Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favorite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on… something they love.
Something happened to me in the Seventies
Sometime after I was introduced to the world of convulsive horror that is Rankin Bass, but before I was infected with my omnipresent zombie obsession, Holly Marshall met her future-self in the “Elsewhen” episode of The Greatest Show in the History of the World.
Of course, neither Holly nor I knew it was her future self. But when we found out, well suffice it to say my seven-year old mind was blown. And when the episode ended with older Holly sadly telling young Holly to treasure her father and brother because they wouldn’t be around forever, I learned two absolute truths. I’ll tell you what they are after the break.
The first truth I learned was Will and his Dad were toast. Even at seven, I knew they were two slices of crispy-fried , 1970s white bread, probably making up both sides of a Cha-Ka sandwich, laid out on Big Alice’s dinner plate.
The second truth I learned was Time is immutable. It can’t be changed, and anything we do to try to change it will set into motion the very events we tried to avoid. And with that I realized that Old Holly knew that. In that instant, I suddenly saw Holly, alone, filling the walls with her handprints and hieroglyphs, knowing that the time would come when she would travel back in time and meet her younger self, and knowing that it didn’t matter, because her family died anyway. I even went so far as to wonder whether Holly were somehow at fault, as if her actions ultimately led to her family’s demise.
This sometimes bleak view is known as the “Fixed Time Concept” (or if you want to get really fancy, The Novikov Self-Consistency Principle). While most of the entertainment world insists on believing we can change time (more on that later), my favorite hold to this fatalistic view that we’re locked in. For a fine example, look at The Terminator.
Think about it. If Skynet doesn’t send the future Governator back in time, then Kyle Reese doesn’t get sent back either. Without Kyle Reese running around the 80s, John Connor isn’t even conceived; and Sarah Connors is just a waitress dating workaholic douchebags. She never learns how to survive, never discovers that spark within her that enables her to raise a future savior-of-mankind, and is still hanging around Los Angeles when the City of Angels is turned to dust. Of course, The Terminator has a double-whammy of SCP. Without Arnie’s metal hand and brain chip, Skynet itself might never be born. Not only can you not change time, the entire timeline is dependent on the machines coming back and trying to! It’s all connected!
No time travel piece handles connections like The Time Traveller’s Wife. This is a Fixed Timeline believer’s bible, with the main character, Henry, bouncing back to past and future like a chronological super-ball, as helpless to stop his leaps as anyone in the real world is to stop time itself. It’s a perfectly knit blanket of fatalism, but one woven with relationships and humor. The best part of the story is the mid-stream switch of point of view, as we move from older Henry teaching Claire about life and love; to younger Henry, who is taught how too be the man he should be by Claire, who learned those lessons from older Henry! It’s an exhilarating Mobius Strip connecting past, present and future. And even an old fatalist like me can feel a little hope, with younger versions of Henry popping up at various points in the future, and an aged Claire, waiting with joyful expectation for the day she knows she’ll see her beloved again.
One movie that toys with hope and despair is 12 Monkeys. Every action James Cole and his time-travelling co-horts take in this movie lays down another cobblestone in the road to destruction. And throughout, there always seems that chance that the future is not set. But just their knowledge of the future infects the present, leading to the very ideas that cause the infection. (If Cole doesn’t go to the award ceremony, Dr. Goins never changes security protocol and the crazy Dr. Peters never takes the virus on its international road show. What 12 Monkeys does best, though, is deal with the small intricacies of time travel, the things that would show in pictures, the way it plays with memory. The scene where Cole first sees Kathryn with blond hair is heart-wrenching. When he flashes back to his childhood memory of her (the memory of an event that hadn’t happened yet), you get the sense that he knows what’s in store, and knows he’s helpless to stop it.
Of course, this is America, and no one likes to feel hopeless, so most of our time travel stories -– including the sequels and shows based on The Terminator and 12 Monkeys – rely heavily on the idea of changing the past. Sarah Connor delays Judgment Day in Terminator 2 (though only for a little while), and God knows what’s going on with Terminator: Genysis overlapping timelines coming this summer! James Cole and Kathryn Railly have already created paradox in the entertaining but vastly inferior television version of 12 Monkeys. In Back to the Future (arguably the most beloved time travel movie) Marty changes his future in 1985, almost loses it all in 1989, and has it all worked out in the end by 1990. We all want happy endings and to their credit, a lot of these movies deliver them.
The good news is thanks to the folks at I09 and Quanta I can love my Days of Future Past (not to mention every other freakin’, Marvel storyline over the past three decades) and still adhere to my fatalistic time-unchanging ways. The Multiverse concept isn’t just something you find in comic books anymore. More physicists are embracing it as a theory, with some claiming they have evidence!
This means, while you can’t go back and change things on your timeline, you can always try to create a new one! I really need to make that happen, there’s a 16 year-old version of me that needs to know some things about band camp