It seems all comic book characters have to experience time travel sooner or later, especially when it comes to a franchise that requires elaborate ideas. And because physical time travel has been done to death, it was brilliant to think about one type time trip not done in a long time: Through one’s consciousness. In “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Wolverine is put into an induced coma and his consciousness sent back in time to inhabit his own body in 1973 to help prevent Mystique from murdering the man who creates the famous Sentinels.
Yes, if that concept sounds a little familiar, then you probably remember a certain French short film from 52 years ago called “La Jetee” from director Chris Marker. You also know that aforementioned film was a direct progenitor of “12 Monkeys” in the 1990s. But “La Jetee” is still much more compelling than “12 Monkeys” ever was based squarely on telling a very compelling time travel tale in less than 30 minutes. It also set up a complicated time paradox that few time travel films other than “Back to the Future Part II” ever took on. It’s one that fulfills a time loop where you travel back to see yourself that then triggers memories of your past self seeing you and thinking it was someone else.
Most of all, it brought the idea that you could possibly time travel through your mind rather than take on the more challenging concept of your body physically traveling through time. The idea that we could possibly time travel through the mind or spirit makes more sense from a scientific perspective since you can assume it’s made up of ethereal materials that could transcend time and space. In reality, the human body would have trouble surviving a trip through time without severe harm if not even complete combustion.
Consciousness time travel wasn’t just taken on by “La Jetee” in 1962. Some variations on the idea were brought in one other time travel film, plus a TV show that still has a cult following today.
“Somewhere in Time” and “Quantum Leap”
When it comes to analyzing the time travel in 1980’s “Somewhere in Time,” some might argue that it’s still considered physical time travel since Christopher Reeve’s character literally shows up in the past. If you’ve ever seen the film before, you remember Reeve’s character willing himself into the past to meet a woman he sees in a photograph (played by Jane Seymour). He does this through a process of self-hypnosis where he records his own voice on a tape recorder guiding him back in time. What we don’t know for sure, though, is whether his present body is still in the present as he interacts in the past.
Despite the film being an innocuous romance story, the above time travel paradox never gets fully explained, perhaps for the better. Even if they find Reeve’s character dead in his bed later after he accidentally returns to the present, we’re to assume he starved himself to death from depression rather than finding his way back to the past.
In the popular TV series “Quantum Leap” from 25 years ago, we see a similar concept to “La Jetee” where Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula) leaps into the bodies of people in the past. We know for sure his body stays behind back at time travel central while his consciousness takes over someone else’s mind. While a slight variation since he can’t be seen as himself when time traveling, it gave a plausible concept of time travel being almost akin to a mind hack.
Would such a thing be plausible in real life if you go by some who’ve supposedly tried consciousness time travel? Scientists have actually studied this idea and gave it a name: Chronesthesia. Through this process, someone can supposedly experience an event in their past through subjective time rather than measuring it through direct time measurement. Skeptics may think time-traveling through the mind is mere lucid dreaming where your past is recreated in a vivid dream state.
How do we really know for sure, though? A lot of mystery still surrounds Chronesthesia above and how the brain works in relation to it. It’s something movies should be exploring more as they continue to take on time travel concepts lately. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” possibly just kicked off a new awareness of consciousness time travel that may move ahead from the “La Jetee” references and into places perhaps only Christopher Nolan can express comprehensively on film.