Time may take many forms – for some, a flat circle, and for others, money – but mankind has still failed to keep it from flowing in just one direction. Thankfully, that’s a rule that needn’t be followed by those weaving fiction in literature, film, TV and video games. But fantasy aside, would the ability to bend or break time really be all it’s cracked up to be?
Take, for instance, Life is Strange – a new episodic game series already described as a blend of everything from Twin Peaks to Pretty Little Liars, and nearly every indie coming-of-age story from Tribeca to Sundance. Yet it’s the game’s heroine and her unique talent for turning back time that sets this game apart. The catch? She can only rewind time for a matter of minutes – and that, time travel fans, poses a conundrum we’ve rarely encountered.
Infinite chances to relive a given moment would seem a blessing to those who second-guess their every decision. But Life is Strange‘s restriction means that sooner or later, time must march onward… and the consequences of that final decision can never be undone.
That got us thinking: are there other time travel stories we would leap at the chance to live for ourselves, but would, in practice, end up closer to a waking nightmare? Our answers lie ahead (as do SPOILERS for the films involved) in our list of 10 Time Travel Movies We Never Want To Live Through.
The Butterfly Effect (2004)
The Butterfly Effect begins straightforward enough: a young boy named Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is bullied and tormented due to unexplained blackouts and memory loss. When reading over his childhood journals as a full-grown man, Evan is sent back to those same traumatic blackouts, free to change the events as he sees fit.
Who wouldn’t long for a chance to revisit the most embarrassing, traumatic, or terrifying experiences of their childhood with older, wiser knowledge? The moral of this story is that sometimes a bad life isn’t so bad after all, and our scars – though nasty – make us who we are. Maybe just one memory would be easily changed, but… why stop there? The answer: multiple amputations.
As far as sci-fi action movies of the 1990s go, you can’t get much cooler than Timecop. When time travel is discovered, the government founds an agency to investigate misuses by recruiting ‘Timecops’ to hop through history in the name of the law. For movie fans already wishing to become a Jean-Claude Van Damme-level hero, no job could be more appealing. Yet the film wastes no time in showing just how much of a mess time travel would cause, government oversight or no.
Sure, arresting futuristic gangsters in the Old West (confounding onlookers like Butch and Sundance) is tempting, but place control over reality itself in the hands of executives (read: multi-millionaires), and you end up with a plot that reads like a sci-fi Mad Libs of world-ending paradoxes. Plus, we doubt anyone but Van Damme could achive the flexibility and leg strength the occupation clearly demands.
About Time (2013)
About Time may be best viewed through the lens of a heartfelt love story, as opposed to hardcore science fiction, but the core time travel is sound. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father that he is able to rewind time; expanding one’s knowledge of the world, cherishing time with family – or as Tim soon chooses, aid his troubled love life.
The first trailers showed the benefit of getting a do-over of every first impression and flirtation, but there are some drawbacks. Sticking with romance, most would agree that when it comes to letting lovesick suitors down easy, honesty isn’t always the best policy. Learning the hard way that the girl (or guy) of your dreams actually wasn’t busy this weekend, didn’t have to wash their hair, or isn’t really seeing someone else, is a shot to the ego that no amount of time travel will solve.
The line of work practiced by Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) in Paycheck is one that any engineer – and sci-fi fan – would kill for: hired to dissect a competitor’s cutting-edge product, and rebuild an improved version for his employer. When the job is done, Jennings’ memory is wiped – waking from a dream with a massive deposit in his bank account.
Getting paid for work you don’t remember doing sounds too good to be true – until Jennings awakens after a years-long job to find his payment forfeited. Having glimpsed (not technically travelled to) the future, he instead leaves a series of clues to help his amnesic self prevent it from happening. Since we have trouble remembering our online passwords, resting Earth’s fate on being able to predict our own behavior is a guaranteed apocalypse.
“I know we can do it, because we already did.” It’s a common bit of reasoning in time travel plots, but what happens when the tasks in question – those that have ‘already been done’ – are grotesque and criminal? That forms the backbone of the Spanish film Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes), an everyday story following the lives of four people, that is, without exception, the worst-case scenario for any aspiring time traveller.
As intriguing as it may seem to interact and toy with our past/future selves, the ultimate price of keeping the timeline intact is one that still keeps us up at night. Taking care to not collapse the universe with the wrong action or comment seems like enough of a responsibility – doing so with multiple copies of ourselves running around just doesn’t seem fair.
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