There is a recent trend that I have noticed in romantic comedies and drama. That is the inclusion of a time travel element for whatever reason. Whether this element is in the form of exchanging letters at a magical lake house or by going into a dark room closing your eyes and clenching your fists to find yourself somewhere else.
I’ve noticed this idea before but it came back into my view when I started watching Outlander when it premiered this summer. Outlander is about a young nurse who after WWII is mysteriously transported to 1743 Scotland while on a second honeymoon with her husband. This obviously throws her for a loop and creates some romantic tension when she begins to fall for a handsome Scotsman in her search for finding a way back.
Instead of creating romantic tension through a simple introduction of a different man that our heroine becomes drawn to. This man from another time adds a layer of complication to an otherwise mundane or even overused plot. It forces the heroine to make a decision between past and present.
In a genre that has been bogged down with tropes and stereotypes, it can find fresh elements with this simple addition of sci-fi. Take About Time for instance. In this film from the creator of Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, which surprisingly doesn’t have an appearance from Hugh Grant. Anyways, here you have a family where the men have the ability to travel through their own lives by simply finding a small dark room, clenching their fists and picturing themselves in a different moment in life to find themselves there.
They can only travel within their own lives and if they aren’t careful they can drastically alter their present day life. Once again, by bringing in this new element, a new layer of complexity is added. At one point, after our protagonist has a family he tries to go back in time to help his sister who has been trapped in a self-destructive relationship. By making a simple change, he erases his daughter from his present and alters his married life. This way he is forced to decide between keeping his present and enjoying life as it comes or by trying to make it better.
The last one I would like to mention is Safety Not Guaranteed a lesser known indie film that stars Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and Jake Johnson (New Girl) plus a few other notable faces in smaller roles. In this film, time travel is used as the inciting incident that eventually brings our two lovers together. To clarify, Jake and Aubrey are not the two lovers. They are two journalists investigating an ad from a local newspaper that is looking for a time traveling companion. Aubrey answers the ad as an interested party and well, you can imagine how the rest of it goes.
In this case, the time travel element is used as a metaphor for the blossoming love between the two lovers. This reliability of this time travel seems to fluctuate with Aubrey’s relationship as well as be the source of conflict within the relationship. Now, the idea of time travel could easily be replaced in this film with some other theme. After all, when boiled down the main conflict comes down to trust which is important in any relationship. Regardless, since time travel was chosen, it puts right in the middle of this trend.
So, what does all of this mean? Who knows. I like to think it is film makers trying to incorporate newer ideas into a pretty flat and unoriginal genre that mainly play’s to the heart strings. It’s a way that can add a level of depth that otherwise isn’t there to the characters dilemmas. Plus, it intrigues the audience to think what they would do if they had these powers. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the power to go back and try an fix their past mistakes in a relationship?