by Carole McDonnell
As an eleven-year-old kid sitting in front of the TV watching PBS’ weekly Janus film festival, I was deeply affected by two movies. The first was The Heiress with Olivia De Haviland (which has nothing to do with this review) and the other was Rashomon, the great Japanese movie that explores experience, perspective, and self-serving humanity’s inability to see truth clearly. The repetition of scenes with large or slight changes in narrative was a perfect visual representation of theme and variations, and the fact that the story ended without giving the viewer a clear final truth was sheer perfection. So, as a kid I had discovered the great truth of “he said/she said.” This is a great truth to know.
I also was a lover of puzzles, read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe, and an avid studier of Bible prophecies. Thus I was primed to become a lover of time travel movies and films about psychological confusion and the giddy carnival that are part of movies about disorientation.
Disorientation movies often fall into three categories: Self-observance, the splintering of the self, and the Dante-esque idea of suddenly finding that one is suddenly lost in the woods.
Time paradox movies follow this pattern also, but there is that additional aura of regret and cachet of quantum physics and multiverses. Thus we have stories where main characters are mired in returning to the Road not taken, characters who worry about the moment when their lives went askew, and the human passion for puzzles.
Movies such as Enemy, Inception, and The One I Love fall into these categories. Recently, I got so caught up in studying time-travel that, like a chocolate addict who finds herself in Hershey Pennsylvania, I had to throw off all fears of wasting time and calories and delve into the substance I love abusing: time.
The more stories I see about time, the happier I am at how time paradoxes are emerging as a genre. And when those stories are filmed — as opposed to books — the riches of the genre become even more magnified. With the camera’s ability to focus, misdirect, and hide, we can end up with stories that confuse while simultaneously clueing us in to the themes, games, and characters. For instance, 11 Minutes Ago and Coherence are both indie films with characters who attempt to understand time travel. But whereas the sophisticated characters in Coherence are terrified at the prospect of time being out of joint and get utterly bent out of shape in their desire to control the singularity, the characters in 11 Minutes Ago are pretty chill with a main character who is attempting to sort out the secrets of time with the help of bystanders who discover his secret. The folks in Coherence, on the other hand, are fueled by fear. And fear of what? Themselves. Because examination of the self is often one of the aspects of multiple worlds. What kind of person would we be if we were in another world or if we had walked another path. So time travel is quite often futuristic, psychological, historical, spiritually existential, thriller, and puzzler all in one. Hence, my love of it.
Having glutted myself on time-loops, time paradoxes, and singularity, I can assure you, Dear Reader, that I will not be overwhelming you with yet another article on time-travel movies. At least not anytime soon. Books await me and time must be put aside for the time being so I can use my time in a timely manner for better things.
So here goes:
11 a.m.; South Korea, 2013; CJ entertainment. Written by Lee Seung-hwan. Directed by Kim Hyun-Seok.
After dwindling down the choices from the many time travel flicks I’ve seen this month, the remaining contenders were Time Lapse and 11 a.m. So, the first: 11 a.m. because I like Korean (and non-US) speculative fiction.
The story is pretty basic. Our hero Woo-seok is leading a time travel research project called Trotsky — so named because it concerns the past and alternate timelines and because Trotsky would’ve been the great Soviet leader instead of Stalin had if time had turned out differently. I need not tell you that Team Leader Woo-seok has a past he wants to change, do I? We pretty much know that all Mad Scientists have some horrible event from which their passion came. So, yes, this passion for time travel originated in the death of our hero’s beloved wife. Ah, if he could only go back in time and fix things.
But her death happened waaaaaaaay back when. And so far the Trotsky team have only been able to (theoretically) go back in time for 24 hours. Not a bad start! But apparently not good enough for the Russians who have been backing this project and who now are on the verge of shutting it down.
Disappointed but valiant — and (as I’ve already stated) led by a somewhat obsessed Team Leader, our scientists decide to try to send Trotsky into the future. “For real, this time.” No more theories or transporting non-humans into the future. Woo-seok and Young-eun are sent a day ahead. At exactly 11: a.m. But when they arrive there, they find much amiss. The station’s ablaze, some crazy guy is attempting to murder Woo-seok, folks have died, the CCTV tapes are scrambled and the walls are crumbling. Dear me! What do these things mean? How did matters come to this pass? Have the Russians been doing shady things? Or has knowing the future caused this bad future to happen?
This is a fun flick. It’s fast-paced and it comes together well. I didn’t find any plot holes — which is what one looks for in time travel flicks — but it’s possible I was so caught up in the story I missed them. This film is streaming on the web.
Time Lapse; 104 minutes; USA, 2014. Written by Bradley D King and BP Cooper. Veritas Production.
Time Lapse is not exactly a time travel pic. It’s more of a fortune-telling advanced information pic. And it turns out to be the perfect complement to our Korean time travel piece, 11 a.m. We have three best buds — consisting of Callie, Finn, and Jasper. Finn and Callie are dating and Jasper is well, hovering around them as best friends who are in love with their friend’s girl often do.
A neighbor goes missing. In their search for him, they discover a camera that takes pictures of coming events. Exactly 24 hours in the future. Dear me! What a difference a day makes! Well, for one, it can make a difference between winning a lot of money on gambling and winning a little. It can prevent — or cause? — murders. And if one or two of the main characters are obsessed with greed or lust or passion, well, who knows what will happen?
The funny thing about the course of events is that yet again knowing the future creates the future. In 11 a.m., the characters try to fight against what seems inevitable. In Time Lapse, the hipster ever-so-sure-of-themselves friends believe that since a future scene appears in a photograph, they are obligated to recreate what they see in the picture. But like the scrambled CCTV tapes in 11 a.m., these folks are working with incomplete information. I definitely recommend this movie. This film is available on DVD and is streaming online and on Netflix.
The Beauty Inside; South Korea, 2015. Yang Film. Directed by Baek Jong-yeol.
Our third entry of involves not time, not space, but the human body and it has the feel of a transgressive fairy tale. Or perhaps it would be more transgressive if it hadn’t played it so safe. I will say though that some folks — those who are uncomfortable with non-traditional sexual relationships — might be uncomfortable. (This film is based on the original Intel and Toshiba “social” film, which I have not seen so alas, no way for me to compare.)
On his eighteenth birthday, Woo-Jin discovers that he is a monster. He wakes to find that he is not himself. Not externally anyway. He soon realizes that it is his fate to look differently every day. He wakes not knowing what sex, race, or age he will be. The only way he can keep any one face is to not go to sleep. But sooner or later sleep overtakes him and he awakes to a new self. One can imagine that this could be a problem. He lives an isolated life as a furniture maker with only his mother and his best friend privy to his secret.
Then one day he falls in love. At first he is content to simply visit Yi Soo, the object of his affection every day. Since he looks like a different person, he can just pretend to be a customer. But after a while, he decides to show her who he is. After the initial shock — and worry that she is dealing with a nutcase — Yi Soo accepts him. But this acceptance takes a toll on her mental health and on her reputation. After all, her co-workers think of her as a woman who sees a different man every day. And the poor girl only knows who her boyfriend is when he takes her hand in the morning or when he emails a photo of himself in the morning. We come to understand that although human love is based on the beauty inside, there is comfort in the routine of seeing the same person’s face every day.
So then, the safety and discomfort factor. True, there are scenes where we see two girls lying in a bed caressing each other’s faces but that’s pretty much it. If the filmmakers are going to challenge society, they really should step up and make some of us conservative folks in the audience cringe or cover our eyes. But perhaps some conservative folks in Korea had that reaction. It would’ve been neat too to have an interracial kiss on one of the days when our hero is a Black person. Heck, I wouldn’t have minded a scene showing him as a Black person walking around town. But the biggest problem in this incredibly sweet and wonderful angsty movie is how incredibly sweet and wonderful and angsty it is. And you know what that means, don’t you? While there are the occasional ugly, old, plain, middle-aged folks thrown in as our main lead, the guys who play our heroes are all incredibly hot and gorgeous. Korea’s culture of beauty obsession is not challenged at all. So, how can one dislike a movie when all of one’s favorite Korean stars are in it? Highly recommended. I suppose the film does say something about love and appearances. I just don’t know what. But it is beautiful and touching to watch. This film is showing in art theaters.
ROWS; USA, 2015. Writer & Director: David W. Warfield. Runtime: 82 minutes.
The opening shot of Rows is a row of modern houses. Heroine’s dad is a real estate developer who wants to destroy the creaky old house on the property. Trouble is, an oldish woman named Haviland lives there and she won’t leave. Dad wants heroine to give Haviland the writ of eviction. Because he has decided she must be freed from her irrational fears of the house’s inhabitant.
Before we go any further, let’s pause a moment to ponder the heroine’s name. It’s Rose. Yep. And in addition to the rows of houses, there are rows of ominous corn fields. Unlike Coherence, which gives the viewer some clues before it sends us into the plurality and which tells us early in the plot that we are dealing with some wrinkle in time and place, the viewer of ROWS is floundering like its heroine. We wonder what the heck is going on throughout all the rows and rows of repetitions.
Is this some intuition or some spell caused by the aged woman who might be a long-lived witch? Is our heroine having flash-backs or premonitions? When did heroine’s “time of trouble” begin?
Was all that time-looping representative of Rose’s memory? Premonition of future events? Is it the result of breathing in too much pesticides and chemicals? Why is our heroine on a bed? Is she mentally-ill? Was there something in the cookies the woman gave her? Is this movie for or against our desire to be rational? Is it against living by intuition? Are dealing with a maze of mind? A maze of time? Or badly-done film-making manipulation? Some films do confusion well, and some not so well. Sure, there are nods to Hansel and Gretel and even a wink to Dante, but I don’t understand this film. I won’t go so far to say the filmmakers did a crappy job in clueing the viewer in because they might have wanted to leave us clueless. But I felt seriously lost in the corn.
Signal; South Korea, 2015. Streaming online at Dramafever and will probably end up on Hulu or Netflix.
Signal is a Korean drama I’m currently watching about a profiler cold case cop in the present who teams up with a cop in the past to solve past crimes. Easy enough one would think, right? But no! Turns out, messing with past time can cause havoc in the present. Do you really want to arrest the cold case guy back in the past? And what happens if you arrest the wrong guy in the past and he gets out of jail in the present and goes after the people who gave him grief in the past — leading to modern deaths? How does one undo all one’s undoing? I will add that the detective in the past whom the modern profiler cop’s talking to has died, and there is a chance we could save him…ya know…if we go back far enough in time. I will just say that this is one seriously fun drama and you definitely should catch it.
Til next time: happy times!
Carole McDonnell is the author of The Constant Tower, published by Wildside Books.