March 18, 2017 by readlisaread
There seems to be one particular genre of science fiction that is perpetually popular, and never seems to become stale. That of the Alternate Reality. Time Travel, since, I fancy, even before HG Wells penned his famous novel “The Time Machine”, has long been a topic probed endlessly, and one of the recurring themes in time travel is the idea that one could travel back to right a wrong, choose another path, or adjust life’s trajectory. But then there is the theory of time travel that always include the caveat: “You mustn’t change a thing from the past, not even kill a bug, for in doing so, you create ripples of effect that forever alter the past, present and future– IRREPARABLY” (*dun-dun-dun DUNNNNN*).
Enter the bastard cousin of time travel: Parallel Universes. There have been a shocking number of movies and TV series with this theme, and it’s interesting to note, the creative team handles the concept differently every time. In movies like Groundhog Day and The Lakehouse, the main characters have the opportunity to improve themselves or others’ lives. In Timelines, the characters can alter the past, but at their own peril. Sliding Doors saw Gwynyth Paltrow living two parallel lives, concurrently, while Sliders revealed a roulette wheel of possible alternate realities. Loopers is probably the darkest view of all– you will know when you have screwed up and are sent to the future/past to be dispatched, by your own future/past self.
Recently, on a rainy NetFlix binge-worthy day, I watched 2 movies that explored this common theme in two very different ways. First, Cobbler, starring Adam Sandler as a latter day shoe repairman in New York who discovers an ancient– and magical– shoe mending machine that allows the wearer to become a physical replica of the owner of the shoes. A neat device in this movie was that every time Sandler’s character donned a new pair of shoes and went out into the world as someone else, he wore the same overcoat and scarf (presumably so that the audience would recognize him easily). At first he used his powers for elegant dine-n-dashes or wandering streets he wouldn’t normally blend into (like wearing an Asian man’s shoes to walk around Chinatown). In the end, he learned to embrace the life he led and to find meaning in what he did, and no longer longed to walk a mile in another man’s shoes. Of course, having a magic sole stitching machine helped… I thought the movie makers missed an opportunity in not riffing more on that, actually– Sole stitching or Soul stitching?
Next, came a much more dramatic and higher-level thinking piece called Coherence. If you have ever pondered the puzzle of Schrödinger’s Cat, this is the Alternate Reality film for you. The device in this story is an asteroid passing through Earth’s atmosphere (is there nothing asteroids can’t screw up!?). As it passes directly overhead of one group of friends coming together for a dinner party, Strange Events Unfold. What I liked about this movie, and where the movie makers did an excellent job, was that they explored not only the paradox of something being real and not real at the same time, but asked the blunt question “How far would you go to be able to live your ideal life?” Possible answers are: move to a foreign country with my partner; reveal or keep secret a betrayal of a friend (both a choice, in different scenarios); attack/kill a friend; attack/kill another version of yourself. And… if you chose any of those things, are now the ideal you, or have you become a worse you? The other thing this storyline touched on was chaos theory. As the evening progressed and the friends interfered with alternate timelines, the muddier and more confused all realities became. Even the viewer is tricked into rooting for certain versions of characters along the way.
This is definitely a movie I would re-watch to pick up all the subtleties I am sure I missed the first time, and it’s not really one that is ruined by knowing the ending– in fact, when you get there (the first time), you kind of go… “ooooh… of course….”. But the other theme that ran parallel to the parallel lives-storyline was the concept of someone else living your ideal life if you choose not to. And, many, many choices. The kind of choices humans make on the daily. A second glass of wine or nah?; Kiss an old flame to find out if there are still feelings there?; Stay together and face challenges as a group or go it alone?; Have the argument or choke it back?; Make the confession or not?….and so on.
The possibilities are infinite. And endless. Infinitely endless.
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