Looper Prep Part 2: Time Travel Scorecard

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 MonkeysLos 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

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-

Los Cronocrimenes

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 CronocrimenesPrimer 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.

Looper Prep #1

Looper Prep #3 

Looper Prep #4

(And… what did we think of Looper now that it’s out?)

6 responses on “Looper Prep Part 2: Time Travel Scorecard

  1. Pingback: Looper, Time Loops, and Loopholes | Stand By For Mind Control·

  2. Re: Timecrimes. There is no ‘unaltered timeline.’ That’s what the movie gets so perfectly right (to me the movie’s flaw is simply that the story and characters aren’t all that compelling). Everything in the past already happened in the past. No one ‘changes’ anything by traveling back in time. They only do what was already done. The moment you allow for the existence of time travel, you are necessarily assuming that time exists in the same way as do the dimensions of space; it’s all there already.

    You’re stuck on the idea that nothing in the movie can ‘start’ until he first uses the time machine to go back and ‘start’ them, but that’s not true at all. Things in the past happen first in the sense of how we perceive them. So the first thing to ‘happen’ in the movie is his having just come from the future. To say that the future he just came from hasn’t happened yet makes no sense if you’ve allowed for the existence of a time machine. It’s just that we the audience aren’t there yet, nor is he the character. If you go back in time, the movie is arguing, you were always there. You weren’t ‘not there’ in one timeline, but ‘there’ in some other one. There is no ‘other’ timeline. The past is the past. It only ever happened/happens/will happen in one way. Same with the future.

    Once you realize that all time is already there, and all events in it, cause and effect cease to work the way we think they do. Because all causes and all effects are already in existence, and the question of which came ‘first’ has no meaning. We experience events in a certain sequence because we perceive time as having a direction. This is an illusion.

    • I struggle with this. In the end, I’m irked by the lack of causality.

      I can believe that Hector was always in the past. I can’t unforgivingly accept why he was always in the past, though—because his going into the past is the only reason why he went into the past. It ends up being like Ouroboros, the snake that devours its own tail.

      If cause and effect are an illusion, who cares about anything? It could be that way, but I don’t like it. It seems like that’s a much bigger issue for a much bigger movie.

  3. also, “The moment you allow for the existence of time travel, you are necessarily assuming that time exists in the same way as do the dimensions of space; it’s all there already.”

    I do not believe this to be the case. It could be the case. It also could not. We have no idea what time travel is. People, me included, get set on conceptions of what time travel is/could be, but all it truly is is a literary device.

    And, for that matter, we aren’t even perfectly clear how the dimensions of space work either. If a black hole can warp spatial dimensions (and the speed of light?), who’s to say what else is possible? Did space always exist or was it created in a big bang?

    Basically, though, I’m only objecting to the literary device of Hector’s self-created cause/effect loop. I would have liked to see it either supported in the text or avoided.

  4. It’s only not the case, that time is there already, if you invent more magical devices to explain it away, such as more timelines, alternate universes, different pasts, etc.

    That’s what impresses me about this movie. It takes the simplest, narrowest possible idea of time travel, and follows through on that logic. It invents nothing extraneous. And if you invent nothing extraneous, you’re stuck with one universe, and necessarily with one ‘time’ in it.

    You can’t not have been in the past and then, five minutes from now when you jump in your time machine, ‘have been’ in the past. You have to invent something else with your time machine, some new universe, new timeline, whatever you want to call it.

    It might make sense to you that such things come into being, but no matter: it’s all make-believe. It doesn’t ‘make sense’ that a time machine would create new times and deliver you to new universes any more than it would make sense for time machine use to bring into being magical space dragons who grant your every wish.

    So yes. Time travel is but an imaginary device. What I find interesting about Timecrimes is that once it allows for time travel, it considers it not in a way to tell a certain story, but logically. I like that. It’s interesting to my brain to take this imaginary thing, and then force myself to think how that would actually manifest itself in the real world. And the moment you start having someone ‘come from’ another time, that time must exist.

    • I keep trying to respond to this, but I end up just saying what I’ve already said. Perhaps because I already said it and that’s how time travel works?

      You don’t have a problem with Hector ending up traveling in time as a result of his already having traveled in time and leading himself to travel in time. I see a chicken-egg paradox.

      You like “cause and effect don’t mean anything in time travel stories/the future is written.” I like “time can be altered/reality can be changed in iterations.” Neither really has any basis in reality or make a whole lot of sense or would be very pleasant if it was actually true.

      We both liked the movie, mostly for the same reasons.

      I hope that is an accurate summary?

      Anyone else? Other opinions?

      Do not let our maniacal ranting keep you from adding your two cents, please. It is quite obvious that no one can be definitively correct on this subject as we’re talking about nothing but ideas, story, and another version of you waiting to stab you in the arm with a pair of scissors.

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

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