The trouble with time travel movies (or why I blame 'The Terminator' for everything)

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Image Credit: Everett Collection

Writer/director Richard Curtis once assured me that About Time was actually an anti-time-travel time-travel movie. As it turns out, he was right: About Time is less about the mind-bending elements that come along with time travel and much more about what you’d expect from the man behind Notting Hill and Love, Actually (spoiler: matters of the heart).

I both love and hate time travel movies — much in the same way I hate outer space but love and fully appreciated Gravity. (Know your enemy!) I fear my brain — and yes, I was an English major — is too puny to be able to take the various theories, whether it’s “plastic time” or “single fixed history” or “grandfather paradox” or whatever else I just read on Wikipedia that made me need to lie down. (Incidentally, my friend, co-worker, and Dr. Who expert Clark Collis  tends to sadly shake his head at me a lot. Also I am too scared to start watching Dr. Who.)

I think a lot of the blame lies with a little movie from 1984 which I believe is responsible for doing me in forever on the subject of time travel. And that’s The Terminator.

Yes, James Cameron gave us a fantastic movie — Linda Hamilton’s ’80s hair alone makes it worth it a watch. And, of course, he gave us the character of Kyle Reese, which is where all the problems (for me) begin. Basic premise: Kyle Reese (aka Sergeant, Tech-Com, DN38416) is sent back from the future to 1984 to find Sarah Connor. Why? Because she will one day give birth to John Connor, the leader of the human resistance in a post-apocalyptic future (or, post August 29, 1997) where the machines have taken over. A Terminator has also been sent to take out Sarah before said baby can be conceived and Reese, it turns out, has been in love from afar (time-traveling far) with Sarah’s picture, one that John gave him, and volunteers to go back and protect her. Reese and Sarah spent a lot of quality traumatic time together and fall in love and have sex and of course it turns out the unborn son that is the future leader of mankind was fathered by Kyle Reese who is killed shortly thereafter. That picture Reese fell in love with? Taken after he was killed and snapped while Sarah Connor was thinking about Kyle Reese-y things.

Grown-up me and young 80s-era me have all the same questions: wait, the what and the what and the how? So did John Conner give that picture to Reese knowing that Reese was destined to be his very own daddy? And therefore he really needed to hustle Reese back in time in order to be born? And that he was sending his pal and father to his death? And if this is the case and fate and all that, how on earth did it get accomplished the first time? Also, what about the Butterfly Effect?

Also also, can I seriously be the only person who has been driven crazy by this for decades?

All you sci-fi experts, please go ahead and school me below in the comments. Or if you have a movie that gives you similar brain-ache, please let me know that too. (I have strong feelings about Back to the Future, The Lake House, and what’s going to happen to me when X-Men: Days of Future Past comes out, too.)

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