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William H. Macy,
Two friends are put up against each other as one of them invents a time machine, and the other one travels back in time to change the past, which is a big risk considering how unstable time traveling can be.
This review - and the comment - was written at Cambridge Film Festival (15 to 25 September 2011), where the film had its UK premiere
* Contains spoilers *
Although it is received wisdom that 'I can't be in two places at once (or at the same time, in a variant)', not only is that usually just an excuse, but it is affected by developments in cloning.
All that apart, the immense popularity of Dimensions, now (after screenings in Screens 2 and then 1) shown again, meant that I could go through the wormhole of watching again: the phrase does not sound favourable, but it is not intended unfavourably, as I was viewing twice to see what happened to something that I thought fine the first time.
Why was it fine? It is an extremely intelligent film that uses the concept and theory of time-travel to say something about what I described in my blog as longing. I still think that it is longing, not just obsession – one can be obsessed about something (e.g. Jackie Chan cutting my head off) that (without being psychoanalytical), on the face of it (pun intended!), one does not long for, and long for something that does not obsess one.
I said longing for something that one cannot have or that may not do one any good. In this film, that turns out not to be true on either count, and also involves a paradox. The events are separated by fifteen years, but, in some respects, the characters seem unchanged, seem stuck in some childish ways (as we all probably are – now who wants to play the psychology card, after all!), seem full of what I want to call longing. (I call it longing not only because I can't use the German word Sehnsucht, and, because of the connotations, I don't want to use yearning.) I asked a question about that at the premiere – the younger actors had had a chance to speak to their counterparts (and vice versa). What I find myself thinking, this time around, is that there is a generational as well as a dimensional character to all that we see, a temporal distortion that, as much as Alice's worlds reinterpret the present from which she enters Wonderland or the other Looking-Glass House, ripples (a key word in the script) as water, particles or time do with their differing wave-fronts. Which is why Ant Neely's brother's house on the river at Cambridge is such a benefit to and feature of this film.
This Cambridge-driven film – Ernest Rutherford split the atom here in 1917, which was then done under both his direction and controlled conditions in 1932 - buzzes with that innovation, but buzzes in the direction of feelings, and Olivia Llewellyn's acting beautifully embodies the spirit of a bright and clear academic mind, seeking to help Henry-Lloyd-Hughes (as Stephen) achieve his brilliant aims.
* * * * *
To say a little more, enough to tease (as the film often does), about mirror-images, there is a scene that shows Stephen and his friend Victoria after they have tumbled to the ground in a sort of chase of and with themselves.
As with something that happens later, which may (as Stephen's cousin Conrad first claims, and later appears unsure about it) - or may not - have been an accident, and which literally ties in with this moment, there is an embodiment of a skein, of the film's title's 'tangle of threads' (or the potential for it). It's a game, but there's bondage, the shackling that Joyce McKinney asserts was a sort of chosen cure, a sort of healing, in Tabloid, and with it there's the breathlessness associated with the other activity, there's the arbitrary rule-making that the game has to be played one way (counter-clockwise), an approach that can form rigid habits and stronger disciplines, not always for one's - or anyone else's - good in life (as with Stephen's father's former friend Richard?).
So the mirror-image, of the game being played clockwise, can be imagined - as can any other action involving Victoria and Stephen - happening, but it offends against the street being declared to be one way. (Not too far off from thinking again of Rutherford, of thinking how the characters in Michael Frayn's Copenhagen revolve, dance, around each other like particles in a simple atom...) And the transposed image, the left / right flip? Set aside whether the falling down together, linked, was (as with Conrad's accident) deliberate - although it had to seem so, or not ambiguously so, for us: when we see Stephen and Victoria on the ground, from the waist up, side by side, they are, first of all, in that order, left to right. The picture (taken by the cinematographer, but not one that otherwise existed for Stephen to see (directly)), when he calls it to mind later, becomes Victoria and Stephen, she now on the left.
(It is nearly summoned again, but we do not actually see it, are just so reminded of it that, as a ghost of a view, we could almost swear that its image is on our retina at that point, because we know it - or think that we know it - by then.) So these are the hints of Alice, these are the suggestions that, in a world as like ours as the one that she first sees in Looking-Glass House, things may be subtly different, actually harmful: as The Annotated Alice observes, with Martin Gardner talking about left- and right-handed molecules (which are identical but for being mirror-images of each other), milk would not be safe for Alice or her cat to drink in the world beyond the looking-glass. Matter and anti-matter? It goes on...
Where would we be without the imagination of Ant Neely (the film's writer) or of Lewis Carroll? The poorer for it, I think.
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