This weekend, I’ll be tackling one of my favorite scientific concepts — time travel. Time travelling is something I think any people, at one point in their lives, have fantasized about being able to do, whether it is to alter the past, or foresee the future. It is indeed a fantasy of anyone to explore the what-ifs and what-nots, and people oftentimes associate it to altering their luck, changing bad fortunes, and simply averting sadness or grief before it comes. Some people would think of using it to make a fortune, such as winning the lottery or betting on sports. Some would think about using it to write off their regrets. We have, at some point, told ourselves or other people, “if only I can turn back time, I will do this, or I will do that…” all in hopes of changing the current situation– the present, which is the past’s future (do you still follow?). But as you know, it isn’t always simple. And as much as it is the greatest buzzkill to not know what happens next, that is also exactly the beauty of it.
Many art forms have taken on the subject of time travel. We mostly see it on TV shows and movies among others. There has been a lot ideas being thrown around, and different theories have been taken on to establish a set of rules depending on how they want their respective stories to progress. Let me share some thoughts on some TV shows and a couple of movies I have seen, which to me seemed really interesting in how they play out the idea of jumping back and forth between the past, the present, and the future. Be wary though, as there may be some SPOILERS on some of these. If you can’t time-travel to unread things, then I suggest you skip the ones you are yet to see.
Right, so are you still with me? If so, let’s start the ball rolling!
Most who follow The Flash (including me) love it for the science it throws to the audience every now and then. The show’s nature makes it a good platform to explore time travel, and just rightly so. In the beginning of the TV series, we see how the show’s titular character, Barry Allen (played by Grant Gustin), has acquired his powers from the particle acceleration explosion accident on the show’s pilot episode. Later in the series, we find out that everything, including the accident, was in fact planned by someone from the future, and that someone turned out to be Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash. Now, having learned that it was the Reverse Flash’s power that allowed for him to time-travel to the present from the future by using the speed force, Barry plans to use the same power to go back to the past and save his mother, who was killed when he was just a kid.
The way time travel has been used in the show was, at first, a little subtle, but it sort of explained the impact of what messing with the timeline can do. The first time The Flash time-travelled wasn’t exactly intentional. Because he went berserk on speed trying to stop a tsunami orchestrated by an opponent from laying waste to his city, he accidentally time-travelled to the day before. Realizing that it was the day before the tsunami, he tried to do things differently in hopes that he can avert what was to come, and he did. However, that did not allow for him to stop something as devastating from occurring. Now, when he went back to the past to finally save his mother, he was stopped by another version of himself from the future. Couple that with the realization that “messing with time” does no good, he did not proceed in saving his mother. When he came back to the present, he had to deal with all the chaos that going back in time had caused his city. You would think he’d learn from then that time isn’t something to be messed with. But no, he would casually go back in time again in one of the episodes on Season 2 in order to defeat an enemy, and his friends let him! Given the consequences of his first couple of time travels, I’m sure this is a topic they should’ve discussed and fought about very carefully, because obviously, it can have an adverse effect on the present. Except it didn’t! At this point I felt like they disrespected the whole idea of time and the ripple effect caused by changing something in the past. However, this is basically nothing compared to the season-ender. Since Barry is unable to get the outcomes he had wanted, he finally decides to go back to the past again to save his mother. He did. Unfortunately for us, we will not know what’s going to happen in the present as a result of this action as that would probably be what Season 3 will be about, and it’s not going to be until later this year. Where’s that time-travel wielding speed force when you need ’em, eh?
Now this one is interesting.
11.22.63 is a TV show about Jake Epping (played by James Franco), an English teacher, who went back to the past to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. So what is it about apart from the suggestive title? Jake was asked by his dying friend Al Templeton (played by Chris Cooper), who seems to be a JFK fanatic, to take on the rabbit hole in his diner that could transport him to October 1960 to stop the assassination from happening, and as a result have a better future (if you’re in 1960). This one plays by a couple of rules: First, the rabbit hole can only take you to October 1960. Second, when you come back from the past, you come back to the result of your actions in the past, but that is only good until you go through the rabbit hole again. Another predicament added here, for entertainment purposes I presume, is that the past fights back. If you are on the verge of changing something in the past, the past will try to stop you in many ways ranging from getting you into an accident, to giving you explosive diarrhea. The story revolves around the preparations Jake has to go through in order to stop the attack. In the end, he was able to save JFK, but we know for sure that it is not without any consequences when he comes back to the present. Indeed, the world isn’t better when he comes back to 2016. It is in fact worst.
The way time travel is used in this series is not as light as how The Flash translated the concept into the narrative. It is not something you can keep coming back to and immediately see the results, given that Jake has to stay in the 1960s for three years to carry out the mission before he can come back. So really, for Jake, the margin of error here is much bigger, considering that he will not be able to pinpoint what exactly in the past he’s changed to result to a specific consequence in the present. This also has more respect to the idea that even a small action can cause an adverse result in the future, such as simply engaging in a conversation with another person in the past. That said, you can imagine just how it is going to be when our main character fell in love with a woman in the past. Either way, I really liked it that when he came back to 2016, everything was a mess, and saving JFK didn’t really save the present. If anything it was way worse than what it was when the past wasn’t disturbed. What I didn’t like about it is that it is just so easy for the character to undo what he’s done. He just needs to pop back into the rabbit hole and everything is in order again. I would’ve wished it was more complicated for Jake than that just to give him a little bit more of characterization. And also, I thought the past didn’t fight back hard enough. That would have been a cool thing to see.
This is one of my favorite movies of all time, so I’d be remiss if I did not include this on the subject of time travel. What is the story about? John Sullivan (played by Jim Caviezel) is a 36-year old detective, who has had a difficulty moving on from the death of his fireman father, Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), 30 years ago. One night, he discovers his father’s ham radio and started to search for available channels to listen to, until he found one. With the aid of an unusual aurora borealis activity, he makes contact with his father, 30 years in the past, and just a day before he died in a warehouse fire. Since they are in contact, John helped his father to avoid the fire, saving his life in the past. The problem is, these actions have resulted to some serious consequences– his mother, Jules Sullivan, who was alive and well prior the contact he’s made with his dad, is now dead. Their actions changing the past have made Jules a victim to a series of murder that John is currently investigating in the present. Now, both John and Frank must work together so Frank can stop the murder of her wife and other victims from happening. Are you still following?
This movie does not have the usual technicalities employed in many time travel movies; however, it still does have that element of manipulating the past to affect the present. I think it’s actually brilliant! Instead of having someone in the present coming over to the past, they found a means to communicate to each other and have the past interact with the present. Imagine being able to talk to your father who has been dead for the most part of your life. Imagine being able to speak to a younger version of you. It’s surreal! Something I really fantasize of being able to do. But when it got to the serious parts of the story, it became a whole lot of fun to the audience. Here, you instantly see the result of an act done in the past and how it affected the future: when Frank etches his message on his desk, and John seeing it magically appear on his end; when John asked Frank to plant an evidence in the past so he can collect it in the future– these are just some of the things that makes you think that the producers had used the concept brilliantly. In the end, they were able to make it happen. They saved his mother; they stopped the murders, everybody happy. I guess you should see it to have a sense of what I’m obviously raving about. Quite coincidentally, and I kid you not, while searching for a movie clip to post along with this article for this movie, I just found out that there will be a TV series based on this movie coming this fall. It’s like this movie is still playing me after 16 years!
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
I didn’t love this movie as much as I loved the use of time travel here. X-Men: The Last Stand is something we really need to erase from our minds, and with how time travel is used here, DOFP did exactly just that. It was a time machine and the audience was on it as it happened. That was, to me, one of the best things about this movie (not that there are many). And because of that, I was willing to forego the fact that a lot of things actually happened in the past and none of that was felt immediately in the future, as the movie progressed. And even after preventing Bolivar Trask’s assassination, which supposedly was the pivotal moment that led to the Sentinels program that is currently laying waste to mutants and humans alike in the future, nothing was changing in the future. Considering that there were so many events that happened between the supposed assassination and the Magneto attack, something must have been changed in the future, but there were none. It could be just me nitpicking but if I understood the mechanics of time travel right, then something must have happened. I don’t know what could have, but it’s definitely not nothing.
Game Of Thrones
Game of Thrones already have in its midst kings and queens, dragons, zombies, and politics. Why not add a time travel element as well? As you well know by now, Bran Stark, could do more travel in time than on land. At the moment, we do not know exactly yet the extent of what he can do while time travelling, as we’ve seen him just peeking into what happened in the past. However, it looks like he is about to learn to interact with it as well, and from there go so many theories about what he’s going to do. It becomes really interesting to me as there’s a few rumblings I’ve heard that he may have had something to do to drive the mad king, well, mad. We’re seven episodes in as of this writing, and I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface in terms of Bran’s powers, and I have very good reasons to believe that it will be a brilliant use of time travel to forward the narrative. He might even be able to see into the future. Ooh that’s tempting! It wouldn’t be long until Bran becomes the King of Spoilers so I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.
The great thing about the concept of time travel isn’t just the means to be able to time-travel. You might have seen something really flashy like that futuristic car in Back To The Future movies, or something really very simple like that rabbit hole in 11.22.63, which was just an empty space inside a cabinet. But the thrill of it is being able to manipulate elements of time to alter the future, and there are just infinite possibilities anyone can explore. There is just an ocean of what-ifs and one’s imagination is the only limit. What’s even more exciting is the fact that any change in events in the past could have ANY effect in the future, but the true puzzle of it all is how you are going to change what happened before to effect a desired result in the after. It’s quite tricky. Oftentimes, a great story should be able to justify how it is able to arrive at a particular result, so that being said, it requires a hefty amount of science in itself. And you know, geeks like us, love to talk about the science and the gimmickry of time travel after we’ve seen the film, so we start synthesizing each of the scenes and start arguing about what should have happened, what shouldn’t have, and it never ends. And that is fun! If a TV show or a movie is able to do something like that, then it has made use of time travel brilliantly.
Time travel, although something that is at the moment a remote possibility, has allowed for creativity and imagination to flourish on many people. There are many other TV shows and movies which have used time travel to tell really great stories. Still, there are countless possibilities to explore and so many great ideas are still on the horizon. While we do not have the technology yet to make it possible, the television and the movies are only a couple of great platforms that our generation can exploit to tell or experience time travel stories. But as much as we know how it is fun to toy with history, it is rather a lesson that should not be missed: Time is meant to be in order. You try to cheat time, it could cheat you back in ways you’ll never know (unless you can time travel to the future). Everything happens for a reason and we get to know that reason in due time, not before.
What would you change in the past if you are able to go back and forth in time? What’s your favorite time travel story? Hit me at the comments section below and let’s talk about it.