Inconsistency hampers uneven ‘About Time’

“About Time” (2013). Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, Lindsay Duncan, Lydia Wilson, Richard Cordery, Joshua McGuire, Tom Hollander, Margot Robbie, Will Merrick, Vanessa Kirby, Tom Hughes. Director: Richard Curtis. Screenplay: Richard Curtis. Web site. Trailer.

Wouldn’t it be great if we literally had the ability to rewrite our past? Think of all the mistakes for which we’d get a chance to make amends. But would we be the same people we’ve become if we had the opportunity to do so? Would we get the hoped-for satisfaction we seek from such pursuits? And what if the altered circumstances carried unforeseen consequences? Those are some of the questions raised in the new metaphysical romantic comedy, “About Time.”

The men in the Lake family carry a secret about a very special ability, one that Tim (Domhnall Gleeson), a bright, young, though somewhat geeky lawyer, is about to learn on his 21st birthday. The messenger of this news is Tim’s kindly father (Bill Nighy), a retired professor who enjoys his days of leisure on the Cornwall seacoast. Despite a few minor eccentricities, dad seems pretty grounded, which is what makes his startling revelation all the more difficult for Tim to accept – the disclosure that the Lake family men have the ability to travel through time.

Tim initially thinks his old man has lost it – that is, until he tries out the idea for himself and discovers it works. As remarkable as this ability is, however, it has its limits. For instance, it’s only possible to travel into the past, not the future. What’s more, one can only go back to incidents in the past where the time traveler in question was actually present. As Tim’s dad explains, it wouldn’t be possible, for example, for one of the Lake men to travel back in time to kill Hitler, no matter how strong the temptation might be. However, there are still ample opportunities available for temporal exploration – and the potential to rewrite the past to make up for prior errors in action or judgment. And so, armed with this powerful new tool, Tim goes forth into an uncertain future, one that’s built on a potentially unreliable past.

Not long after learning of this ability, Tim decides to employ it to find the love of his life. He initially uses it to try and win over the affections of the lovely Charlotte (Margot Robbie), a friend of his sister (Lydia Wilson) who’s visiting for the summer. His preliminary efforts help him grow accustomed to this newfound skill, but they don’t result in the relationship he so hoped for. And so, with summer quickly at an end, the time comes for Tim to embark on writing the next chapter of his life – as a practicing attorney at a London law firm.

Tim’s new life brings plenty of new adventures with an array of colorful characters, such as his snarly housemate Harry (Tom Hollander), a long-suffering middle-aged playwright who hasn’t had a hit in years, and Rory (Joshua McGuire), a likeable but nerdy co-worker. But, more importantly, he meets the woman with whom he believes he’s destined to share his life, the dear, sweet, quirky Mary (Rachel McAdams).

Tim cares deeply for all of the new people in his life, and he so wants for everything to work out for them (and him) that he routinely puts his time travel skills to work to transform those aspirations into eventualities. However, maneuvering through the minefield of temporal mechanics sometimes proves much trickier than anticipated. Events can take unexpected twists and turns, creating new, unforeseen challenges that require even further adjustment, sometimes causing Tim to wonder whether he should have left well enough alone. Getting a handle on managing one’s time traveling ability soon becomes just as much a lesson in getting a handle on managing the overall course of one’s life – and one’s outlook on it – something Tim never envisioned when he launched into this odyssey. But, then, as Tim’s father confides, neither did he (nor would most of us probably for that matter).

“About Time” sheds light on the question of “making things right” when they don’t work out, a prospect enabled by the infinite range of probabilities made available to us through the conscious creation process. In this particular case, the story explores this notion in a temporal context, employing time as the means through which we shift from one quantum probability to another. Making such corrections is often seen as quite a noble pursuit, especially when we sincerely intend for “mistakes” to be “fixed” through the process. Of course, we must be clear and precise in our efforts at this, for, as Tim finds out, changing circumstances also makes it possible to change the variables involved in the scenarios in question. That can give rise to the aforementioned unanticipated conditions and outcomes – and more headaches than we’d likely care to deal with.

This, of course, raises the question of whether we should tamper with what we’ve created in the first place. After all, if a particular situation arises in our existence, it does so because of our conscious creation practices; there had to have been something about the experience in question for us to have drawn it to us. In most instances, these situations usually involve some type of life lesson that we’re in need of getting, teachings that are essential to our personal growth and our spiritual evolution. Efforts aimed at circumventing those circumstances, like creating new situations that avoid any thorny issues at hand, often prompt the emergence of the unexpected variables, giving rise to a whole new set of challenges (and never really resolving the initial issues either).

In light of this, then, one can’t help but wonder whether there are better ways of dealing with life’s challenges than trying to make them go away by simply erasing the past. Maybe a better approach would be to take a hard look at how we conduct our affairs on a day-to-day basis, trusting our hunches that the ways we handle them truly are the best courses for us to follow. The experiences we glean from such behavior may well lead us to effective resolution of the lessons we were meant to get – and the attendant wisdom that comes with them.

The attitude with which we approach this process makes all the difference. The beliefs we employ to manifest our existence color the character of the materializations that result, thereby affecting the outcomes we realize. How we employ our manifestation skills at this stage of the conscious creation process may prove far more revelatory – and far more rewarding – than anything we might be able to achieve through any sort of after-the-fact manipulation, whether through the practice of time travel or any other means of alteration.

Considering the foregoing, it’s important that we understand the real point of power is in the present moment. That is when we can best deploy the beliefs necessary to create what we seek. To make that happen, however, we must trust that the manifestation process will play out as it’s supposed to, allowing things to unfold as they do, without undue interference on our part, no matter how unlikely those events may seem at the time. Theoretically, circumstances should materialize in our favor, given that our divine collaborator has our best interests at heart in creating the conditions required for us to get the lessons – and the outcomes – we need and desire. That prospect ultimately beats anything time travel can offer us.

To be fair, this is not to suggest that intentional alterations never work. Tim successfully manages to turn things to his advantage on a number of occasions, learning from his previous missteps to tweak his conceptions to produce better outcomes. To accomplish this, however, he becomes acutely aware of the need to get specific about how to make adjustments. And therein lies the primary challenge in this – are we willing to be diligent enough to determine the required level of specificity necessary to make this practice work, both in terms of the details and intents involved? That can be a tall order, one for which we had better be properly prepared.

While “About Time” nobly attempts to address the foregoing concepts, unfortunately the picture misses the mark almost as often as it scores. Its story line arises from a clever (if not exceptionally original) premise, but the novelty of that narrative is frequently and regrettably undercut by sloppy execution brought about by a host of glaring inconsistencies.

For example, Tim’s dad tells the apprentice time traveler that he can trek to any time in the past where he had previously been but that he cannot visit prior incidents where he wasn’t present. However, that qualification is inexplicably violated on at least three occasions. And, as the narrative plays out, additional (and seemingly arbitrary) temporal limitations are imposed. Considering how the story ultimately unfolds and given the quantum foundation upon which it rests (one wherein all probabilities are inherently possible), one can’t help but wonder why the screenwriter would unduly corral himself with such unnecessarily restrictive plot devices in the first place.

Inconsistencies also show up in the editing, an aspect crucial to a film with a story line like this. Some of the editing is brilliantly handled, but some of it couldn’t be clumsier. It’s generally quite effective when Tim engages in exploring the various probabilities of time travel. But, when the film follows events between such instances, it often meanders aimlessly, seriously in need of focus (and some judicious snipping). Again, one can’t help but wonder how the film could get some of its elements so right and others so wrong.

There’s an interesting irony when it comes to the film’s performances, revealing yet another glaring inconsistency. The narrative is supposed to be focused on the men of the Lake family, yet it’s the women of this film who generally give the most memorable performances. McAdams is wonderful as the romantic lead, and fine supporting efforts are turned in by Robbie, Wilson, Lindsay Duncan as Tim’s mum and Vanessa Kirby as Mary’s best friend. Among the men, only Hollander and McGuire – who aren’t even members of the Lake family – turn in portrayals worthy of merit.

In light of the foregoing, it’s obvious this film is in desperate need of some retooling. Its charming, feel-good qualities and intriguing metaphysical premise aren’t enough to save it. With some work, this could have been a delightfully entertaining and enlightening movie, but, sadly, it largely fails on both fronts.

Time is indeed one of the most intriguing creations we have managed to come up with through the manifestation process. It affords much – far more than we’re readily capable of comprehending, some of which will undoubtedly delight us and some of which we’d be wise to avoid at all costs. How we approach our relationship with it determines what we get out of it, so let us hope that we make the most of it to avoid any regrets later on down the road.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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