Do The Avengers Time Travel Through Their Memories?
This idea is vaguely reminiscent to one toyed with by C.S. Lewis in his unfinished novel, The Dark Tower. This is a science-fantasy story in which a group of scientists are toying with the idea of time travel. They conclude physically traveling through time is impossible; the atoms you'd need in order to reconstitute your physical form are already in use. Lewis's story suggests that the consciousness can travel in time, though; in fact, he proposes that the memory itself is a form of time travel, with the human mind literally reliving the past. The phenomenon known as deja vu may thus be caused by the human mind having glimpsed the future too, presumably while in a dream. Lewis, of course, went one step further; he suggested other dreams tap into alternate dimensions and parallel realities. All this may sound like science-fiction, but it's become a respected scientific theory, with Endel Tuving coining the term "chronesthesia" to describe this mental time travel.
It's possible the idea of chronesthesia has already been subtly woven into the fabric of the MCU. In the aftermath of The Avengers, Tony Stark's experience flying through the wormhole left his mind reeling. It's possible the experience transformed his mind a little, granting him a concrete awareness of the future. That would explain why Stark became so confident another alien attack was coming; though he couldn't explain it, his mind had already experienced it. Later, in Avengers: Age of Ultron Scarlet Witch uses her powers to cast visions into the minds of the Avengers. These could again be examples of chronesthesia, glimpses of alternate realities and possible futures, rendered cryptic and confusing because they were only half-perceived and originated from someone just learning to use their powers.
According to The Art of Ant-Man & the Wasp, then, when a human enters this Nexus they would gain access to their memories - and thus can rewrite history. Presumably this is done by projecting their consciousness back into the memory they're glimpsing; their past self would perhaps encounter their future self, or else experience a chronesthetic moment in which they had a sudden awareness of their personal future. How this would transfer physically - see Ant-Man in the events of The Avengers - is unclear, but the Quantum Realm is abstract enough to allow it; the time travel may be physical, but powered by the memories (this would explain why the OG Avengers survived).
Curiously enough, the set photos do actually support this model of mental time travel. All the set photos from Avengers 4 have been scenes that the surviving heroes would remember, and indeed that would be key to them; most are around the events of the Battle of New York. While future versions of Ant-Man and Tony Stark have indeed appeared in these scenes set in the past, these two characters have literally only been seen standing around talking. It's possible the focus is on Stark, with Ant-Man serving as a guide through the Quantum Realm. The future Stark would thus interact with his past self, giving advice and guidance about the impending threat of Thanos. Each time he interacts with the past, of course, the Avengers would rewrite history. It would be a matter of changing enough elements to ensure the "snap" didn't happen, leading to a fresh confrontation with Thanos the Mad Titan.
It's true that this theory is entirely based on concept art and that Ant-Man & the Wasp doesn't experiment with the idea of time travel at all; this mysterious and exciting "Nexus" never appears in the film. But the art does tell us that, at some point, Marvel Studios was toying with this kind of approach. As a result, it can't be ruled out.
Most viewers assume Avengers 4 is a time travel story, and for good reason. But Marvel Studios seem determined to be as secretive as possible. In fact, co-writer Christopher Markus has insisted that the movie "doesn’t do what you think it does. It is a different movie than you think it is." Perhaps the reason is that we're focusing on the wrong models of time travel. Marvel may have taken a far more interesting, and less commonly used, approach instead.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019