Time is a frequent theme in science fiction. Various authors have handled it well in different ways, and when they do it well, it reflects our desire for change, even change in ourselves. There’s a Christian contrition aspect in how sf creators handle some characters: a person has messed up something and admits it. Now they just want to repair it. Often for themselves, and sometimes, heroically, for others.
I hadn’t realized until the other day how much of time has invaded my viewing as of late. Streaming tv offers a lot of opportunity to waste time, or even use it. I’ll comment on a few time-themed sf tv views and you decide: used or wasted.
First up, the second season of Picard on the Paramount platform. The legendary captain of the Next Generation has a new group of associates and the show’s braintrust has gone to a well that’s worked for some great Star Trek stories in the past: time travel. One of the best episodes ever used it. This time around, a whole season of ten episodes it doesn’t work as well. The writing and pacing is poor, and even sloppy. The only thing saving this series is the acting. That, and the very presence of Sir Patrick. If this weren’t Star Trek, who would care? After warning each other and the viewing audience about not disturbing the past so as to cause drastic changes in the future, there are violations of the timeline up and down just about every episode: 21st century people killed, and possibly worse, romanced. Boo.
Better might be two of the three films I’ve seen this past month. El Ascensor is an original Spanish language film with a unique treatment. A married couple get into an elevator during an argument. The husband has to relive the minute-long journey from the tenth floor to the first. The writers managed to handle this pretty well. As it turns out, when the man presses the halt button, he can take a bit more time trying to convince his wife he’s in a time loop. When she presses the first floor button, she experiences the loop. Eventually they’ve convinced each other what’s happening and they press the button together. How do they escape the trap of time? It gets dark and troubling as the secrets of a troubled marriage spill out. Not well-reviewed, but I enjoyed it.
I made the error of watching Looper the other night. It’s a well-regarded movie I found troubling and not all that great. Time travel is in the hands of a crime lord in 2074. When someone crosses him, he sends the person back to 2044 where a hitman kills the victim the second she or he appears at a predetermined location at a precise time. It’s an easy crime to do. Just bundle up the corpse and toss it into a furnace. That’s a crude and violent template, but an interesting one. What happens when hitmen are “retired” in 2074 and sent back to be offed by their younger selves? That’s what happens when Bruce Willis, the older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt appears and disrupts the procedure. Halfway through the film, Emily Blunt comes into the story, and she has a son who seems to have some ominous role to play in the future. The ethical conundrum: does the Willis character kill three children, one of whom might do very bad things in 2074, and two are innocent? Well, he goes for it. The Blunt character argues that if a child is raised with love and virtue, the bad future won’t happen. The time travel element is blundered here badly, scientifically. There’s a ton of gratuitous violence with lots of cruelty–this is really an action film with a few calm interludes. Watch with caution.
On the lighter and fluffier side is an Australian flick, Long Story Short. Not particularly well-reviewed, but an interesting coming-of-adulthood story for a newly married man who goes into a fog every hour or so and finds himself on the next anniversary day of his marriage.
The pattern is set when he wakes up the day after his wedding and it’s the first anniversary. He has no present. His wife is pregnant, and he’s disoriented with all the changes: is it a dream, a joke, a para-Groundhog Day experience? He blunders through a workaholic life, a crumbling marriage, and his failures as a parent. How does he escape the trap? Watch to find out.