By Simon Miraudo
September 28, 2012
In Looper, Joseph Gordon-Levitt meets his future self and discovers he looks an awful lot like Bruce Willis. Hair-loss aside, there are worse revelations one could make about their destiny. In the spirit of that picture's flagrant flexing of the space-time continuum, we're sharing our top 10 time travel films. Select your transportation device - be it DeLorean, time-turner, or hot tub - and venture into the past or beyond. Wyld Stallyns, ride!
Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is captured by enemy forces in World War 2, lives a quiet life with his wife and kids in New York, mates with a porn star in an alien zoo on the planet of Tralfamadore, and is murdered, all at the same moment according to Tralfamadorian philosophy. He skips back and forth across the major events of his life on a fixed, unchanging timeline. George Roy Hill's Slaughterhouse Five never lives up to Kurt Vonnegut's legendary novel, but we'll give him an 'A' for effort in trying to adequately tell this sad, weird, funny tale of a man who becomes unstuck in time.
Nacho Vigalondo's Spanish-language Los Cronocrímenes is evidence of how easily a brief trip through time can alter events disastrously. Héctor is attacked by a mysterious bandaged man in the forest, and happens upon a scientist who offers help, only to send him back a few hours. Things quickly spiral out of control, and Héctor has to go to great lengths to get his life in order once again. You may need an aspirin after watching.
8. Source Code
American soldier Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) is implanted into the memory of the late Sean Fentress, a victim of a recent train explosion. With only the last eight minutes of his life to gain knowledge of the bomber, Stevens relives those final moments over and over, accidentally falling in love with a fellow - and similarly deceased - passenger (Michelle Monaghan). Director Duncan Jones proved with his follow-up to Moon that he's pretty good at this brain-bending business.
Woody Allen didn't bother to invent a time machine for Midnight in Paris, just providing a chariot for Owen Wilson's nostalgic screenwriter Gil to transport him from the 2010s to the 1920s. No matter; it's a pleasure to see the awe-struck author spend time with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), as well as romance a genuine flapper (Marion Cotillard). Only problem? She'd rather be in the Belle Époque. The grass is always greener, though why anyone would envy life without penicillin is beyond me.
The mechanics of The Terminator - in which John Connor sends his dad back in time to impregnate his mother with himself?! - are enough to send any part-time physicists into anaphylactic shock. James Cameron's sequel, in which Arnie's newly nice Terminator returns to the 1990s to protect the eventual saviour of the human race from a shapeshifting T-1000 (Robert Patrick), is an improvement. That said, we could have done without the Terminator's quips. "I need a vacation." Really?
5. Donnie Darko
Donnie (Gyllenhaal again!) is informed by a demonic-looking bunny rabbit named Frank that the world will soon come to an end, and suddenly becomes aware of the immediate path everyone around him will take. Then, he's given the opportunity to save the lives of his family and girlfriend by sacrificing himself in the past. Also, there's an old woman who wrote a book about all of this. Seth Rogen's in there somewhere. You know, just watch the director's cut if you want specifics. Richard Kelly explains everything, even though the ambiguous, moody original was fine without the clarifications.
Malcolm McDowell plays H.G. Wells in this oddball 'What if' tale, in which the legendary Sci-Fi pioneer uses his time machine to chase Jack the Ripper (David Warner), who has absconded into the late 1970s. There, Wells is charmed by a modern woman (Mary Steenburgen) and enjoys the delights at that Scottish restaurant McDonalds. "Pomme frites! Fries are pomme frites!"
3. La jetée / 12 Monkeys
Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys features Bruce Willis as a convict in a post-apocalyptic dystopia tasked with discovering what led to the decline of civilisation. It was inspired by Chris Marker's short film La jetée, wherein a man is haunted by a childhood memory of a murder, and wonders if his memories are being manipulated by a shady society or if he's legitimately travelling back to the moment of that tragedy. Both are fantastic.
Engineer-turned-filmmaker Shane Carruth created the most "believable" time travel film of all, well, time in Primer (on a budget of only $7,000). A group of geniuses accidentally build a device that allows them to move back through time, and, cautious of the dangers of meddling with the past, isolate themselves from society and attempt to use their knowledge of the future to make a little bit of money on the stock market. The ramifications are huge. Primer requires multiple watches to unpack; glimpse this diagram for an idea of how twisted this narrative truly is.
"If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious s***." Doc was right! Robert Zemeckis' blockbuster trilogy is truly the genre's pinnacle. There are issues - Why don't Marty's parents recognise their son as a ringer for Calvin Klein? Did Doc accidentally leave one of the DeLoreans back in 1885? So everyone is just cool to have Biff stick around even though he forced himself on Lorraine in the 1950s? - but it's all overwritten by genuine thrills, big laughs, rich characters, and, at least in the first film, Crispin Glover.