Are you ready for bureaucracy-induced jet lag? It’s time for Daylight Saving Time, where we all change our clocks arbitrarily! Why? I guess because it will save energy. I mean, everyone knows the largest drain on our electric bill is a light bulb; not computers, TVs, refrigerators, microwaves, heating-and-cooling systems, hairdryers, and everything else that runs on electricity.
Or maybe we’re changing the clocks because that means more people will go shopping after work, or go to sporting events or other outings; because it’s lack of sunlight that keeps us from doing those things, apparently.
Oh, wait, I know—I’m supposed to blame farmers. Except that the time change messes with their schedules possibly more than anyone’s.
Daylight Saving Time
Whatever the arguments for or against DST, a lot of us have to put up with it—unless we live in Russia, Indiana, or Arizona—and there’s no denying it messes with our heads. To turn this frown upside-down, we thought we’d go back and look at the entertainment value of using time to mess with everyone’s heads.
These are some of my favorite films that involve time-bending of some kind. Time travel is of course a favorite subject of sci-fi, so I’m sure I’m going to leave a few examples out, but feel free to add your own favorites in the comments!
The Time Loop
Edge of Tomorrow (a.k.a. Live. Die. Repeat.) (2014): Initially, I had my doubts about this Groundhog-Day-sci-fi-war-movie, but it has easily become one of my favorite films of recent years. The unique take on the time loop—Major William Cage only goes back to the start of the day when he dies—makes for an intense and exhilarating ride.
Primer (2004): Known for it’s $7,000 budget, this super-indie film is a must see for time-bending lovers. Two scientists working on electromagnetic anti-gravity experiments accidentally discover a way to travel back in time. At first, they use careful planning in order to avoid copies of themselves, and make some quick money on the stock market. Things start to unravel as the conflicting duo develop different views on the power they’ve uncovered. It gets pretty freaking confusing, but wow—amazingly well done for such a low budget.
Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes) (2007): This crazy Spanish indie movie is worth a mention if you haven’t seen it yet. A sparse cast and a bit on the dark side. Without spoilers, I can tell you it has time looping and murder.
Back from the Future
12 Monkeys (1995): An all-time favorite of mine, this film is so classic, it was recently revamped as a TV series. In a post-apocalyptic future, scientists send criminals like James Cole back in time to do research, to learn about the virus that wiped out humanity. Cole ain’t exactly stable to begin with, and the jumping back and forth in time doesn’t do much to improve his mental state—to the point where his past-day psychiatrist convinces him that the future is in his imagination. She later has to work to re-convince him that his delusions are real. One of the cool aspects of this movie is that you get to see how things in the past end up as artifacts in the future.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004): Full confession: I haven’t read the book, I’ve only seen the movie. Of all the Harry Potter films, however, this one remains my favorite. The little time-travel device that Hermione uses isn’t revealed until the final act of the film, but there are little hints of it throughout: she seems to take more classes than anyone and is never late. Her self-absorbed friends notice briefly that she seems to have a super-ability to make a timely appearance, then quickly shrug it off. All of those moments—including Harry seeing the image his father, come to save him—pay off when the device and its powers are finally revealed and we get a new view of several events.
Looper (2012): Another one of my favorite movies of the last 5 years. Although it’s called Looper, I don’t consider this one a “time loop” kind of storyline, because it’s only a one-way trip: thugs that are part of a mob that has a time-travel device are sent back after decades of service to be assassinated by themselves, at which point, they (the young version) are given a huge wad of cash and freedom to do whatever for 30 years. I love the grit of this movie, and also the notion that although someone in the future invented time travel, it’s only used by criminals. The most twisted part: an aged looper comes back through the time hole and escapes his younger self, thus forcing the mob boss to surgically disfigure and cripple the younger version and causing the on-the-run older version to retroactively lose body parts.
What Time is It?
Interstellar (2014): Reception on this movie is all over the place, and though I thought there were some flaws, overall I think Interstellar is a big win for sci-fi. I’m not going to talk about the whole film, but I wanted to mention it here because I really liked the way gravity and relativity messed with the passage of time. When the crew chases a transmission down to a planet close to a black hole, the time dilation is incredible, and after the short amount of time they were gone, they return to their ship to find 23 years had passed. By the end of the movie, the notion of time as a traversable dimension comes out strong with a pretty amazing effect. This isn’t the first film where writer/directory Christopher Nolan messed with time, either: Inception featured the exponential time-slowing effects of dreams within dreams; Insomnia featured the effects the midnight sun on a guilty psyche, and Memento was a story told in a jagged, reverse-time manner.
In Time (2011): It’s hard for me to say this is a great movie, but it’s definitely interesting enough to give it a go. In the future, everyone is genetically engineered to age to 25 and then live forever. The caveat is that they are implanted with a device that gives them one year to live once they hit 25, and that they have to literally buy more time before it runs out. Time then becomes the only currency, and is traded in exchange for work and goods and whatnot. The story fits somewhere between tongue-in-cheek cheese and an amazing allegory for class separation and what it means to live in poverty, to live paycheck to paycheck, versus what it means to be in the top 1% of the economy with a supply of money so outlandishly large, it might as well be infinite/immortal.
World of Tomorrow (2015): This award-winning 17-minute short from Don Hertzfeldt is a must-see. You can find it in a few places online (I watched it on Netflix), so I won’t give too much of it away. In short, a little girl is visited by an adult, 3rd-generation clone of herself who time-traveled back from the future to fetch a lost memory. Watch out for that discount time travel!
As my mother likes to remind me, time might as well be a figment of our imagination—and hey, maybe that’s why messing with time is such a popular sci-fi topic. So what are your favorite time-bending stories?