MUSIC VIDEO DRILLDOWN #10: Q.U.E.E.N. by Janelle Monáe

written by David Steffen

This is one of a series of articles wherein I examine a music video as a short film, focusing on the story rather than the music, trying to identify the story arcs and characters motivations, and consider the larger implication of events.

The film this week is the 2013 film Q.U.E.E.N. by Janelle Monáe, a freedom anthem in a science fiction dystopia, part of a series of interconnected films based in the future city (city-state?) of Metropolis, and in particular The Ministry of Droids of Metropolis.

Note that I covered one of Janelle Monáe’s films previously in Music Video Drilldown #1 about her film Tightrope. Tightrope has a number of similarities to Q.U.E.E.N. and although I think one could make an argument for them being part of the same continuity (more on that later), I don’t see anything that makes it obviously meant to be related from the films I’ve seen so far.

“It’s hard to stop rebels who time travel. But we at the Time Council pride ourselves on doing just that” a recorded video introduction welcomes visitors as they enter the Living Museum, with mellow string music playing the background.

An emblem in the background of the video gives us a great deal of information about the setting. Around the edges of the circular emblem is written “MINISTRY OF DROIDS” and “METROPOLIS”. Neither of these names is further mentioned in this film, but this makes clear continuity connections with other Janelle Monáe films like Many Moons which will be a subject of a future Music Video Drilldown. In the inner circle of the emblem the motto is “Vita En Machina”–I am no Latin expert, but I think it means something like “Life to a Machine” or “Life Within a Machine” which makes sense as being related to the Ministry of Droids which create artifical humanoids. And at the bottom of the inner circle, the year they were established, which at least on my screens is a little bit too blurry to read, but I think it might be in the 2700s, perhaps 2710?

This is no ordinary exhibit, as the narrator explains, “rebels throughout history have been frozen in suspended animation”. The particular exhibit that we are viewing is titled “PROJECT Q.U.E.E.N.”, featuring the rebel group Wondaland and their leader Janelle Monáe (played by Janelle Monáe herself, naturally), as well as her accomplice Badoula Oblongata (Eryka Badu). Project Q.U.E.E.N. is described as a “musical weapons program in the 21st century”, the nature of which is still not understood (at least, by those who prepared this exhibit). It mentions that they are still hunting the various “freedom movements that Wondaland disguised as songs, emotion pictures, and works of art.” So this is not only an exhibit about Janelle Monáe, what strolling museum visitors are looking at is actually the Janelle Monáe themself who has apparently been captured and is being held prisoner here. Within this first half-minute or so the film has set the stage for multiple interconnected films, establishing Janelle Monáe as both an actor and a character, and largely establishing her goals to fight the establishment.

Two young black women enter the scene. Unlike the other museum goers who are wearing formalwear (black suits and black dresses), they are dressed more casually. As the narrator finishes her spiel about disguised freedom movements, one of the young women pulls a vinyl record labeled “Q.U.E.E.N.” and places it on a display with a skull record player, and starts it playing. The mellow instrumentals are replaced with a more jazzy beat (electric guitar). This change in music alerts the museum guards and the women act quickly to incapacitate the guards and duct tape their unconscious forms to keep them from interfering.

The music begins to wake Janelle Monáe and the other members of Wondaland, and Janelle Monáe begins to sing: “I can’t believe the things they say about me”, “they call us dirty ’cause we break all your rules now”. She speaks on how they are criticized for not fitting into the roles that are expected of them, and muses aloud whether it makes her weird or makes her a freak to dance alone late at night. “And tell me what’s the price of fame”–although Janelle Monáe came from humble beginnings in a working family, now that they have become a major celebrity in both music and film, what is the cost of that? How can she stay true to herself with all eyes on her, with the temptations of celebrity lifestyle that are available?

It’s not only her identity as a Black person who has a strong sense of integrity at stake, as they reference their queer identity as well with lines like “is it weird to like the way she wears her tights”. This is a segue to religion as she asks “Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven? Say will your God accept me in my black and white? Will he approve the way I’m made?” The colors of black and white are repeated multiple times during the song as well as the visual design: much of the exhibit is in stark black and white colors, and almost all of the costumes are entirely black and white apart from a red sash on Janelle Monáe’s initial costume. Her conclusion to this self-reflective musing is the declaration: “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”

These questions are asked from a different scene, rather than the Janelle Monáe at the museum, it features Janelle Monáe in a couple of different outfits with a group of Black women dressed in black and white striped clothes. Another analysis I read of Q.U.E.E.N. indicated that the character portrayed in at least one of those scenes is not meant to be the character Janelle Monáe herself but is instead meant to be the android Cindi Mayweather (who is not explicitly mentioned in this film, but who will be discussed at greater length in the next Janelle Monáe film analysis in this series, of the film Many Moons). It is entirely possible that that IS meant to be Cindi Mayweather, it’s possible that there are some visual indications that this is Mayweather, or it’s possible that Janelle Monáe has stated this in an interview or something, but the only ways I know how to differentiate Cindi Mayweather from Janelle Monáe visually is: 1. Cindi Mayweather’s skin color is configurable, seeming to default to a chalky white, but she can configure her skin to look exactly like Janelle Monáe’s skin, so this would only be a clear indicator if she did look chalky white. 2. She has a function button on her left temple as seems to be standard droid design in Metropolis, but in the scene in question her hair is covering the area where the button would be present.

At this point in the film, Badoula Oblongata rouses from her suspended animation and joins the song. In the exhibit at the beginning she is shown wearing a white coat that resembles a doctor’s coat, worn as a dress, with golden forearm guards, accompanied by two men in pristine white suits and white berets overlooking a table that has a camera and some rolled up papers that might be blueprints. She is walking a gray standard poodle.

Badoula Oblongata has a solo section of song where she has a more mellow musical line with lyrics including: “Baby, here comes the freedom song” “There’s a melody, show you another way” and coming to what seems to be the thesis statement of this section: “you gotta testify, because the booty don’t lie”. My interpretation of this is that she (along with Janelle Monáe who is dancing and lipsyncing along to this with supporting gestures) that the way to get through to people about matters of equality of justice is to incorporate it into music that is extremely catchy–so that people will be attracted to the music to sing and dance along to it, and will absorb the truth of the underlying lyrics as they do this. This ties into the museum’s statements about it being one of a number of a series of what they consider to be “musical weapons programs”. This is especially apt in a film which establishes the musician Janelle Monáe themself as a rebel who time-travels because this well describes Janelle Monáe’s music which is incredibly catchy, especially when combined with the visuals from her films, but always (or at least always in the subset of their music that I have heard so far) contains an underlying message about equality and justice and the state of our world which is all the more effective at getting into your head through the medium of an “earworm” song that gets in your head and you find yourself singing the lyrics days or weeks after you last heard it–how can you help but consider and examine lyrics that are constantly repeating in your head?

As the music continues, one of the members of Wondaland sits at a typewriter and types the same line of text over and over again: “We will create and destroy ten art movements in ten years.”

At this point in the film Janelle Monáe says “I don’t think they understand what I’m trying to say” and changes musical format to finish the song with a rap, now wearing her iconic tuxedo for the first time in this song–talking about being part of a lost generation of people “add us to equations but they’ll never make us equal”. I think this may be referring to several things, but the first that comes to mind is Jim Crow laws and other societal structures that perpetuated the oppression of Black people even after slavery was officially ended. “They keep us underground working hard for the greedy, but when it’s time to pay they turn around and call us needy” and makes it clear that she is tired of watching her people be taken advantage of. She ends the film with a call to action “Will you be electric sheep, electric ladies. Will you sleep? Or will you preach?”

In an interview with Fuse HQ Janelle Monáe explains the acronym of the title of this song:

“‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ definitely is an acronym,” Monae explains during an interview at Fuse HQ. “It’s for those who are marginalized.” She says the “Q” represents the queer community, the “U” for the untouchables, the “E” for emigrants, the second “E” for the excommunicated and the “N” for those labeled as negroid.  “It’s for everyone who’s felt ostracized,” she adds. “I wanted to create something for people who feel like they want to give up because they’re not accepted by society.”

Back to Tightrope for a moment. There are similarities between the two films. They both star Janelle Monáe playing Janelle Monáe. Both films begin with Janelle Monáe held prisoner (in this case a museum, in Tightrope, an asylum), along with members of Wondaland, with music identified as the source of their power (in Tightrope dancing was outlawed because of subversive tendencies and that it leads to illegal magic). There might not be a clear contuity between the two, the powers that are holding her prisoner in each film appear to be very different… but given that Janelle Monáe is canonically a time traveler, it’s entirely plausible that these are different organizations, perhaps in entirely different centuries or that one organization developed into the other over time. The only other clue to the connection might be the shoes on one of the pedestals at the exhibit which seem to be the same shoes Janelle Monáe and her entourage wore in Tightrope (although it’s possible they wear the shoes at other times, I know Janelle Monáe wears tuxedoes many times especially in their earlier work but I’m not sure about the shoes). Are the shoes on the pedestal a hint that this is a single continuity? Or since this exhibit is about Janelle Monáe is that a hint that that was a music video made by Janelle Monáe in the history but not necessarily a historical record? Or was it just an Easter egg with no particular meaning?

Janelle Monáe is a master at doing exactly what is described within this song–writing songs that are catchy as hell, that make your foot tap, that make you want to dance (even for those of us who have never had a talent for dancing), that are full of truths about the problems with our social structure that you find yourself singing along to and getting in your head.

A future Music Video Drilldown will feature Many Moons by Janelle Monáe. I am greatly looking forward to that one because that one has clear connections with this one–not least of which that both take place in Metropolis and involve the Ministry of Droids, but that one stars the android Cindi Mayweather, which to this day is referenced in the dual name of Janelle Monáe’s Twitter account.

The next Music Video Drilldown will be for the film Firework by Katy Perry.

BOOK REVIEW: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

written by David Steffen

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a 2003 time travel romance book written by Audrey Neffenegger, about a man afflicted with a condition that causes him to time-travel more-or-less randomly and the woman he marries. The book was very popular and inspired a 2009 movie adaptation of the same name, previously reviewed here.

Henry has experienced the time-traveling condition since he was a child. When he travels, only his body is transported, so he does not take along his clothes, wallet, or any other possessions. He learned from a very early age to be ruthlessly pragmatic as a way to survive, because if you get dumped with no clothes and no resources into random locations you’re always against steep odds of getting arrested or starving or whatever else. He has a more or less central timeline that is the trunk from which all of his time travel branches, so he has some normal continuity, but at seemingly random intervals he will travel for seemingly random amounts of time to seemingly random places.

He spends much of his life just trying to survive and get by, until he runs into Clare in his main timeline (when he is in his 30s and she in her 20s) and she tells him that she’s known him since she was a grade schooler and that they’re going to get married in the future. He hasn’t experienced this yet, but early in her life he gave her a list of the times when he would appear in the grove outside her family’s house so that she could remember to bring food and clothes out to him.

Their romance after that is very complicated, as at any given point they are in different parts of their relationship, just as with this initial meeting where she has known him for most of her life and he’s just met her. He then proceeds to meet her as a child and eventually meet her when it was the first time for her. It’s a story of marriage, the obstacles to finding happiness together and what we do to fight for it, and in many ways is about being in different parts of a relationship at the same time, which I think can be true of real relationships that have no time travel involved.

As with the best speculative stories, this one explores real territory with a speculative lens for emphasis. The characters are very different but compelling (with a plus that I didn’t have to watch Eric Bana’s acting for the book, but the minus that I didn’t get to watch Rachel McAdams’s acting). I thought the book as a whole was reasonably well done.

One of the big hangups I had about the book, not being able to tell where in the timeline this fit in, was resolved in the book by section headings that gave the date and the age of both characters. Time is always somewhat confusing at the best of times, but this made it a lot easier to just go with it than I found the book to be.

I also thought it was interesting how Neffenegger chose to follow the continuity thematically rather than necessarily chronologically for either character in particular. For a series of chapters it may follow Clare chronologically through a particular set of years to explore themes of her childhood, then follow him chronologically from his point of a view for a while to show how he ended up there, then switch to something else. Because of the caption headings this was reasonably seamless and I probably only really thought about it because I was thinking about the writing process.

The big thing that makes the book harder to recommend is that for much of the first quarter or so of the book, 30-something Henry is interacting with grade-schooler Clare and I found that whole section of the book deeply creepy and troubling. By that time, he already knows that he will marry her someday when she’s older, and he depends on her for food and clothing on these visits where he would otherwise have to steal and forage like his other time travel jumps. So, it makes sense from a character motivation perspective. But at the same time, it’s hard to avoid the interpretation that he is grooming her during this period. If you removed the time travel element and you had a thirty-something man hanging around a grade-schooler without her parent’s knowledge while mentally preparing himself to marry her, that would be a story about a predator. There are reasons to think that’s not where this was going, but I found it really hard to shake myself off of that interpretation, so throughout this whole section I really just wanted it to be over and get to the part where they’re both consenting adults (even thought that was also somewhat colored by her having been groomed by him for so long that she’s bound to have feelings for him). I’m not sure that was supposed to be creepy or disturbing, but for me it absolutely was, and it makes the book hard to recommend as a result, though overall I thought it was pretty good.

DP FICTION #13: “One’s Company” by Davian Aw

He finds a forest clearing on a planet of perpetual night in the two hours out of a thousand years that stars spread twinkling across its sky. It’s pure luck that he lands there on his random planet sampling. It’s the most beautiful, peaceful, ethereal place that he has ever seen.

There are no people on this planet. It will never be inhabited. Life evolved to little more than trees (if they are trees, those branching things) that get their food from the soil beneath and what sun that struggles through the clouds. Rocky outcrops ring the clearing in sharp relief against the sky. Beneath the starlight, he forgets about his life and loneliness.

He’s still alone here, but it’s different in the fresh unsullied alien air that fills his lungs as he rests between untrodden grass and unwitnessed skies, different from spending each evening alone in a busy, crowded city, full of strangers he’s too shy to talk to and too scared to try and understand.

Clouds crowd back across the gap, shrouding starlight behind their familiar shield. Darkness falls to rule the clearing. Peter knows it’s time to leave.

He logs the coordinates on his device.

This place would be perfect.

***

Excursion Two

The next evening, he tweaks the saved coordinates to arrive some distance away. His office cubicle fades from view. And there he is, his younger self: gazing spellbound at the stars. There’s no need to bother him. It might risk a paradox thing. But it’s nicer, all the same, having someone else around. He smiles.

***

Excursion Three

He pops up near the tree line. Work-exhaustion pains his face. He sees his two selves in the distance and thinks it might be nice to greet them: just to have someone else to chat to, because people do that after work. But nervousness still stays his feet. Tricky things, paradoxes, and knowing how to talk to people.

He looks around for the fourth. There’s no one else there. Yet.

***

Excursion Four

“Hi,” says Peter shyly to the third when the latter turns to search for him. “Tough day at work?”

His other self blinks, and tries a smile. “Yeah.”

His memory warps and changes. He remembers this exchange from the other end. It feels exceedingly, self-consciously redundant. They stop talking, and rest in the quiet. Each other’s company is enough.

***

Excursions Five to Forty-Seven

But the silence has been broken, and each time he gets more daring. Tentative greetings turn to conversations, uneasy handshakes to awkward hugs. It’s been so long since he’s talked to someone, too long since he’s touched another person. They’re not quite other people, here, but he can still pretend. If they close their eyes, they can all pretend.

They don’t talk about their lives because they’re all of them living the same one. Futures talking to pasts and sharing tales… that makes bad things happen.

But they can talk about this place that they have taken for their own. They map out constellations, invent stories to explain them. They study the alien trees and shrubs and give them cool scientific names. They gather piles of broken rocks and build rough forts upon the grass, then split into teams and play at sieges, fighting off invasions of themselves.

His memory rewrites itself in overused palimpsest till there’s nothing left he knows for sure and all his past becomes a blur. Events back home grow indistinct in the dullness of their repetition. His one surety is this place, his one joy each night’s respite in the comfort of its familiar faces.

He never steps into the same crowd twice.

***

Excursions Forty-Eight to Three Hundred and Thirty-Six

Someone brings fireworks – he can’t remember who, but he recalls setting them alight and shooting colour into the sky in bursts of fire that draw applause from the homogeneous crowd below.

He can barely remember his original visit: the darkness, the quiet, the mystified awe. He recalls stepping instead for the first time into the midst of a roaring party, music blaring and people dancing beneath strings of lights and hanging lanterns: people like him, who welcomed him warmly and made him feel like he belonged, people who understood him, people who liked him, people who knew and bore his name.

He brings a guitar and an amplifier and starts strumming a favourite song. The next day he brings a keyboard; then a drumset, bass guitar, mikes for singing and backup singing.

He doesn’t sing very well. It’s okay. No one in the audience sings any better.

***

Excursion Three Hundred and Thirty-Seven

The live band is belting out upbeat covers of emo band The Cutting Age. The audience loves it: jumping and screaming lyrics, and he smiles at their energy as he stands at the edge of the crowd with a sandwich in his hand.

A drunk bumps into him and slurs out an apology. As he stumbles away, he remembers doing that.

He’s been everyone at the party. He’s been everyone in the crowd. He’s been part of every conversation, part of every quarrel, part of every friendly hug and every drunken brawl. It’s easy to forget that if he doesn’t look at their faces. It lets them seem like any other people. It’s better to think that he’s managed to find an entire crowd of willing friends; better than it being just himself pitifully entertaining himself on an empty planet.

But it’s all a fragile, delicate balance. It’s a miracle they have lasted here this long. His memories are a blur, his pasts a confusion, his body a shifting, changing thing of scars and bites and injuries as his selves change each other’s histories and history changes them.

He thinks it’s enough proof of how this time travel works, and the clearing is now too full of him. The party can never get bigger than this. There’s no more space. The forest is impenetrable. He doesn’t know what lies beyond. His next week here might be the last; perhaps this night might be the last.

He thinks of once more spending each night in the void of his room with that void in his heart, and despair drives his feet to walk him to the spot where he made his first excursions.

He doesn’t waste time thinking when his fourth self materialises. He tackles him, grabs the space-time device, and crunches it firmly beneath his shoe and the open-mouthed horror of his younger face.

The music cuts silent. The multitude winks out. He feels the relief of a thousand memories erased from the worn-out tape of his mind. He vanishes too, with his final act of destruction, and a cold wind sweeps the empty grass.

***

Excursion Four

There are four people in a clearing that has not yet known a crowd.

“Hi,” one says shyly to another when the latter turns to search for him. “Tough day at work?”

The other blinks, and tries a smile. “Yeah.”

He doesn’t know it yet.

But he will never be lonely again.


© 2016 by Davian Aw

 

Author’s Note: Back when I was working in NYC, I attended a free concert in Central Park by the New York Philharmonic. It was crowded, lively and slightly surreal with the field full of shadowed human figures moving around to music beneath the night sky. I had the stray thought – what if all of them were the same person? Whereupon I went home and wrote out the first draft of this all in one go.

 


davianaw_dp
Davian Aw’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction, Stone Telling, LampLight and Star*Line. He also wrote roughly 240,000 words of Back to the Future fan fiction as a teenager and has never been that prolific since. Davian is a double alumni of the Creative Arts Programme for selected young writers in Singapore, where he currently lives with his family and a bunch of small plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Time Traveler’s Wife

s_Wife_film_posterMy wife and I took my mom to The Time Traveler’s Wife, a convoluted SF romance starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams. The movie is based on the book by the same name, written by Audrey Niffenegger. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s on my must-read list. In the movie, Bana plays Henry, a man with an extremely rare genetic disorder which causes him to time travel both forward and backward. He has no control over when and where he goes. McAdams plays Clare, the title character who becomes his wife. Their relationship is… complicated. He meets her for the first time when he’s 20-something, and she’s in college. She meets him for the first time when he’s 40-something and she’s five years old. Like any relationship, they have good times and bad times, but unlike other relationships, the good times for one person often coincide with bad times for the other person.

When Henry travels, it just him, no clothing or anything. This makes for some amusing and awkward situations as he shows up in various places without clothes. In particular, he’s very lucky when he first meets Clare that she didn’t tell her parents about the naked man she met in the woods by their house, or Henry might have ended up in jail. Those scenes were rather creepy anyway, not because of anything Henry does or says, but because you know that he is married to her in the future, and it is just plain weird. The time traveling effect, the only special effect in the movie, is pretty neat, with his flesh evaporating like a mist, often starting from his hands and then leaving his clothes to fall limply to the floor. But I think it was overused in scenes where it made no real difference. For instance, in the wedding scene, a younger Henry has the pre-wedding jitters and disappears, only to be replaced by a Henry with gray in his hair. This provokes much murmuring during the ceremony but has no real effect on the plot. And then the younger Henry reappears during the reception. If there was any real point to the jumping in this scene, I really didn’t see it. Perhaps if we were more privy to Henry’s internal reactions this would have an interesting effect on his behavior after these jumps, but as the movie is it just seemed like a waste of a perfectly good plot element.

Of the three theories of time travel I’ve discussed before, this movie falls firmly under #3 “Time is written in stone”. Henry tells Clare that he has tried many times to prevent the death of his mother, but he never makes it to the right place by the right time and everything always happens like it happened before. As I’ve mentioned before, I believe this type of time travel could only exist in the presence of a higher power, because something all-powerful must be guiding actions to make sure that nothing could be affected by Henry’s foreknowledge. This is never more true than in this movie, with the supernatural hand manifesting itself most strongly in the timing of Henry’s seemingly random travels.

The movie was relatively good, but I don’t think it was as good as it could be, for two major reasons.

First, I have never been impressed by Eric Bana. He really needs to work on his facial expressions, he has the facial range of Joan Rivers. I just can’t bring myself to care about any character he plays because of it. At least his character is more sympathetic than his lead role in Lucky You, where he plays a compulsive gambler who steals money from his girlfriend and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, although his acting range is much more suited for the role of a professional gambler since he has a permanent poker face. And the likeability of Henry is all in the writing, NOT in his acting.

Thank goodness Rachel McAdams can act, or this movie would’ve been completely unsalvageable. As it is she carried Bana’s incompetence throughout it and managed to make a movie that I could stand, and which I could actually react emotionally to. Through her reactions I could even feel sorry for Henry and his ailment, something which Henry himself did not manage to do.

Second, the chronology was needlessly confusing. When each scene started I had to take a step back and ask “When did this happen and what are the ages of Henry and Clare. This one could have easily been avoided simply with some planning of how the movie was laid out. The easiest way would have been to follow a chronology from just ONE of the two character’s lives, and let us figure out some of the strange reactions of the others as we went. And since Clare is the title character, and since her chronology is easier to follow anyway as it is easily cued by her hairstyle, and cues from the world around her. But instead, a scene jump would sometimes follow Clare, sometimes follow Henry, in haphazard arrangement, leaving me to guess at the beginning of each scene when this took place, and lifting me much too far out of my movie-watcher trance. As an alternative, instead of changing the scene ordering, they could simply have put a caption on the screen listing the year and the age of both of them.

But overall I thought it was decently good, and my mom even liked it. Finding a movie that we can both enjoy is a real challenge, so it’s a definite note of success whenever we can actually pull it off. I haven’t read the book that this movie is based on yet, but it is high on my “to read” list. I hope that the parts I didn’t like about the movie were the fualt of the movie-makers and not the writer of the book.

Now, for those of you who hate SPOILERS, like I do when I’m reading a review, stop now, because I’m going to tell what happens.

BEGIN SPOILERS!!

The complicated plotlines become even more complicated when Henry and Clare start trying to have children. Clare has miscarriage after miscarriage and they eventually drum up the unproven theory that each baby has inherited Henry’s time traveling gene and is time travelling right out of the womb. Although they never come across proof of this theory (which is probably a good thing, as that involve the moviemakers splattering a fetus across a stage), Henry becomes more and more apprehensive about having a baby at all. He doesn’t want the kid to have to suffer through the condition he’s had to suffer through. This opens the movie up for quite an emotional quagmire which I am not quite sure how sort the ethics of. Henry secretly gets a vasectomy, because Clare refuses to agree that not having kids is the right thing to do. He eventually confesses to her, and she is furious. The next time a younger Henry, one without a vasectomy, passes through her time, they have sex and voila she’s pregnant. Before she carries the baby to term Henry meets the girl, Alba, who has indeed inherited his time-traveling. She says she’s a “prodigy” because she’s able to control it. The plot now gets even more convoluted because there are Albas of two different ages all over the place. The older Alba knows what happens in the future and she tells the younger Alba and Henry, but Henry makes her promise not to tell her mother, driving another wedge between them.

Partway through the movie, Clare and Henry glimpse another Henry traveling momentarily through their time with a bleeding wound in his gut. He’s gone after a few seconds leaving them both with a feeling of dread. Clare has never seen him when he’s above forty or so. Alba confirms that Henry died when she was five. So the rest of the movie is mostly waiting to find out how Henry dies.

In the end, Henry’s death is just a freak accident. He travels into a forest where Clare’s father is hunting (his love for hunting was well established early on. At the time, Henry’s legs are unusable because he is still recovering from a bout of hypothermia. He pops into place sitting in the snow in the middle of the woods right by a buck. He looks around wildly, sees her father from quite a ways away. Her father shoots at the buck and hits Henry instead. By the time her father reaches the scene, Henry’s gone, leaving only a bloodstain on the snow. This only further reinforces my belief that a higher power wanted these events to play out this way, because the odds of him appearing in that exact place and exact time if the jumping is random is just far too low for me. And all he would’ve had to do is lie back and the bullet would’ve gone over him for sure.

Then, after his death, as Alba is growing up with Clare, Henry pops back in again, presumably from before he died. I get the impression this happens from time to time and it’s portrayed in the movie as if it was a good thing. But I can’t imagine what that would do to a person trying to grieve. These people need to move on with their lives, but how can they do that when Henry’s reapperances with many years in between keeps the wound raw instead of allowing it to heal? This left me with a sense of unease much different than the heartwarming reaction I got the impression I was supposed to feel.

Three Theories of Time Travel

This post is intended to open speculation about time travel. As far as I’ve seen, there are three main theories of how time travel works, depending on what you’re watching/reading.

1. Time is a slate–anything can be can be changed! Be very careful, you might prevent your own birth. (ala Back to the Future). Paradoxes are a major problem–if you change antyhing you could prevent yourself from going back which would keep you from going back to prevent yourself from going back–and so on.

2. Time is a tree. You can change things, but all you’ll do is create an alternate timeline. That is by making a change you just force yourself down a different branch. You can’t prevent your birth, but you can send yourself down a branch where you were never born. (ala Back to the Future II, which doesn’t seem to use the same concepts as Back to the Future)

3. Time is written in stone. Whatever happens in the past has already happened, observed events are 100% unchangeable. For me to believe in this one, I feel I also need to believe in a higher power (a fate or a god or what-have-you) to make sure everything is neat and tidy. (ala 12 Monkeys)

To me #1 is unlikely. If this were the way time travel worked, the space-time continuum would have ripped a long time ago, or a long time from now, which amount to the same thing when you’re talking about the space-time continuum.

#3 can only work if there’s a higher power, because something needs to decide what events are “allowed” to happen.

#2 is the most likely in my mind, though it opens the door to another discussion–alternate realities. Each branch of possibility creates new realities that may exist only in potentia. Changing events instantiates these realities.