Over the last couple of days, I have been ruminating my own theory on time travel.
On Tuesday night, JD and I went to see the time-travel-actioner-cum-mind-screw-thriller, Looper. For those who haven’t heard of the film, I can’t be bothered outlining the synopsis. You can read one here or here. Or if you can watch the trailer here. Don’t let my apathy for descriptions fool you. I really enjoyed this film. Really. I just don’t think I would do it justice by trying to condense the film’s ingenuity and complexity by describing it in a few sentences. Okay, you caught me. I’m just lazy. But this isn’t a film review site, so you shouldn’t be coming here with those kinds of expectations. It’s action. It’s suspense. It’s time travel. If you like Christopher Nolan style paradoxes, a masculine version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rian Johnson (an underrated writer-director who created the amazing Brick), or arguing with your boyfriend, then I highly recommend this film.
I don’t have a problem with going to the cinema alone. It means I get to watch what I want, in my time, at my leisure. However, half the fun of watching a movie is discussing it afterwards. I have a theory that the quality of a film can be measured by the length of time that the film is discussed by two or more people after watching it. I can even map this theory with a reverse bell curve. Mathematics!
My theory can be boiled down as follows. If there is limited discussion after watching a film, then the film was probably fine. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. It was sufficiently mediocre to warrant a polite, “well that was okay” or “that wasn’t offensive” after the screening. However, deconstructing a film for hours and hours can mean one of two things. You could either be talking about what a rich, challenging, delightful, engaging, or otherwise fantastic film you had just seen. Or you could be ripping to shreds the gigantic pile of dog turd that was craptastically disguised as a movie.
Of course, for the reverse bell curve theory to apply, it depends on the kind of person that might accompany you to attend a film. For example, one of my housemates has absolutely no interest in engaging in discussions about anything literary, cinematic or cultural other than to succinctly note his appreciation or distaste for the material. He doesn’t want to hear anyone’s theories. He doesn’t want to consider the merits of an artistic vision. He doesn’t want to engage in an intellectual discussion. Debate bores him. Enrages him, even. It’s as if he perceives any kind of difference of opinion as some kind of hostile attack. It’s frustratingly tiresome. Don’t worry, he would never bother to read my blog. And if he did, he wouldn’t want to have a debate about it.
Thankfully (and usually to my housemate’s dismay), JD is a worthy conversationalist. As we are both lawyers (corporate power couple), we have the innate ability to debate anything and everything. Some of our usual, high-brow discussion topics include:
“We can’t afford that!”
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t believe in Belgium.”
“What? As a country?”
“As a concept.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Can you believe that they won’t let me look at my mobile phone at work?”
“Do you ever actually do any work?”
“You’re never on my side. I can’t handle this oppression!”
“I don’t believe in tipping.”
“You are so cheap.”
“It’s not about being cheap. It’s an archaic social construct formulated by the bourgeoisie to keep the working class as insubordinates.”
“You are so cheap.”
“Would you like another scone?”
“Oh, I couldn’t. It just wouldn’t be right.”
JD’s conversational skills makes him a great companion to bring to the cinema. After watching Looper on Tuesday night, we briefly discussed whatever wanky subtext we read into the film before I shifted the conversation to the mechanics and practicalities of time travel. We both agreed that Looper had a really clever, internally consistent and reasonably logical concept of how time travel works, and the effects to oneself if one is to return to the past and start messing about with the joint. However, I qualified my appreciation of the film by stating that, whilst I thought it worked for the film and it is probably the most popular conception of how time travel would “work”, I ultimately didn’t agree with that concept of time travel in a real world setting.
Time travel, JD calmly noted, is not real. It is science fiction.
Perhaps. However, this has not prevented scientists from theorising about its practicality and mechanics. I haven’t done a lot of reading about time travel in my time, however it’s my understanding that there is actual debate in the scientific community as to whether time travel is possible. Steven Hawking famously theorised that time travel can’t be possible, otherwise we would have met “time tourists” from the future. Some other dude (I told you I haven’t read much) disputed that logic, theorising that time tourists could merely be in disguise. Tourists. Disguises. It’s all very scientific stuff.
My biggest concern with the concept of time travel is that I have trouble accepting humanty’s perception of time. Don’t worry, I am not about to claim that I am able to jump between universes, communicate with aliens or freeze time with my wiccan powers. I am pretty sure I “experience” time the same way that anyone else does. However, I have often wondered whether our perception of time is correct. Think about it. Our understanding of time is that it is linear. Past, present, future. Beginning and end. The problem with this idea of time is the need for a “beginning”. How do you answer what was before the beginning?
Let’s look at the ultimate beginning. From my understanding (again, not a lot of reading done here), the scientific community generally considers that the universe began with the Big Bang. Is this the beginning of “time”? And if so, how did the Big Bang occur? What was before the Big Bang? Was it just a bunch of gases floating around in… what? Nothingness? And if so, wouldn’t that make the era of the pre-Big Bang gases the “beginning” of our time? And if so, what happened before the gases? Where did they come from? I could go on and on like a precocious three-year old. With every answer, the next question will always be: what about before that?
I think, JD interrupted, you are getting a bit excited. And muddled. Like a crazy person. We were talking about time and time travel. Not the universe. The Big Bang is irrelevant. Time is simply a measurement between two moments. What was before the first moment is irrelevant.
Perhaps I was being a little incoherent. I had eaten a lot of sugar at the cinema. I go mad for sour lollies. But I had a point. I still have a point, so please, just hear me out. The start of the universe is relevant. If we cannot determine how everything started, then how can we be sure that there was a start? And if there wasn’t a start, then how can our concept of time possibly be correct. Perhaps time is an illusion. A deceit created by the human mind to help simplify the intricate laws that govern life and the universe that are otherwise too complex for our tiny brains to process.
Sooooo, JD interjected, where exactly are you going with this?
I didn’t know. I still don’t know. Maybe I am a little crazy. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? I’m a geek for this kind of stuff. Although not so much of a geek that I have actually picked up a book on the subject. Perhaps I should start with A Brief History of Time. Or I could continue to discuss these subjects in blissful ignorance, ruminating on my own sugar-crazed theories. What does everyone else think? I’d love to hear if anyone else has any theories.
In the meantime, you should definitely check out Looper. It definitely falls on the “Good” side of my theory on Movie Quality (which, ironically, completely falls apart if my theory on time is correct). If this doesn’t convince you, the you should at least watch Looper for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Bruce Willis impersonation. Plus, the time travel stuff is neat. Although, I think the absolute best conception of time travel was played out in the original Superman movie. From memory, he spun around the Earth, effectively re-winding it like a gigantic galactic mix tape, so that he could save Lois from being swallowed up by the Earth during an earthquake. Or something like that. I was about five when I watched that film, so that’s what I thought was happening. Don’t ruin it for me.
Personally, if I were Superman, I would have re-wound the Earth to stop this from happening: