With the ability to live the past two weeks over and over again until you get them perfectly right, I’m assuming you’ve all had a chance to watch 12 Monkeys, Los Cronocrimenes, and Primer.
(Go back in time to this post for Part #1 of this session of FILMS:COOL.)
To refresh your memories, we were talking about how to handle time travel in a film without killing your own grandfather or scrambling your own brain. The three pictures listed above were set forth as positive examples we should watch to prepare for Rian Johnson’s Looper, out next month.
So how well did they handle the challenges of intertemporal plotting?
12 Monkeys was not quite as memorable as I remembered (if that’s possible in an Everything is Written timeline).
I enjoyed the heart of the story, for which Chris Marker’s La Jeteé deserves all credit. The Gilliam look and feel makes for good times, too, in a depressing sort of way. Brad Pitt’s nutjob antics are amusing.
In terms of time travel logic, I see only one flaw. Madeline Stowe’s character, Dr. Kathryn Railly, keeps saying that she knows Bruce Willis’ character, James Cole, from somewhere—but she doesn’t. The young James Cole saw Dr. Railly in disguise during the traumatic ending/beginning event and so the older James could possibly remember her. Dr. Railly however does not meet James Cole in any form until they are first introduced in the police station. Ergo; she cannot remember him, know him, or find him familiar at that time in any way that makes a lick of sense.
Time travel logistics score: A-
On the one hand, Los Cronocrimenes is pretty damn spot on when it comes to low budget shenanigans, mind-bending temporal fooferaw, and basic logic. On the other hand, it counts on one crucial moment to drive the plot and I don’t believe it holds up under scrutiny.
Hector first becomes ensnared in overlapping iterations of an afternoon when he gazes through his binoculars and sees a woman disrobing. As we learn in the film, another version of himself is the cause of this disrobing, as one of him attempts to keep the other versions of himself from going even farther astray. The problem is, how can the instigating event—the disrobing—have happened in the original un-altered timeline?
In order for the unnamed woman to take her clothes off, Hector had to have already seen her naked as impetus to travel in time in the first place and make her take off her clothes. If there is only one sacrosanct timetime, as Los Cronocrimenes seems to suggest, this can’t have happened.
Any way you slice it, for Los Cronocrimenes to work, effect has to precede cause just once. While I suppose this is conceivably possible (I can imagine anything), somehow, for some unexplained reason, that woman would have had to disrobe without Hector’s influence at least once.
Time travel logistics score: B
As I recalled, Primer is seriously confusing. From this we learn something important: one way to make an extra complicated plot work is to make it so squirrelly no one can tell whether you’ve made any mistakes or not.
After you’ve managed to comprehend how time travel works in Primer, and piece together all the partial conversations to understand what’s happening with Abe and Aaron, then you realize that what you thought was the original timeline, in the first act, was actually at least the 9th iteration.
I’ve watched this film twice now, and studied that diagram that fairly clearly maps out all the timelines, and I don’t spot any logical errors. Unlike Los Cronocrimenes, Primer does not post-date any causes to predicate effects. It may seem like that’s happened, but the dodge is that what you think is unaltered time is actually both characters only pretending that they are not already experienced chrononauts.
Primer does care enough about time travel logistics to not cut any corners. I only wish they had made it a smidgen easier to follow. Too much is dropped in the course of incomplete and mumbly conversation for anyone to really digest it all in even a couple of viewings.
Time travel logistics score: A
So there you have it. Time travel made simply confusing.
Next up in FILMS:COOL, digging into Rian Johnson’s back catalogue. Prepare to get hit by a Brick.