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In Defense of Time Travel

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I love time travel stories.

I don’t really know why, but ever since Marty McFly first jumped that DeLorean back to 1955, I’ve been obsessed with issues of time travel. I’ll even watch movies that I know will be terrible as long as they’ve got some temporal-bending content (A Kid in King Arthur’s Court anyone?)

Time travel is – dare I say it? – my favourite kind of science fiction.

It’s that weird mixture of nostalgia and futurism that seems to appeal to every aspect of childhood dreams. It allows for the possibility of being a cowboy and a spaceship captain and a knight in shining armor and to have a robot/alien sidekick. And seeing as I still have the maturity of an eight-year-old, I crave that pure escapist fun.

And what people often seem to forget is that Terminator is one of the best time travel movies of all time.

Sure, to the average man on the street, Terminator is a series of “robot” movies, and nothing more. But behind the discussions of cybernetic organisms sits one of the coolest time travel paradoxes ever written. After I first saw T2 I spent a good solid week trying to wrap my mind around the complex contradictions presented by Arnie’s jumps through time. Somewhere in my grade ten math notebook is a flowchart that explains everything nicely.

For the uninitiated, allow me to lay out the central premise for you:

  • In 2018, man and machines are at war
  • In 2029, John Connor is about to lead the humans to certain victory
  • Using the “Great Man” theory of history, Skynet sends a terminator back to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to John, thereby preventing him from winning the war in 2029
  • In response, the Resistance sends Kyle Reese from 2029 back to 1984 to defend Sarah
  • In 1984, Reese impregnates Sarah who subsequently destroys the terminator
  • Cyberdyne Systems then discovers the remnants of the terminator sent to kill Sarah, and they reverse engineer its technology, leading to the invention of Skynet

Okay, so let’s think this one through… By trying to kill John Connor, Skynet inadvertently causes his birth. And by trying to defend himself, John Connor inadvertently creates Skynet. Whoa. But how could any of this be possible if the present events are dependant on future events that haven’t happened yet. Like, if Kyle Reese didn’t go back through time, then John wouldn’t be born, so Skynet wouldn’t have sent a terminator back to 1984, but then Skynet never would have been invented!!

If you’re not a sixteen-year-old boy, I’ve probably lost you by this point, but what I’m trying to get at is that I’m heavily invested in this mythology, which is interesting because there’s no deeper message or hidden symbolism to any of it. As a pretentious film student, I’ve been trained to look for metaphors and allegories and serious people stuff in even the most populist of movies, but the time travel story in Terminator is just plain old science fictiony goodness. Sure, there are issues of paternity and predestination and blind ambition, but all I really care about is how I could use that machine to go visit my past self and warn him about what happens at that frat party I attend on April 4th, 2005. And maybe warn Sam Raimi about Spider-Man 3. And win the lottery. And marry Megan Fox before she gets all famous and too good for me.

The point is, it’s been a good long while since I’ve been this excited by a summer blockbuster time travel movie. A few year’s back we had Timeline, which I was insanely psyched for as it was based on an amazing novel by Michael Crichton and directed by the guy who did Lethal Weapon. But alas, Timeline kinda dropped the ball and left me disappointed.

But now we’ve got another Terminator to look forward to. Could this reignite the hopes of one disillusioned time traveler as he jumps around on his quest for quality science fiction? Here’s hoping.

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jakeb a little philosophy

  1. Sean
    May 8th, 2009 at 13:48 | #1

    All time travel stories are very fun to watch, but all time travel stories are inconsistent which can drive a person insane. The fact people forget about the terminator story is the fact that time travel changes nothing in the future therefore time travel is in fact pointless. Now this is not claiming that Time travel is impossible but based on the events of the terminator the concept of time travel changing events in the past are not possible. If A leads to B and B leads to C and then C leads to A, you are in a sense trapped in a causal loop that has no end.

    For example If someone lets say Bill one day wakes up and out of nowhere a future version of him appears in a crazy looking machine and tells you he is from the future and here are plans to build a time machine. Now the question you must ask is where did the future version get the plans to build a time machines if the present you received them from a future version of yourself. No matter how much you enjoy time travel you cannot argue a justifiable response to this scenario making sense.

    Now in Terminator Time travel has no real purpose. Lets assume that skynet does kill John Connor all we can be sure of, if you except we can change the events in the past to affect the future is that john Connor does not run the resistance. One can without a doubt except the fact that someone else could lead the resistance to victory and this leads us back into a causal loop. Because in the new future timeline the machines would send another terminator back to kill this leader of the resistance in the new timeline and the loop would just continue on and own.

    And this based on the theory that the past present and future all exist at the same time. IF you believe that only the present exist then there can be no time travelers from the future changing the past.

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