change the destiny of all humankind is also a link here, and one which I might find fascinating to discuss if I weren’t interested in getting to what’s coming later in this post.

Snapshot of Sarah Connor that guides Kyle Reese in The TerminatorAssorted writers have noted that they see the influence of La Jetée in many other films. Oft-noted are things like Total Recall (the 1990 original), The Terminator, and The Matrix. (For at least a couple of those, it is the image of a woman for whom someone is searching that is the catalyst for the story.) But the connections branch out and include films less likely to have been seen by the general modern population. Films like Alphaville; Je t’aime, je t’aime; The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes; and 2046. (I haven’t seen all of these, so you’ll have to see and agree—or disagree—for yourself.)

Like any important film, it’s spawned at least one homage (Her Ghost, you can see the trailer here or watch this embed…I really hope to see this someday)

Her Ghost Trailer from MFO on Vimeo.

…and at least one parody (La Puppé, which you can watch here or embedded below).

La Puppé “Short Film” from WSF on Vimeo.

Now, before we get to the stuff that I am most pleased to include, I want to point out that La Jetée has also influenced books (or so claimed the blog that tells me Time Traveller’s Wife took cues from it…I haven’t read it…) and music (like Last Night at the Jetty by Panda Bear). I’m sure there’s other stuff I could point out, but once we get to the next bit, regular readers will suspect that we’ve finally reached the real reason I’m writing this post…

Though their lyrics aren’t necessarily about La Jetée, the film has inspired music videos for some songs, not just other films. For example, you can see the clear influence in the video for Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s Dancerama.

Or in the video for Jump They Say by David Bowie.

Yes, that’s right, I fit David Bowie into another month in a completely legitimate way. Plus, whilst we’re on the topic, I feel constrained to note that someone made a film that’s something of an extended music video homage to David Bowie and that uses time travel as one of its main vehicles to move the plot forward (though, sadly, there is no actual David Bowie appearance in it). The film is called Dave and its Bowie-ish protagonist ingests Chronomycin (“For convenient time travel”) to take care of business. Watch it here or embedded below!

RSWX presents Dave from Radio Soulwax on Vimeo.

Sometimes, when we look at time travel and see how worried people can get about changing the smallest thing, it can look silly. I step on a butterfly and destroy life as I know it? Really? But pause one moment…See how much one really short French film has impacted things and tell me that the small things don’t change the course of history. We’d be irresponsible traveller’s if we didn’t tell you about the butterfly known as La Jetée.

Timey-Wimey Stuff

Time and space seem to be part of each other’s DNA, woven into the thought process. So when you have someone who travels through space, but is a time lord, you’ve got every cause for fantastical adventure covered. I’m one of those terrible people who came into Doctor Who with the series reboot, and I did not force myself to become a completist. Listen, there is a lot of media out there, and when I think of all the years of good TV throughout history my head explodes, and this is why I can’t handle watching Star Trek even though I’d love it, and also I don’t have to explain myself to you (although apparently I do). Anyway, I started Doctor Who with my first and still favorite Nine, and have kept it up to varying degrees of enthusiasm since.

Doctor Who is an alien, so a lot of the episodes have that space-oriented bent, but I love the time travel elements. Particularly when they go into the past—seeing the way the writers get to play with history, inserting the Doctor and alien elements and twisting these great events for modern storytelling, it’s a thrill. Doctor Who likes to play with the other end of the time spectrum, waging guesses on what the future might hold, but for now I want to focus on my personal favorite past-dated episodes. If that’s not enough to sate your Time Lord thirst, I’d highly suggest finding your own favorites on this ridiculously comprehensive interactive map of all the Doctor’s time travels. Welcome to your own lost time. But wait for that, because, and without any further ado, I present my favorite time episodes for each modern doctor.

NINE: “The Empty Child”empty

During his all too brief run as the Doctor, Christopher Eccleston had a surprisingly amazing selection of time traveling episodes. It might have been Davies coming out of the gate strong to reintroduce the character and concepts to the viewing public. Whatever it was, it was marvelous. I almost went with “The Unquiet Dead” here, out of Dickens love and how wonderful Eccleston plays in that time period. And “Father’s Day” is one of those thoughtful, heartbreaking pieces that majestically sets the tone of the Doctor and his limitations. But in terms of sheer staying power, “The Empty Child,” an eerie mystery set during the London Blitz, wins hands down. For one, it deserves major props for introducing everyone’s favorite scandalous chap, a certain Captain Jack. And for another, this had visuals and a narrative that established the new generation’s particular brand of doing good with a slight edge. “The Empty Child” changed the way I look at gas masks. I dare you to hear the phrase “are you my mummy?” without getting the chills.

TEN: “Blink”

blinkOh, David Tennant. The most beloved of all, his time larks were many and varied. Whether he’s charming Madame de Pompadour, infuriating Queen Elizabeth, or solving mysteries alongside Agatha Christie, Tennant’s Doctor has no qualms with sticking his nose into history and muddling around in the past. Which is why it’s so surprising that my favorite time episode barely features the Doctor. It might be low on the titular character, but “Blink” stands supreme as a great Doctor Who episode and a terrifying use of time travel. Even I can’t begrudge giving Stephen Moffat his due with this one. The man did good, even if he can’t carry a series-long arc to save his life. But this one-off is Moffat at his finest. There’s a crazy intricate premise, with the introduction of the time-distorting Weeping Angels. There are crazy high stakes, since one touch from the angels zaps a victim back in time, never to return. Together, those elements create a classic Moffat episode, a single idea just interesting enough to captivate and devastate anyone watching.

ELEVEN: “A Town Called Mercy”A_Town_Called_Mercy

There are better episodes and better uses of time—including the Weeping Angel-centric “The Angels Take Manhattan”—but it’s only natural that my list would navigate towards my own personal interests. After all, I was nearly tempted to call “The Shakespeare Code” a top Ten episode, my love of the Bard almost edging out my complete distaste for Martha (and seriously, how awful is her mooning over the Doctor in that episode?). I’m a complete sucker for Western aesthetics, so placing the Doctor within that no-holds-barred world absolutely delighted me. I thought it was a good way to show times clashing against each other, and the cyborg thing was pretty dang cool. But what I really loved about this was the way it captured the spirit of moral ambiguity that is the trademark of Westerns. In a wild world, who can truly judge?

TWELVE: “Robot of Sherwood”

robot-of-sherwood-pic2This is another example of my own personal biases tilting the scale towards this episode. I’m a complete Robin Hood fan. It was my favorite Disney movie growing up, I read the stories over and over until my copy was tattered (but I’d always stop before the end, while the gang was still fun and before sorrow and betrayal), and when the BBC made their own series I was an intense fangirl. So it stood to reason that I would love the Doctor facing off against my dear Sir Robert. I would also argue that this is one of the first episodes with Peter Capaldi that fell into a rhythm with his new Doctor, getting comfortable with who he was and how he interacted with the world. Everything up to it felt like introduction. This is how the age thing works, this is how he works with Clara, and this is how we’re going to use him and say goodbye to Eleven just a little more. But with “Sherwood,” we got a glimpse of a comfortably caustic nature and slight egoism that felt more lived in. All the reassertion that Robin Hood is no creation, but actually as lovely and brilliant as I always dreamed? Just the icing on an already wonderful cake.

The Lonely God

Arguably the most popular time traveller at time of writing is the Doctor. And, with over 50 years under its belt, Doctor Who is a topic we can’t ignore in a month that’s all about time travel. And I wouldn’t want to ignore it.

You might recall from March that the Doctor is one of my alien role models. So it won’t surprise you too much to know that, with much glee, I took some time just a couple years ago to re-watch all of Doctor Who and its spinoff series. But before I get to talking a little about each, I’ve just written this month’s intro and the topic of why this appeals to us is on my mind. You will get a little of that through this (and through what I said about the Doctor in my role models post), but one thing they’ve really got going for them is that they can do just about anything with this programme. They can go anywhere in time and space. Anywhere. The tone they’ve established lets them play it fun or play it serious. There’s a lot of freedom there.

All the Doctors
Now, in spite of what you’ll read…some of my feelings are better labelled as “concerns” or “reasons I want to punch a writer.” But, overall, I love this show. And I’m likely to stick with it. Even if they don’t share my fantasy of Tilda Swinton as the Doctor with a companion who’s not sure if she’s a boy or a girl…or a definitely physically female Doctor who is still very much the Doctor…or one who is as sexually ambiguous as Jack Harkness or who isn’t white or maybe isn’t quite so obviously human or or or….one of those options that takes advantage of the fact that a Time Lord can, when they regenerate, choose to be something that is physically completely different from what they’ve been before. (But, seriously, make Tilda the Doctor and I’ll give up music for long enough to play her Companion…Did I mention I can act?)

Right. On to a little about each programme.

Doctor Who
David Tennant as the DoctorOh, Doctor…Listen, with 50+ years of programmes, it’s hard to sum it all up. But I think I can repeat myself a little and we’ll call it good. The Doctor and his curiosity…and his optimism…and his determination to do right…The Doctor and his inability to not get involved in historical events (even when he knows he ought not) if he thinks he can save someone…Plus, with so many regenerations, there’s a Doctor whose personality fits whatever mood I have. And it sure doesn’t hurt that the one I find most physically attractive also struggles with some big sadness that speaks to me. By creating a character that isn’t likely to die, they could have set themselves up for too much repetition and stagnation. Instead, they can change the Doctor or his Companions before that happens. (Not that they always do…but they could. Yeah, that’s right, I’m talking about Clara…Ugh. Clara.) And they can always show me a new wonder, a new world, a new species, a new problem to solve. Oh, how I love this programme.

Torchwood
The original Torchwood teamWhilst not devoid of humour, Torchwood seems to really flourish in the anguish and the darkness of the Whoniverse. And they did this with unabashedly marginalised or flawed characters. (Note: marginalised does not mean flawed.) There were plenty of capable (whilst realistically flawed) women. There were characters—including men—who weren’t straight. (Not just Jack Harkness either.) They made us ache over man’s inhumanity to man, over our greed, over the stupid things we do because we are just humans trying to find happiness. And, as long as they don’t do another that involves Hollywood, I’ll always be on board to let them kick my heart.

The Sarah Jane Adventures
Sarah Jane and a trio of teensLike many viewers who were already familiar with older Doctor Who, I was thrilled to see his previous Companion, Sarah Jane, show up to work with the Doctor again. And I suspect that’s why Sarah Jane got her own programme. Whilst it was aimed at people younger than me (early adolescents?), I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It never went as deep or dark as Doctor Who or Torchwood, but it was pretty solid for a young adult programme. Remember, if you choose to watch this, that it is a young adult programme. But if, like me, you were delighted to see Sarah Jane again, this will be a treat. Should you find yourself mourning the early death of Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane, perhaps enjoy this as a way to get some last moments with her and her beautiful light. If nothing else, this programme made me enjoy Sarah Jane’s appearances in Doctor Who, whether in the classic or the newer series, a little more.

K-9
K-9 and his human palsYou might think that, by the time I got to this, I’d be worn out on Doctor Who. Or maybe you think I’m doing that thing where you save the best for last. And you’d be wrong on both counts. However, my love does not run so deep as to make me enjoy this lame spinoff. This one…this I watched all of just for the sake of completion. I kept trying to find reasons to like it, but, wow, I was so pleased when I was finally done with it. If you are considering being a completionist, consider this paragraph your permission slip not to watch this one. Of course, I was never charmed (aside from some brief nostalgia) by the little robot dog. Sorry, K-9. You’re a good dog, but I’m a bad person. (Don’t worry, internet, I’m not generally immune to cute animals. I am, as far as you know, human.)

Now, I’m going to go dream of a TARDIS showing up to take me into wonders and dangers I’ve never seen and hope the Doctor gets me home in time to publish this little love letter to him.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

Dali's painting Persistance of MemoryI can’t say for certain how long humans have been interested in time travel. Perhaps we had to get enough years under our collective belts for it to feel really worth the effort to even fantasise about. But, once we started, it seems we went from reserving fantasies of going back (sometimes forward) in time for our moments of regret in the middle of the night to making them a source of entertainment. And just what is our interest, as a species, in time travel? Here’s what I think.

We like the idea of being able to go back and change things. Maybe it’s a big change, like that choice that ruined your life, or maybe it’s as simple as wishing you hadn’t said that one stupid thing.

We like to think about how, had just one thing been changed, the whole story might have changed. (This is the main root for alternate universe stories. We won’t be covering that this month, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to toss them into the mix.)

Man holds a sign with the text: What do we want? Time Travel! When do we want it? It's Irrelevant!We are curious about the future and don’t want to wait for it (or don’t think we’ll live long enough to see as far into it as we’d like)

We wonder if the past is what we’ve heard, and maybe we feel so out of place in our own time that we romanticise an escape to that past. (I can’t be the only teenager who briefly—and incorrectly—thought she was surely meant for a much earlier century. I’m so relieved teen-me didn’t have access to time travel…)

We like storytelling, and time travel (at least to the past) is a partial cheat…It gives us the setting and characters and so forth, just waiting for us to lay a plot and our characters on it (though sometimes we just have to take something that already was and change it a little).

On a related note, if there’s some familiarity, it’s easier for us to connect to it. Time travel stories that involve the past can supply that.

On a related related note, time travel stories let us insert a character with whom our modern readers/watchers can relate into an unfamiliar time/place.

Maybe you just the idea of being a little godlike and ignoring the mortal restriction of time.

Fork and knife beside a stopwatch (like it's a plate) with the text "Supper time" beneathOr you like the intellectual satisfaction that comes of understanding more mind-boggling time travel tales (like the awesomely odd Donnie Darko, the “we’re going to try to explain this to you but your brain may still hurt a little” Primer, or the bizarre Mr. Nobody).

Whatever your interest, we hope you’ll travel with us this month. And, like us, we hope you’ll start to see how ubiquitous time travel is in our stories. Allons-y! (We promise to have you home in time for supper. Probably.)