I’m going to talk about this movie’s ending, so you probably don’t want to read any further if you’re looking to watch it in the future or care about spoilers.
This is a Richard Curtis film, as it turns out. You know him as the guy who is responsible for Love, Actually. So you can get a pretty basic idea of what kind of film it might be from me sharing that tidbit.
Only, it’s a lot better than Love, Actually. It’s less ham-fisted with its sweetness. Much of this is on the shoulders of a really wonderful cast including Rachel McAdams who is just wonderful in this. Domhnall Gleeson as Tim is equally wonderful. And if you’re like me, simply knowing that Bill Nighy plays the father is reason enough to watch it.
The basic premise is that all the men in Tim’s family can travel back in time in their lives and do things differently. Basically, they can fix their lives little mistakes, but they can’t change history. Tim can make a major faux pas in a conversation with a girl and then reboot. It’s played very lightly, and didn’t trigger my stupid scifi nerd correction impulse too much.
It’s a sweet story, played lightly, except for the one catch which is…
pausing for the spoiler-averse to leave…
if you travel back past when you conceived your child, change something, then come back, you can end up with a totally different kid. So kids become a kind of roadblock in time that you don’t travel back past again.
And this builds a subtle, heart-wrenching problem for Tim. His father, played so wonderfully by Bill Nighy, who can also travel through time and has coached Tim on how it all works, has cancer. We learn in the later part of the film that the reason his father retired at 50 is because he knew when he was going to die so he replayed decades of his life to spend more time with his family. The time travel underlying this is like Groundhog Day times a thousand.
Shortly after Tim’s dad dies, his wife decides its time for them to have another baby. So Tim is then forced to confront the fact that he won’t be able to go back and see his father again. The baby is a barrier.
This crushed me, and I struggled honestly not to start sobbing at this point in the film. Because for several years after my Dad died, I was obsessed with writing a story about traveling back in time to see my Dad and try to convince him not to take up smoking (my dad died of lung cancer in his mid-40s). Watching Tim come to this realization was hard, but really, it was that last meeting with his Dad, and their “bending the rules” to go back to when Tim was a kid and relive one lovely walk together that really got me. Anyone who has ever lost someone must want that one last walk together too. I know I do.
By the way, Curtis made the Doctor Who episode about Van Gogh, so he clearly he specializes in pulling my heart strings.
Another few months and I’ll have my own kid who will sadly never know his or her grandfather, barring the invention of time travel. I’ll be doing my damnedest to make memories for us both that will serve for me what that walk did for Tim and his dad. And like Tim, I will try to live each day like I’ve traveled back in time specifically to relive it.
Be in the moment, I have to remind myself. Be now, because yesterday is a pale shadow of today.