Critic Amar Desai takes a look back on the best time travel films…
3. PRIMER (2004)
Without money or any sense of convention, Shane Carruth’s debut film was opaque but nevertheless brilliant. Two men unintentionally create a time machine, and proceed to use it to make money on the stock market. However, upon deciding that time travel is too dangerous, one of them decides to go back in time and prevent the machine from ever being invented. As you might imagine, things become complicated, with multiple timelines converging and interacting, to the point that understanding is impossible on the first viewing. The film is full of highly specialised, technical dialogue, which makes no concessions to any audience.
Carruth’s approach contrasts that of Back To The Future; where Zemeckis focused on comic and dramatic situations achievable through time travel, Primer examines the scientific and philosophical implications of time travel itself. The creators of the machine, Aaron and Abe, often seem as lost as the audience, as they seem unable to grasp what they have done and what they ought to do. Anxiety and distrust comes to permeate their relationship, these are real people confronted with something truly sublime and beyond understanding. This is where the film’s brilliance lies: in its desire to examine time travel and deal with the weirdness and complexity that it would throw into the world.
2. TIMECRIMES (2007)
Actor, writer and director Nacho Vigalondo’s film is a bizarre and disturbing work charting the adventures of a man who is accidentally transported back to earlier in the day as he flees from a bandaged stranger intent on harming him. An early passage is scary but also beautiful: Hector, as he is chased, receives help from a man down the phone, who directs him up a path lit by lightbulbs as the stranger searches for him. The man gives Hector updates as the stranger gets closer to him, and we share Hector’s fear as he anxiously, furtively glances over his shoulder whilst he flees up the lit path.
As time loops are built upon themselves, Vigalondo never resorts to special effects. Instead, tension comes through the film’s pacing in some of its key moments. Immersion, similarly, is brought about by an underlying terror as it becomes clear that Hector is in over his head, as evidenced by the increasing complexity of the film’s plot: Hector interacts with himself across different times, never really having control as he tries to shape events.
Timecrimes moves with fantastic speed, and works as a fantastic low-budget thriller in the way that it uses a few characters to tell a story that hurtles forward. The performances and direction create an urgency that makes the film so brilliant.
1. BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985)
The obvious classic, but with good reason. Back To The Future is full of classic moments, ranging from the penning of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ to the famous clock tower sequence. Marty is sent back in time to 1955 by an improbable series of events stemming from his relationship with mad professor Doc Brown.
Marty McFly could not belong in his hometime of 1985 more, and, even without the story of him fighting to unite his teenage parents (and therefore make himself exist), director Robert Zemeckis’ comic flair ensures an entertaining watch. Michael J. Fox’s performance as Marty is characterised by an excitement, which would be annoying were his reactions to being lost in time not so hilarious. Take the scene when Marty’s teenage mother, who has developed the “hots” for him, attempts to seduce her son in the high school car park: watching Fox stutter and shift with anxiety as he realises what is happening is joyously funny.
The film is essentially a sequence of funny scenarios building up to a genuinely thrilling final act, featuring a bully its impossible not to hate, a bizarre love triangle between Marty, his father and his mother, and a Delorean that’s been converted to a time machine. Time has only made Back To The Future more enjoyable, as the sheer eightiesness of the film has given it another layer of charm.