Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Confusing time travel movies

Since we're discussing time travel all week, I thought I'd ask not what your favorite time travel movie is, but which time travel movie you find most confusing.

For me, it's Primer. I don't doubt that if I was to sit down and diagram all the alternate times lines that it would hold together, but it's incredibly complex to the point of incomprehensibility.

So what's your most confusing one?


  1. 12 Monkeys. I never understood why Bruce Willis was this apparition that couldn't change the past until he pulled his teeth out.

    Did you know that time travel is the only idea in science that began as an element of fiction, and not the other way around? Think about it... relativity, string theory, all came as the result of a clever story device.

    I can only imagine what brave new worlds lie beyond our imagination as the result of the theories put forth in "Mansquito", which premiered on ScyFy back in 2007.

  2. Oo, lots.

    The new 'Star Trek,' pretty much any episode of 'Stargate SG-1' that fiddled with timey wimey business, 'Deja Vu' (largely because it MADE NO SENSE), and then 'The Lake House' mainly because it was just a stupendously lame plot device.

    And like I mentioned the other day, the switch from 'closed loop' to 'multiple threads' time travel theory between the Terminator movies and TV series gets a bit mind-bending at times.

  3. Primer is one of my favorite films of all time because of the fact that its a complete and utter mindfuck. I've watched it twice, looked at diagrams, read synopses, and still couldn't explain it to you. And I like that. By being confusing, it is also incredibly realistic, because it shows what happens as paradoxes become increasingly more complex the more one travels back over the same period of time. In the end I think there are something like 9 different timelines. If you do a search online you will find a diagram of them. Brilliant freaking film.

  4. I think this is the best way to explain Primer (bottom right-hand corner) courtesy of the brilliant wbcomic XKCD:


  5. I'm a sucker for any time travel yarn, even the ridiculously unscientific Back to the Future style where the time travel is just a mechanical plot device. Has anyone here read The Man Who Folded Himself? IIRC, it's been optioned multiple times but never made it to the screen. It goes to the extremest extreme of what can happen with a time machine (no spoilers here, worth a read!). When the protagonist first gets the time machine he tries going back to bet on the previous day's horse races so many times that the "winning" horse starts to lose for no discernible reason. The way it happens is beautiful; the placing order gradually shifts every few times the race is run. Just the fact of his being there has changed enough minor factors to affect the outcome. I don't think it could be done justice on screen. Tons of protagonist conjecturing in his own ever increasingly confused head. But it should be required reading for anyone plotting a time travel story.

  6. I agree. PRIMER is confusing as hell.
    This didn't help either:


  7. This isn't a time travel movie, but it has one of the funnest uses of time travel I've ever seen. Check out this scene from the end of the 1984 sci fi comedy "The Ice Pirates"


  8. A Closely Guarded Secret - The new Star Trek will be discussed in my Thursday post, so hopefully we can help clear up your confusion.

  9. There is this one I found recently. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dq0irgJJCOA
    Something about using a time machine to steal cereal from himself. I can't really tell if it makes sense time-travel-wise, but it is delightful.

  10. ritchie - you're not going to believe this, but I ran across that clip too and it was scheduled to go up as Friday's Free-for-All. You scooped me!

    And yes, it IS delightful, isn't it?

  11. Well I don't want to sound like a broken record, but I agree with A Closely Guarded Secret up there that Deja Vu had no logic at all.

  12. Well then, so as not to scoop The Bitter Script Reader, I change my choice. Primer must be first, with perhaps all the time travel in Futurama coming in second?

  13. "The new Star Trek will be discussed in my Thursday post, so hopefully we can help clear up your confusion."

    Ahh, the second worst movie of 2009, "'Star Trek.'" Bitter, are you going to be on offense (horrible movie) or are you going be on defense (omg, the new star trek is THE BEST MOVIE EVRRRR!)?

    I'm ready to take on all comers I'll Ptero-you a new a-hole! :)


  14. @kgmadman: as far as I understand, pulling his teeth out didn't change his ability to change the past. 12 Monkeys is a closed loop, start to finish. Every action he took lead to the same vision of himself he had as a kid.

    As for my most confusing time travel flick, haven't seen Primer, but mostly I just get frustrated at plot holes in most of them. 12 Monkeys is actually a favourite, and Back to the Future gets a pass because it's just so much fun. But Time Cop is my quintessential 'stupid rules if time travel' flick. You can't go into the future because it 'hasn't been made yet'. But you can go 30 years into the past, screw with it, then jump back to your 'present' wheich is now completely different? How is that any different???