In the Loop: About Time

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

About Time (2013, directed by Richard Curtis)

  • Time until the loop begins: 7.5 minutes
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: Generational magic
  • Number of time loops: 21
  • Lessons learned: Even if you have all the time in the world, you still need to live one day at a time.

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The most charming thing about About Time is how little it actually uses the time travel motif. Yes, Tim (Domhall Gleeson) uses the family-inherited ability to go back for a couple of do-overs, but mostly he’s just content to live life as it is.

(Yes, it is goofy that the time-travel happens by going into a dark space — like a closet — clenching one’s fists and thinking hard, but that’s the second-most charming thing about this movie.)

To get it out of the way, this is maybe marginal in terms of being an actual time-loop movie but I’ve decided to count it. Tim is in control of where and when he goes, and while he chooses to repeat a couple of things, he’s not going back to the same day over and over again. The major thing he goes back to fix is meeting Mary (Rachel McAdams) again (you see, he had to save his housemate’s play) by first waiting for her for multiple days at an exhibit about Kate Moss and then going back to stop her from meeting her boyfriend. That’s all just a period of a few days, though, and that’s about the most manipulative thing he does in this entire movie.

Tim and Mary are adorable together — I have complained about the lack of chemistry between rom-com leads but Gleeson and McAdams have so much of it. They’re playful together and their characters’ quirks complement each other.

I spent too much of this movie waiting for Tim to do something terrible he’d then try to undo, like attempting to get together with his former crush, Charlotte (Margot Robbie). But every time Tim’s about to make the worse choice, he doesn’t. He doesn’t have to go back in time to fix it because he’s not making bad choices. That’s so refreshing! And as much as I enjoy time loop movies, I like that Tim’s lessons aren’t being learned through repetition. They’re being learned because he’s just inherently a good person.

The movie does put some limits on how much time travel can change things, though. His sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson) is the kind of messy, free-spirited sister that writer-director Richard Curtis loves to put in his movies, and while Tim takes her back in time so she won’t meet her awful boyfriend, it has the consequence of his daughter becoming a different child. Interestingly, there are fixed points where the family members can no longer go back before without changing things (Dad — played by the always-wonderful Bill Nighy — explains this with some hand-wavy reasons).

That is so much about why this movie works so well. We get to see Tim and Mary’s relationship develop and deepen without a lot of shenanigans. Tim learns his sister has to make her own choices and her own mistakes but he can still help her in the ways he can. It’s not a movie about looking back. It’s a movie about going forward.

Next week on June 8: Time Freak

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.