Time travel movies are ubiquitous now after a number of years of only getting them once a year since the days of “Back to the Future.” Since the aforementioned trilogy ended in 1990, movies about time travel have run with all the theoretical ideas “Back to the Future” nurtured and turned into more challenging movies. On both small and large scales, we’re no longer afraid to take on more complex time travel paradoxes that still haven’t even been halfway tapped as movie possibilities.
One of the most used devices in that list of time travel paradoxes is the time loop. “Back to the Future” touched on it in a slightly different way by having the main character revisiting the action from the first movie. With the idea that you can’t encounter yourself, all the strategic hiding to disrupt the flow of the space-time continuum was one of the most creative elements of the “Back to the Future” series. Things get a little more complicated, though, when the time loop has the person reliving the same day over and over without meeting their counterparts.
The French could see the illogic in that, and they set one of the best paths for time loop logic in film history. “La Jetee” is arguably the greatest film ever done on the subject of going back in time and reliving a part of your life over again while ultimately encountering yourself. It also proved that short films usually bring the most powerful impact considering it was only about 28 minutes long. Nobody even dared copy it until “Groundhog Day” came along and took the time loop into a place that didn’t make as much sense.
By the 1990s, the time loop idea had become a comedic concept that didn’t have to pay attention to time travel rules. Just the idea of reliving one day over and over again created the potential of creatively hilarious situations, which it did with Bill Murray involved. Time travel theorists also helped explain away the continuous loop as alternate timelines that can still be shaped by free will if we ever happened to get there.
As much as “Groundhog Day” was sending a more social statement about life, later movies focused more on the science of time loop situations. Everything from “Primer”, “Source Code”, to upcoming “Edge of Tomorrow” explore time loops in a way that might bust any synapses you had about understanding time travel concepts.
With the complications of the time loop in Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow” soon arriving, how complicated will movies go in taking on the most complex time travel theories?
The Derivativeness of Time Loops
A major problem with “Edge of Tomorrow” is that it takes on the very same concept we saw in the movie “Source Code” a mere three years ago. Plus, along with “Looper” still fresh in the minds of audiences, time loops may already be a largely derivative time travel concept in movies. It may end up hurting “Edge of Tomorrow”, even if the original Japanese book (“All You Need is Kill”) is quite excellent. The book has a very intellectual philosophy at the heart of it all in learning how to be a better person and soldier by reliving one alien battle day over and over. Obviously, author Hiroshi Sakurazaka didn’t see it coming that other time loop movies would perhaps hurt a film adaptation chances.
But is that genre really dead, and will movies take on even more complicated time travel paradoxes?
The movies still have a number of paradox options they can go with that may get so complicated, nobody will want to take them on. “Interstellar” will reportedly explore alternative universe options, despite not necessarily being anything to do with time travel. Earthly time travel is the more likely option we’ll take in exploring further, including the complicated bootstrap paradox, or perhaps the Hitler’s murder paradox. In the former, a film could take on the idea of sending information to ourselves in the past without the influence of another source. The latter explores the idea of going back into the past to kill a notorious figure, hence creating the paradox of whether that person was actually publicly known at all if the time traveler killed them off.
You also have the largely unexplored idea of time traveling through the mind that was only touched on basically with “Somewhere in Time.” By merging lucid dreaming into the mix, you have another fantastic idea for a time travel movie on a Christopher Nolan level.
In the meantime, expect the time loop idea to keep being pitched to studio executives. It’s now become the most comfortable, and perhaps overly lazy, way to make a time travel movie without getting too complicated with other possibilities. The idea is also the one that seems to satisfy every fantasy of wanting to correct wrongs when so many of us make more wrongs than right in a timeline we can’t change.