PG probably for the pre-marital sex. It's such a pure and innocent movie for the most part, but then they go and do-the-do and it suddenly becomes something we have to talk to our kids about. (We didn't watch it with them.) The completely coincidental thing was that I was going to do a family movie night of Superman II, and then Somewhere in Time came in the mail and both have the same pre-marital sex stuff in them. There's also some mild violence and probably some pretty basic language stuff. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Jeannot Szwarc
Guys. Jeannot Szwarc directed the live action Supergirl movie. I saw his name pop up on the screen and I thought, "Hey, isn't that the guy who directed the live action Supergirl movie?" And I was right. I should just call it quits for this article right now because that's a heck of a takeaway. I swear, I wasn't in the mood for a Christopher Reeve movie when I was about to watch Superman II, but it kind of worked out that way. I had never seen Somewhere in Time before this point. Everyone (my wife) thought I was kind of goofy that I was excited to watch this over-the-top romance from 1980. But you know what? It's a time travel story with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Yeah, I'm going to watch that, especially when it is on SOME lists.
And you know what? It's a pretty great time travel movie. I am not joking one bit. It's not perfect, but there are a lot of bad time travel movies and this one isn't one of them. A good time travel movie has to set up a series of rules. What kind of time travel is this going to be? I keep throwing this paradox down because Doctor Who straight up explained it, but Somewhere in Time sets up a Bootstrap Paradox and then adds some flair to it. I'm very cool with this. Motivations might be a little bit weird, but nothing you can't explain away. Because I have plenty of space to write and I'm still warming up, I'm going to explain the Bootstrap Paradox as I understand it and then explain how Somewhere in Time lives up to the paradox.
A Bootstrap Paradox is entirely based on the idea that the events of the story can only happen if the events of the story were always going to happen, regardless of cause. It's actually impossible to determine what started the whole event because the existence of time travel is the only loosey-goosey determinant. In the case of Somewhere in Time, a voice from the past, Elise McKenna, asks Richard Collier to come back in time to find her and hands him a watch, presumably her watch. This eventually plants a seed in his mind and he researches some pretty new-agey means to time travel. (I'm actually really cool with it, but the logical part of my brain is skeptical.) The watch, from Elise's perspective, is now Richard's. When Richard loses the watch in the past, it inspires Elise to give it to him in the future. What makes this a Bootstrap Paradox is the question of "how did the watch get thrown back in the past in the first scenario / how did Richard initially meet Elise to set this events into motion?" Now, that's a great question for time travel nerds, but I have a better one...
"How old is that watch?" That's an even cooler question for me. I hope to talk about romance and feelings and all that, but I really want to look at time travel stuff way more. (This is pretty typical for my entire life and I'm so sorry to those people in my life that I love because I keep talking about time travel theories.) Here's something that the filmmakers probably didn't think of before. Richard and Elise keep dying over and over again. The story continues in a time loop. Elise dies of old age at the Grand Hotel in the future. Richard dies (and I want to talk about this) a little afterwards after he returns to the present. They meet up in the afterlife. Cool. But do you know what doesn't have a closed loop? The watch. (You probably guessed that I was going to say "the watch" because I started this paragraph talking about that watch.) Let's say that Somewhere in Time starts at a low number on the time loop. Maybe this is the second or third iteration of these events. We're still not sure how it started, but we know what is keeping it going: the constant exchange of watches. There's about sixty years between Richard and Elise, so Elise keeps it going for sixty years every time that there's a time loop. That's pretty good to keep a watch. Now, we can assume that Elise reveres this watch. The movie even states that she does, so she probably maintains it as best as she can. But the watch never leaves the time loop. It keeps getting passed on. Eventually, that watch will go through thousands of time loops. How does one maintain a watch for millennia? The easy answer is that it becomes a Ship of Theseus, which allows the time loop to continue. There are small changes in the sense that Elise keeps taking it a watch repair shop and they replace different part as time goes on. But the harder question comes from the idea of the watch showing wear-and-tear.
You could, hypothetically, make a sequel to Somewhere in Time where the pair notices that the watch is ancient. This could give Richard clues to his fatal mistake. But it would also place the relationship in jeopardy. If the watch is trash, would Richard even be tempted to go back in time. We understand that the watch is a physical manifestation of hope and love. It's not just a watch. The story could technically still go on if the watch is worn out from old age. But that watch has resonance. It's not nothing. It's something that the movie really hinges on and it is getting older and older.
Also, a weird time travel question. Old Lady Elise approaches Richard at his senior production of his play Too Much Spring. (We made a lot of Too Much Spring jokes throughout the movie.) Elise probably knows she's dying. After all, she died the next day. It could be one of those Charles Schultz things where her life's purpose is complete and she just dies. (Much respect to the late Charles Schultz.) Elise's strategy is a weird one, and a sympathetic one at the same time. She doesn't know when she's supposed to encounter Richard again. She sees him wiped from existence and starts doing some research. She figures out by some of his weird mannerisms that he might be a time traveler. Maybe he even leaves the penny in the past (which would be rad, but doesn't really line up with how time travel works in this story). She researches and researches until this philosophy book about time travel comes out. The biggest coincidence is that Richard knows the guy who wrote the book, but I'll let that slide. It could be explained away by the idea that she simply read the book because it was by a local author, so I'm good. But she has to be investigating Richard. Like, starting around 1950, does she start looking for birth certificates that say Richard Collier and does she hope that he'll always live in Chicago? Heck, does Richard even live in Chicago by the time she meets him? Part of it comes from the odd choice to mute a lot of the dialogue between Richard and Elise in their sequences. I have no idea how honest Richard is with her about the time travel stuff. My takeaway was "not really all that honest" based on her reactions.
But why doesn't she try to change time? She knows that the watch creates a loop. Giving a younger Richard the watch means that Young Richard is not Her Richard. Young Richard just sees a weird old lady. She has to be aware that she's just ensuring that the events of Somewhere in Time actually happen. Cool. She's clearly cool with messing with spacetime. But why not give him a hint or something? Tell him about the pocket full of change. It won't mean anything to him until he starts putting together a costume, but it very well might make sense then. If it fails and he has the epiphany seconds before he makes the mistake, it'll have the same effect and she won't be any the wiser.
But this what good time travel narratives do. They make us think about "what ifs" and scenarios that open our brains up to new idea. It's really weird that Somewhere in Time is the movie to open this kind of discussion. But the best part about it all is that the time travel narrative, as central as it is to the events of the story, are the background. Like Back to the Future, we care more about the characters and their internal conflicts more than we do the external conflicts. Fundamentally, this is a story about the love interest and how one man seeks to break it apart. If there is one weakness, it is the complete mislead with Robinson. Elise meets Richard with the phrase "Is it you?" or something like that. We get this story about how Robinson seems to see the future and warns of "the one". Now, a lot of it probably was intended to be written off as a guy who simply saw which way the wind was blowing from experience. His leading ladies probably always ran off with some handsome guy and the cycle continues. But the movie really baits you too hard on that fact and it is never really formally explained. Regardless, this is a story about true love.
A lot of the choices don't make a lot of sense, unless love is treated a supernatural phenomenon. Richard goes eight years not thinking about the watch. He gets married and then divorced in that time (which makes me question, "What happened there?"). He has a bit of writer's block, so he returns to the Grand Hotel (or visits it for the first time, I guess?). He's pulled places and becomes obsessive. He doesn't even try justifying it to himself. There's never this moment where Logical Richard takes over and questions if he's having a mental breakdown. He makes up this lie to tell people that he's writing a play about Elise McKenna, but doesn't actually believe it himself. This causes him to do all kinds of crazy things to time travel. Don't get me wrong. I get the need to time travel, but he comes across as a huge nutbar with is obsessiveness. He puts people out with his white privilege, keeping the librarian after hours for some magazines that he could just...get the next day. He wakes Arthur in the middle of the night. Arthur becomes the main spectator throughout the history of the story because Richard is so invasive. It's through sheer willpower that he time travels to see Elise. Love, in the story, isn't something that develops. It's something that always exists. I suppose that the storytellers believe in soul mates so hard that there is nothing stopping these two from coming together. Thank God Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour have chemistry or else the whole thing wouldn't really work.
It might be a little dramatic that Collier dies from being separated from Elise. That's a very Bronte thing to happen. That moment of fate, where he pulls the penny out, is perfect. Don't lose that for a second. But the story hinges on the idea that Richard will do anything to go back in time when he doesn't know that it's possible, but loses hope when he knows that it is possible. Like, he loses hope really fast. Criminally fast. He gets frustrated and just quits on life. Now, that's a great ending for the story and it's the only way that it can really work. The movie even implies, "Yeah, he can't go back." But Elise spends her life trying to find a way back, why doesn't Richard? Richard stays alive about a week and then just dies. I suppose there is something romantic about the Lost ending where they meet up again in the afterlife, but it also is really depressing in a way. Also, he's wearing the same crappy suit that everyone comments on. (He wears that suit for three days and no one comments that he's getting a bit stinky?)
I really enjoyed this movie. Good time travel movies delight me. I don't know if I could consider myself a fan of the movie. There's something a bit to Harlequin novel about the whole thing, but I don't even care. The movie is a good time and it scratched the exact itch I wanted it to.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.