In our Four Films series we pick a theme and examine four different kinds of films on that theme. This week, time loops – stories in which people (or someone) continuously relive the same events.
Time travel is a commonplace in science fiction, generally involving time machines or complex devices that take people on spectacular journeys into the past and/or present. Movies about time loops are different, however. They needn’t be science fiction, have time machines or even an explanation into what caused the time loop. And rather than travelling through time, many of these are stuck in time, forced to re-experience the same occurrences over and over again.
We of course can’t write about time loop films without mentioning Groundhog Day. The comedy directed by Harold Ramis focuses on Phil Connors (Bill Murray), a sardonic TV weatherman, who travels to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the Groundhog Day festivities. A blizzard the following day prevents the misanthrope from leaving the city, and when Phil awakes the next morning to the sounds of Sonny & Cher he finds himself reliving the same day again, and again, and again. Charming, amusing, but not without its dark moments (there’s a sequence in which Murray’s character repeatedly attempts suicide), it’s no wonder why Groundhog Day has possessed such everlasting appeal. With a smart, simple conceit, the film manages to delight throughout with Bill Murray at his most wonderfully bitter self. Has there been a better American comedy released since? Certainly not many.
Of the time loop pictures listed here, Timecrimes is the only one which ostentatiously features a time machine. Héctor (Karra Elejalde), a middle-aged schlub, lives with his wife (Candela Fernández) in the secluded countryside. Through complicated circumstances, including a scene where our protagonist voyeuristically spies on a woman stripping, Héctor finds himself suddenly attacked and chased through the forest by a ostensibly crazed manic whose head is covered in bandages. He seeks shelter inside a hidden laboratory where he meets a scientist (played by the director Nacho Vigalondo), who convinces him to hide in a pod full of water. Once he emerges, he discovers he’s been transported about an hour into the past. It’s a twisty, but generally predictable Spanish thriller that zips along in highly entertaining fashion.
Directed by Christopher Smith, Triangle bears a remarkable similarity to Timecrimes – rehashing some of the twists and imagery in the Vigalondo thriller, but it does possess its own unique qualities. Melissa George plays Jess, a single mother to an autistic son, who breaks her mundane day-to-day pattern to go on a boating trip with a group of friends. They get caught in a storm, but are eventually rescued by a ghostly ocean liner. On board they realise it’s mostly empty, but are soon terrorised by a mysterious masked killer wielding a shotgun. Playing with some of the conventions found in a typical slasher flick, this shrewdly constructed, time-warping psychological thriller is as bewildering as it is compelling; making for a hugely satisfying watch when it comes full circle (or full Triangle).
The Day He Arrives
Few living directors make films about the filmmaking process as regularly as Hong Sang-soo. Whether The Day He Arrives is a time loop movie or something else is arguable, but I had to get a Hong Sang-soo on here – he, for better or worse, is the human embodiment of time loop cinema. This Korean drama begins when Seong-jun (Yoo Jun-sang) arrives in Bukchon, Seoul, to meet a close friend. Over the course of the day, he chats with the locals, has drinks with old pals and reconnects with one of his ex-girlfriends. Then on the next day, some other day, or perhaps the same day, the drama replays itself, and continues to replay itself with near exact symmetry each time. This conceit in which the narrative seems to reset itself is common in Hong’s films. He repeats it with remarkable confidence and it’s a testament to his skills as a filmmaker that it continues to intrigue and delight in equal measure. A compelling wonder from one of cinema’s most fascinating contemporaries.