Time After Time: Theories of Time Travel in Films

This entry discusses several well-known time travel films and does contain “spoilers.”

Time travel is a device frequently used in movies of today and of the past.  Since there is no proven theory of time travel existing, each movie that uses time travel is free to experiment with theories of its own.  Thus, many of these theories oppose one another, and in some cases they even contradict themselves.  Films like the Terminator movies, the Back to the Future trilogy, 12 Monkeys, and The Time Machine give the three main oppositions that do occur in films.  These are: 1) when characters from the future go back to the past, 2) when characters from the present go back to the past, and 3) when characters from the present go into the future.   

First of all, the first two Terminator movies are examples of movies that use a theory of time travel where characters from the future go back into the past.  In The Terminator, John Connor is the leader of the human alliance against the evil terminator robots in the future.  He is the only person who can stop the terminators from eliminating the human race.  Therefore, the terminators send one of their own back in time to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah, in an attempt to eliminate him.  However, John sends a human back in time to protect his mother from the evil terminator.  Eventually Sarah and the human sent to protect her fall in love and they have a child who ends up being John himself.  This also is an example of a time travel theory that contradicts itself; John sent a man back in time that ended up becoming his own father.  Also, if this is not confusing enough, in Terminator 2, the war is still going on and the evil terminators send a new terminator back in time to kill John Connor himself as a child.  The humans send back a new “good” terminator to protect him and to destroy all material that may lead up to the creation of terminators.  *Spoiler Alert* At the end, all of the vital material was destroyed and John was safe.  Thus, the war should have never occurred and John would have never sent back his father to protect his mother and create himself in the first movie.

Another opposition can occur when characters go back in time.  This is demonstrated by the movies Back to the Future and 12 Monkeys.  In Back to the Future, Marty Mcfly goes back in time in a time machine built by Emmit “Doc” Brown because Brown was gunned down while they were testing it in 1985.  Marty ends up in 1955 and while trying to find a way to save Brown, he ends up helping his parents become better people in the present time and, in turn, changes things when he returns to 1985.  12 Monkeys has a somewhat similar situation, but there are some differences.  The film begins in 2035 after a virus has killed nearly the entire human race.  The remaining humans send a man named “Cole” back in time in order to find a cure for this virus.  However, the difference between this situation and Back to the Future’s is that Cole is unable to change the fact that nearly the entire human race is killed by this virus.  They can only learn from the past in order to fix problems that are occurring in the present. 

The Time Machine and the Back to the Future II create yet another opposition of time travel theories.  This opposition being, when characters in the present go into the future.  In The Time Machine, an inventor creates a time machine where he eventually travels into the future.  When he arrives he inquires about what has happened to himself.  However, he is shocked to hear that one day he had left his lab and never returned.  The day the inventor was told that he left was the exact day that he left in the time machine.  This theory of time travel states that if one leaves the present and lands in the future, all of the time in between is not lived and, thus, he does not exist during that period of time.  The Time Machine theory says that no one’s future is already written; they must live it for themselves.  Back to the Future II begs to differ.  In Back to the Future II, Doc and Marty go into the future in order to stop a series of events that ruin the lives of Marty and his children.  They are eventually successful in creating a favorable future for themselves.  This theory of time travel states that a future is written for everyone; however, it is not written in stone.

Time travel is a fictional concept, for today anyway.  However, movies let people use their imaginations in order to imagine what it might be like to be hurled through time and space.  However, many of these films ask the viewer to accept several different theories of this concept, many of which oppose one another.  Although many of them do oppose one another, none of them can be judged incorrect or impossible.  This allows for a highly entertaining and exciting new genre of film. 

             

           

             

 

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