However, the time-travelling Doctor is not the only one to be messing around with ‘timey wimey stuff’. Recently, time travel has moved beyond the boundaries of science fiction and crept into action films, superhero movies and even rom-coms…
Time for love
How would life be different if you could engineer the perfect meet-cute for yourself or experience a Hollywood-perfect first kiss?
Richard Curtis’ romantic comedy About Time told the story of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), an insecure young man who is taken aside by his father (Bill Nighy) and let in on an incredible secret: the men of the family can travel back in time. All Tim needs to do is go into a cupboard, clench his fists, and picture a moment in his own past that he wants to go back to. When he opens his eyes, he’ll be there.
Tim decides to use this power to woo Rachel McAdams’s character by ensuring that every moment they spend together is perfect. If he fumbles or flounders, he simply goes back and tries again until he gets it right. He can delete his mistakes and live without regret. Except these perfect choices lead to different mistakes. The movie plots his choices and we’re left sensing that the time we have right now is the most valuable.
Time for action
Taking a very different approach was Edge of Tomorrow. The cowardly Lieutenant Colonel Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) finds himself in the middle of a battle against an alien race. Worse, a mysterious time loop means that he alone is forced to live the same day over and over again. Live. Die. Repeat.
His curse is in fact a blessing. He doesn’t just get a second chance, but hundreds of chances to put things right.
At the film’s climax, Bill is robbed of his unique power. He realises that he will have to do what everyone else does: summon up the courage to act, knowing that he will have to live with the consequences. Living in this way he finally discovers the exhilarating thrill of acting with true bravery.
Time for heroes
How would life be different if you could turn back the clock and transform bitter rivals into peaceful collaborators?
X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh film in the popular X-Men franchise. It is set in a dark, desolate future in which humans and mutants are engaged in a global battle. The X-Men decide to take matters into their own hands: Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) has the power to project a person’s consciousness back in time. They decide that she must send Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back into the body of his younger self. He can then find the younger incarnations of the other X-Men and persuade them to work together to change the course of history.
We’re asked some big philosophical questions during the course of the film: “Is the future truly set?” “Can we change our fate?” “What if whatever we do can’t be changed?”
Despite their striking differences, each of these films appeal to our desire to erase the past and try again. As Stephen Cave wrote in a recent article, “Who of us has never wanted to turn the clock back, to have the chance to undo something – that crazy decision or action that we have lived to regret ever since?” Do you ever experience regret or find yourself wishing that life had a Ctrl+Z button?
Here, the Christian faith can offer some reassurance. Jesus’ message is what the popular writer Max Lucado has called The Gospel of Second Chances. We no longer need to live in the shadow of our past mistakes and failures. Jesus offers to forgive and forget our sins, and to offer us a new life. In the Bible we’re promised: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” We may not be able to go back in time and change things, but we can decide to accept the offer to start afresh.
Nonetheless, Jesus continues to give us the free will to make our own choices. This means that inevitably, and despite our best intentions, we will mess things up sometimes. Jesus might offer us a fresh start but, we have to learn to rely on God to change us from the inside.
Tom Shone of The Guardian claims that the best time travel films, “are parables about the tyranny of perfectionism. They demonstrate to control freaks the importance of letting go.” For Christians, they are a reminder that we can let go and surrender the past, the present and the future up to God, the author – and perfecter – of our faith.