Truth be told, I am kind of a sucker for romantic comedies and dramas, especially the odd, quirky ones with an odd premise. Cannot really figure out why, but movies like 500 Days of Summer and Love Actually just make me kind of happy. Thus, when I saw the trailer for About Time, I knew I had to see it as soon as humanly possible.
I mean, c’mon, it’s a romantic drama with time travel! Did someone decide to make a movie just for me? If so, thank you random film creator because you excelled. If not, whatever, I’ll still take it and analyze it for deeper meaning to my heart’s content. As always, possible SPOILERS ahead and read at your own peril.
So, the basic premise of the film is that at the age of 21, Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns he is able to travel through his own timeline from his father (Bill Nighy). Apparently, the men of Tim’s family are able to do this for some unexplained reason. Of course, he is unsure how to use this miraculous ability until his younger sister brings home Charlotte (Margot Robbie), one of her friends, to spend the summer. Tim immediately becomes infatuated with this girl and uses his gift to attempt to woo the young lass.
While his power allows him to not be an ass in front of her, it ultimately proves useless in actually winning the girl over. This is the first lesson of the film: Regardless of your abilities, strengths, and overall awesomeness, you cannot make someone care for you. It should be noted this applies to anyone and everyone inconsequential of race, gender, age, creed, etc. and so forth. It is a difficult lesson to learn and considering the virtually infinite number of programs, books, and “teachers” that claim to be able to just that one that we must remind ourselves of every once in awhile. Sometimes, in fact a lot of times, a no is just going to be a no and there is nothing to be done but move on.
As the film continues, Tim moves on to London and continues to use his ability infrequently. He brings it out for minor nuisances and inconveniences but nothing of real weight or value until he meets Mary (Rachel McAdams). Mary is his “one” whom he fell in love with on a spontaneous date in the dark when he unwillingly accompanied his asshole-ish friend one night. I know it’s the kind of premise that can really only exist in a movie which is why I appreciate it corny set up and all. Unfortunately, at the end of the night Tim uses his power to help out his failing playwright landlord which undoes the events of meeting and seducing Mary. This is the first instance where Tim realizes that his ability has some drawbacks. Now, the rest of the film could have easily been Tim trying to correct this mistake instead he easily fixes it in one night, and the film moves on to more important matters.
Hopefully, you did not forget about Charlotte because Tim did not, and by pure chance he sees her at a concert he attends with a law buddy. Not quite over his old crush, Tim unsuccessfully tries to hit on her. Even with his ability, Tim still manages to put his foot in his mouth in these social situations, so he gives up the pursuit. Amazingly, Charlotte sees him and initiates conversation and greeting which leads to dinner and drinks alone. This brings up the second lesson: Sometimes, just sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing at all. I know, I know, in modern society the thought of inaction is heresy. However, there are circumstances when the best act is to not act at all. Hell, virtually every legitimate form of martial art has some form of this philosophy and, frankly, if a system of maneuvers and philosophies intended to protect yourself through physical force says that every once in awhile yo should not move maybe the idea is not as odd as we think it is.
Tim’s unexpected luck and second chance leads to the door of Charlotte’s hotel room. Here he is faced with a choice; enter Charlotte’s room and fulfill his adolescent fantasy or leave and go back to Mary. Here’s the thing though; Tim could go with Charlotte, have mind blowing sex, and simply travel back to before it happened. By all the physical laws of the universe the sex never happened, but Tim would have the memory of it. There would literally be no evidence or consequences save for those in Tim’s mind. He chooses to leave Charlotte and go see Mary, whom he now realizes he is in love with.
Which bring us to the next lesson: You discover who you really are when the only witness, judge, and jury of your actions is yourself. As stated before, Tim could have had sex with Charlotte and made it so that the event would only be in his memory. Charlotte would have no idea of their encounter and thus neither would Mary because as far as that universe is concerned it did not happen. Yet in that moment, Tim made a choice based only on what he felt and knew to be true and right; his love of and for Mary. That was his sole driving force and what he would have to justify his actions to. Who are we when we only have ourselves to answer to? What decisions and actions would we take if there were no consequences? Tim found his answer and acted on what he saw.
Most romantic films would end either here or at the wedding, but About Time is not the typical romantic drama/comedy. At its core, the film is more than the relationship or romance of two people. It even goes beyond simply having a cool power because it forces Tim to learn and understand the limits of such a gift. Tim realizes this when he learns that his power cannot save his sister. Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson in a phenomenal performance) leads an incomplete life unable to find any consistency save for her emotionally abusive and inattentive boyfriend. She becomes a dysfunctional alcoholic and is involved in an automobile crash on the day of her niece’s birthday. Upon hearing this, Tim immediately uses his power to save her from the accident and then goes back further to make sure she never meets the asshole boyfriend and hopefully lead a better life. Amazingly, this action seems to work but has unfortunate consequences for Tim and his immediate family. Tim makes the choice to go back to the original events and try to help her sister through normal means.
Granted this may seem a bit selfish on Tim’s part, but I would argue that his initial actions were more selfish because he essentially undid years of his sister’s life without allowing her to really heal the parts that were broken by her relationship. This is the fourth lesson: You cannot really save someone from themselves. Only they can. We all have friends that make the same mistakes over and over again, and no matter what we tell them they just continue to do so. We have probably done the same. For whatever reason, it took a specific moment or word or instance until things just, hopefully, finally clicked. It was not until precisely then that they were ready to listen and change.
After Kit Kat’s ordeal, the film leads into the final conflict, the death of Tim’s father. It is an odd occurrence in this film because even though his father is dead, Tim can go back in time and visit with his dad from time to time. That is until Mary decides that she wants to have another child. Apparently, the time travel is only recommended to go back no further than the birth of a child because to go further could completely alter that child’s outcome. Of course, Tim does not want to risk that again, so he knows that by having another child he will forever cut himself off from his father. Tim agrees with Mary knowing that is ultimately what his father would want which leads to one of the most emotional scenes of the film. Seriously, even I got a little teary, and I am pretty much a sarcastic, heartless bastard.
This leads to the final lesson I took from the film: At some point, we must be steadfast in looking forward and not turning back. We should never forget the past nor the relationships and emotions attached to it, but we cannot live in it. Because if we constantly live in the past, we are at best stagnant which is essentially the same as being dead. Tim says his final goodbye to his father and chooses to move forward with his family and life keeping the gifts, advice, and love his father blessed him with. Who could ask for more?
Thus endeth today’s lessons. Now, go kiss your loved ones and hug your parents and children.