Movie Review: The History of Time Travel

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The History of Time Travel * 2014 * Ages 13+ * 1 Hour 11 Minutes

😸😸😸😸🌑 4 Happy Lap Cats

“One small step for Russia, one giant leap for Communism.”

The History of Time Travel is a quiet, low budget fictional documentary that asks the question, “What would happen if time travel were developed secretly, for personal reasons, by a single family of scientists? Would anyone notice the changes?” It answers the question as the documentary is being made, in small increments, that require the viewer to keep up with the details of the storyline. Easter eggs abound, as the story plays out on both the intimate scale of a family drama and the large scale of 20th century history.

The story is told through fake interviews, staged photographs and stock footage. The science of time and time travel are explained early on. We’re introduced to physicist Dr Edward Page (Daniel W May), who’s assigned to work on the secret Indiana Project during World War 2 after President Roosevelt is informed that the Germans are disturbingly close to developing time travel. Dr Page works diligently on the project throughout the war, becoming obsessed with his subject and ignoring his family.

After the war, Edward’s wife Anne (Elizabeth Lestina) develops health problems, to which she eventually succumbs. Edward blames his obsession with the ongoing Indiana Project for her death and throws himself even further into his work, hoping to solve the problem of time travel so that he can save his wife from her illness. When their son Richard (Ben Everett) grows up, he also becomes a physicist and becomes involved in his father’s work. Time travel gets invented, the Russians get involved, and so does the CIA.

The History of Time Travel is the story of how the Cold War affected one family; a story of alternate histories and fates; a look at the effects of ambition, workaholism, obsession, isolation and more on the family; and a study of the effects of scientific progress on the 20th century. It quietly, but subversively, asks how much progress is enough? When is it time to stop?

Ricky Kennedy, the writer and director, made The History of Time as his graduate school thesis film at Stephen F Austin University. It’s been screened at several film festivals and won awards at some. It’s now available on Amazon Prime Video, where I found it when Amazon suggested it to me.

The film isn’t an outright satire, but it does have a mockumentary sensibility and is best watched with that in mind. It’s light on the science of time travel and more concerned with ethics and the human toll time travel might take. The film and the time travel are DIY operations, but so were many of the most important technological inventions- the PC, the light bulb, the telephone.

The writing is more complex than it might seem at first, and the visuals should definitely be watched closely. This is a time travel film, and temporal anomalies aren’t out of the question. The basic production style is gritty documentary and period specific, with a vague Cassette Futurism look for the present day-ish material that’s fun and fits the tone of the film.

There’s is a lot of plot in this film, but I could see the delivery feeling dry and slow for some viewers. The film asks viewers to put the story together in their own minds and keep up with the changes. It requires close attention and might require a second viewing for some to put all of the details in order.

I don’t want to say more and spoil the fun for first time viewers.

Austin Film Festival Interview with Writer/Director Ricky Kennedy


 

***** SPOILERS BELOW THIS LINE *****

 

*****SERIOUSLY, DON’T RUIN IT FOR YOURSELF! *****

 

Oh my gosh, this film was so much fun! I loved trying to keep up with the changes to the timeline in time travel and in the family history, plus watching the wardrobe changes and prop changes. Be sure to watch the newspaper headlines, captions and photographs change!

Of course the Pentagon, CIA and KGB never changed. That was perfect. Their operations were the same no matter what happened. This film was a Cold War political thriller as much as it was a time travel show.

The changes to Anne and Edward’s history were fascinating, as the film had each of them cycle through various forms of mental illness that stemmed from knowing that things weren’t the way they were supposed to be. I love that in the end, Aden stopped Richard from continuing to tinker. Aden didn’t exist in the first timeline and understood that he or his mom could easily be wiped from the timeline again.

Richard had devoted his life to this work, in several lifetimes, gone through the entire progression of changes, including living through his father’s obsessions, and just didn’t know how to quit. That obsessiveness ran in the family. In the end, it seemed like the Indiana Project itself was the anomaly that didn’t belong in the timeline, since everyone survived and had good mental health in the timeline where they got rid of it at the end of the war. Except for Richard, who was too far gone at that point and probably carrying the memories of every timeline.

And then there’s Aden, who flipped back and forth between being a scientist and an MD, depending on the timeline. Richard may have invented time travel, but it feels in the end like he’s the villain and we come in mid story. Maybe the first timeline we’re seeing isn’t even the original one. Maybe the Indiana Project was meant to end at the end of the war and Richard screwed that up somehow when he went back in time for the first time, with the result that he caused his mom’s death, also wiping out Aden’s existence. In the end, Aden is the hero who stops Richard from making things worse again.

That little note that Anne had nightmares of someone sticking her with needles was hilarious. I haven’t even talked about all of the crime drama and medical drama, like Aden going back and delivering himself, the faked murder-suicide and the stealth vaccination against polio. Those were some amazing additions.

So was the entire sequence of the Russians stealing history. That’s begging to be filled out if this ever gets sold to be made into a higher budget film or a TV show. It would make a fantastic successor to The Man in the High Castle.

This film also reminds me of Ursula K LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven, and Netflix’s Maniac. There’s a whole mindbending side to the film to be explored, as you ride the wave through the characters’ unknowing changes in mindset and knowledge. That was complete genius.

I really want this story to be a TV series. It has everything a great show needs, just waiting to be expanded into several 8-10 episode seasons. Not that I’ve started making them up in my mind already or anything. Are you listening, Television Gods and Goddesses? By which I mean Amazon. Hopefully the film is on Prime because they have plans.

 

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