Monday, 1 July 2013

Romanticism, time paradoxes and videotapes

Years ago, a teacher in university asked all the students in my class who our favourite British romantic poet was. Most students answered Wordsworth, I said Coleridge. Although Romanticism is definitely my favourite artistic movement, poetry has never been my favourite type of reading. However, Coleridge introduces an element in his poetry that I absolutely love and I don't think Wordsworth used, or at least not as well as Coleridge did: the supernatural.

As I said in my first entry, I consider literature a way of escaping reality and, what could be further from reality than the supernatural? After thinking about the kind of literature and entertainment I generally enjoy the most, I have realized that all those stories placed in a world like ours but with supernatural elements added to it are the ones I usually prefer. Films dealing with the topics of time travel, paradoxes, parallel universes, dystopias and alternative realities are very appealing to me.

Not being actual time-travelling a subject I am particularly interested in, I find it very interesting as a resource for creating entertaining fictional stories. Those plots are like a jigsaw to me and activate my brain and my imagination in a very pleasant way. Call me a freak.

Here you are a list of a few films dealing with these subjects:

BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985): Unlike many other people, I have never considered the films of this saga my favourite films. They are good fun for a Sunday afternoon if you are bored at home. Though I do believe the time paradox is well developed in the three films with the past actions and decisions affecting the future and then creating parallel realities that can be modified by travelling in a time machine/car.
BRAZIL (1985): Pure Terry Gilliam. A dystopian society that resembles ours way too much. This is how we'll end up if we rely too much on computers. Brilliant film. Shocking ending.
LES VISITEURS (1993) / JUST  VISITING  (2001): These two are exactly the same film though the first is the original French version and the second is the American version. Same actors, same gags, but people say the French is brilliant while the American is really bad. I think both of them are VERY FUNNY. A nobleman from the 12th century and his servant need to travel back in time to mend some big trouble they have just caused but they travel to the 20th/21st century by mistake. The cultural/historical clash causes very funny situations.
12 MONKEYS (1995): Brilliant. Bruce Willis is forcely sent to the past to collect information about the virus that contaminated the Earth and killed many people but he's not sure about what he's doing,  why he is there, and the information he finds turns up to be useless. Brad Pitt's performance is one of his best's (you have to love his squint eye), and the ending is probably one of the most logical and deceiving endings ever.
RUN LOLA RUN [LOLA RENNT] (1998): The fourth brilliant film of this list. Pulsating, maybe even frantic (the music does not allow you to relax either). The topic raised is the same as in Sliding Doors, but incredibly well developed. Needless to say, Lola spends the whole film running.
PLEASANTVILLE (1998): A boy and his sister end up in his favourite TV show (black and white, in the 50s, where everything is absolutely perfect... but it really isn't). It starts as a comedy, ends up being a drama, a very original one.
SLIDING DOORS (1998): I love this film because I love John Hannah... and well, the film is ok. A love story, but only in half the film. The story makes you think of those little things you don't even notice but can change your life, in this case, taking a train.
THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR (1999): Apparently, most people consider this film a bad one. I think it's pretty good and the story develops a very original idea. It's quite hard to explain what it is about whithout spoiling it (don't watch the trailer if you don't want to see any spoiler). A virtual simulation of 1937 Los Angeles is created and real people can immerse in that reality as if it was real... or is it not only virtual? This film was released the same year as The Matrix which received a better reception, more awards and more money in the box office although it revolved around a similar topic.
FREQUENCY (2000): A man communicates with his father who died 30 years before using his ham radio. It's a nice story about a father-son relationship intertwined with the investigation of a murder that affects both of them. Let yourself shed some tears while watching it.
MEMENTO (2000): One of the first films by Christopher Nolan. A man who cannot create new memories is trying to find the man that killed his wife. Two timelines: 1 with the sequences in chronological order and black and white, the other in reverse order and colour. This makes you feel like the main character of the film. Very intelligent film. Try not to get lost if you can.
DONNIE DARKO (2001): Nutty psycho guy who can see a scary giant rabbit who tells him to do things. I can't say much more about this film without spoiling it... though if you haven't seen it yet, a bit of spoiling may help you understand the film when you first watch it. Anyway, it's not going to be me, so I'm not going to write what the time-travelling device is.
EQUILIBRIUM (2002): A dystopian society were feelings are illegal and its police do this super Kung Fu called Gun Kata apparently invented by the director and writer of the film (Kurt Wimmer) in his backyard. Visually amazing, with touches of "A brave new world", and one of the best lines ever: Without emotions, without feelings, without love, without hate... breath is just a clock ticking.
BIG FISH (2003): Tim Burton defending the power of story-telling to coulour up our lives. (Did I just spoil the whole film?) Watch it. Just watch it.
THE MACHINIST (2004): Christian Bale is in the film, I promise. That sort of walking skeleton is him. You may find the film a bit dark and scary, but wait until the end. Jaw-dropping.
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT (2004): If you are not used to watching this type of films, you may get a little lost with all those back and forth, and the new plots. Some people say there are many inconsistencies in this film, but I think it works out pretty well. Ashton Kutcher playing a quite serious role in which he has the ability of travelling in time when reading his old diaries is unusual but effective.
PRIMER (2004): Brilliant. Probably the best film in this list. Cheap, not a single special effect... And the most not-caring-about-the-audience film I have ever seen. You need to watch it at least 2 or 3 times to understand what's going on (or look for one of the diagrams or explanatory videos in Youtube).
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004): The fifth brilliant film of the list because of this: Michel Gondry + Charlie Kaufman + great performances. What if we could just erase bad memories to start all over again? Would we make the same mistakes?
THE JACKET (2005): In a way, it reminds of Source Code... and of 12 Monkeys... and of The Butterfly Effect. This time the guy travels to the future to try to mend his past. Claustrophobic. It is supposed to be a thriller but in the end, you feel like you've been told just an anecdote. Worth watching, though.
DÉJÀ VU (2006): Weird. I didn't really enjoy it. There's something in the film that doesn't work out for me. A time-window, a wormhole that only works in one direction and always to the same amount of time to the past (4 days, 6 hours, 3 minutes, 45 seconds and 14,5 nanoseconds), a detective that seems to know more than the scientists. The fact that everything ends up right looks suspicious, maybe it is so because it was supposed to be a commercial film.
THE LAKE HOUSE (2006): A love story between a man and a woman who live in the same house but in different times. The communicate by leaving messages to each other in the mailbox. It's as good as Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock performances can be.
TIMECRIMES [LOS CRONOCRÍMENES] (2007): This one takes the idea from Primer (and also the low budget, and the big amount of accolades) but adds some mistery and pink dark characters to the plot. It's a very disturbing film that shows you how the same thing seen from different perspectives can be totally different. It also plays with the idea of fate and free will. It may seem a little slow at times, but is definitely very effective.
NEXT (2007): Incredibly bad film. Stupid plot, stupidly developed. Watch it if you're a fan of Nicholas Cage or Jessica Biel. Don't watch it if you're a fan of Julianne Moore.
THE NUMBER 23 (2007): Scary but quite predictable if you've watched Shutter Island or The Machinist (I won't say anything else not to spoil it). Fantastic Jim Carrey on a serious role.
THE BOX (2009): Watch it and you tell me what it's about.
THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE (2009): The lesson you learn from this beautiful romantic film is: don't ever fall in love with a person with the ability to travel in time but has no control over that ability... even if he's Eric Bana.
CORALINE (2009): Oscar nominated animation film based on a book by Neil Gaiman. It sort of reminded me of Tim Burton's work. Deals with the idea of a mirror/parallel universe that is not exactly as good as it seems.
SHUTTER ISLAND (2010): Martin Scorsese's film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo. Do I need to say anything else? Watch it. Did I say Mark Ruffalo is in it?
INCEPTION (2010): Another of Nolan's films. This one deals with dreams and how we can access somebody else's mind through their dreams and introducing or stealing ideas. One of my favourite films of this list.
SOURCE CODE (2011): Same 8-minutes scene over and over again, with a little more information each time. Fantastic... except that annoying ending. Personally, I think the rhythm that has been constant along the film is lost in the end, maybe because one has got too used to the same scene and suddenly it changes. Very good film anyway.
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (2011): One of those weird films in which you understand everything and nothing at the same time. You think you're following the story but you keep thinking you are skipping some point. In the end... well, I know the film is about predestination and a greater plan... but I don't really see the point. Some people hate me for not liking this film.
MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011): I'm not a big fan of Woody Allen but I adooooore this film. You need to know names like Ernerst Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald or Luis Buñuel to really get how brilliant this film is. Adrien Brody playing Salvador Dalí is magnificient to say the least. Watch him here.
CLOUD ATLAS (2012): The Wachowski Brothers (sorry, Andy and Lana) + Tom Twyker with an amazing cast and 6 different stories... Back and forth... Reincarnation? Enough said. Watch it.
TRANCE (2013): An excellent film by Danny Boyle with an excellent cast as well. In a sense, it is similar to Inception because it also deals with introducing and stealing ideas from someone else's mind, though this time is through hypnosis. An unexpected ending makes you reconsider the main theme of the film and see it from a completely different point of view.
ABOUT TIME (2013): Domhnall Gleeson being adorable as usual. You may think it's another time-travelling/romantic film with Rachel McAdams... but wait until the end and you'll find out what it really is about.

And here my list ends. I know there are many other films related to these themes, so any recommendation is always very welcome. Feel free to suggest!

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