Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
January 2009

'Time' lapse

'Timecrimes' wraps itself into an irrational riddle

Timecrimes
Magnolia Pictures
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Screenplay: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernandez, Nacho Vigalondo, Barbara Goenaga and Juan Inciarte
Rated R / 1 hour, 28 minutes
Now playing in limited release
(out of four)

Ah, the paradoxes of time travel. The Terminator. Back to the Future. Primer. The possibilities never end, do they?

Sometimes you just ignore the logical holes and let that be that. Sometimes you offer up new questions and paradoxes of your own. And sometimes you make those paradoxes the central function of your film. Which is what makes Timecrimes so puzzling . . . and so unsuccessful.

The feature-length debut of Oscar-nominated short-film director Nacho Vigalondo, Timecrimes uses the time-travel device to wrap around on itself. Things go increasingly awry - though, of course, "increasingly" isn't quite the right word. Everything that happens had to happen for anything to happen in the first place. It all occurs in a continuous loop. It only appears to be escalating through the eyes of our protagonist, who would realize the futility of his actions if he only had a brain.

The problem with Timecrimes is that it relies so much on specificity. Hector (Karra Elejalde) sees something in the woods, follows it, discovers a mysterious house, gets sent back in time (a few hours or so). He then proceeds to spend the rest of the film recreating, in agonizing detail, everything that led up to his original arrival at the house. He goes back in time over and over again to accomplish this, creating multiple versions of himself that of course were all destined to be there in the first place.

Because everything is so specific, so calculated, so timed, it forces us to think about Hector's actions and the logic behind everything he does. When we do, the entire story unravels.

Anyone with any kind of logical-reasoning mechanism would know that the events Hector desperately tries to recreate would happen anyway . . . because they already have. You've seen the proof. It brought you here. If you simply do nothing, everything will turn out the same way. I know it's not human nature to do nothing in the face of adversity - how many people actually stop and stay in one place when they're lost? - but in the case of this character, it goes far beyond that. He knowingly, and zealously, digs himself (or himselves) into a hole whose destination he already knows.

Eventually, we must come to a realization. All of this happens because this one man is a complete imbecile? Then he's certainly not the tragic hero the film wants him to be, is he? He's the jester.

I give Vigalondo credit for mounting a storyline that gets increasingly complicated as time moves on (or doesn't, if you will) as the different versions of Hector multiply and events he could never have foreseen take place, forcing him to reconsider his plans.

If only Hector wasn't a complete idiot - a slave to a screenplay and a concept. This is a common horror-movie trap, but this time it isn't just for one scene or one plot obstacle - this is Hector for the entire movie. There is not a thinking person on the screen; there is a puppet acting completely without sense - and the problem is, we are supposed to think that he is acting logically. Or at least somewhat logically.

What Vigalondo (and Hector) appears either unable or unwilling to grasp is that cause and effect are irrelevant terms here - because everything has already happened. He may want us to just ignore that and go along for the ride - which, I freely admit, is not without its arresting sequences - but he chooses to make this story as specific and detailed as possible, and thus we can easily see the gaping logical void.

In Back to the Future, for instance, this kind of flaw didn't matter because it simply wasn't the point. In Timecrimes, it is the point, and therefore the film pulls itself apart.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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