30 August 2013
Like most people in their early 20s, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) feels like life isn't quite going the way he wants it to yet. Though he adores his family, including his bumbling dad (Bill Nighy) and quirky sister Kat (Lydia Wilson), he can't get the thing he wants the most: a girlfriend. And then, on the night of his 21st birthday, he finds out a secret which will change everything.
Tim's dad tells him that he has inherited an extraordinary ability passed on between the men in their family. Whenever he wants to, Tim will be able to wish himself back into past moments and live them allover again. He can make different choices,seize missed opportunities, or alter his actions repeatedly until he gets the desired results. It seems the perfect solution to his romantic dilemma. After all, surely a man who can write the rules of his own life can win over any woman he wants?
Of course, it's not that simple. It's not that simple when he develops an unrequited crush on the gorgeous Charlotte (Margot Robbie) – and it's not that simple when he finally meets the woman of his dreams, soulful wallflower Mary (Rachel McAdams). Time travel can achieve some amazing things, but it can't actually make anyone love him. When it comes to romancing Mary, Tim's gift actually causes as many problems as it solves.
The temptation to hide insecurities in the early part of a relationship is always strong, and Tim makes the most of his ability to replay any scenario at will. A bad chat-up line, a failed date or an awkward first night together can all be undone, and honed until they're perfect. It's a reflection on the pressure we all feel to present a flawless face to the world. Whether it's with a romantic partner, with family, friends or colleagues, we exercise whatever power we have to airbrush out our imperfections and manage every facet of how we're perceived.
About Time successfully plays this kind of personal perfectionism for laughs, but many of us will also recognise it as a painful source of pressure. In the absence of grace for our failures, performance becomes everything, and our energies are spent striving for control. In the end, it's an exhausting way to live.
Tim isn't just determined to be the one at the wheel in his own life. When his sister goes off the rails, he takes it upon himself to try and rewrite her story too. It's here that he encounters the more difficult consequences of his gift, and comes face-to-face with its limitations. However much he interferes, Kat's life isn't going to run exactly the way he wants it to – and neither is his own.
Growing into adulthood means learning that, ultimately, we can't control everything about our circumstances any more than we can dictate the direction of those around us. Sooner or later there will come a time when our perfectly maintained self-image falls apart, when events take a turn against our will, or when we have to give those we love the freedom to choose for themselves. Life is simply bigger than we are, and we're fooling ourselves if we think we can contain it all.
At one level, these truths could become a source of great anxiety and fear. Relinquishing our god-complex might leave us feeling exposed, liable to be rejected when we're finally seen for who we really are. We may experience a sense of powerlessness once we acknowledge that life's circumstances won't always go our way – that no amount of striving can banish the hard truths of our brokenness, weakness and mortality.
But looked at in a different light, this loss of control becomes life-giving. If our control was only an illusion in the first place, then letting go allows us to interact more meaningfully with reality. Genuine relationships can't happen unless we show others our imperfect selves, and unless we allow them to change out of choice, not by force. Spiritual growth can't happen unless we receive God and his grace where our plans and performance used to be.
Jesus offers rest when we're weary of trying to get it right, and comfort for when it all seems to have gone irredeemably wrong. Perhaps when we stop trusting our own ability to make life turn out the way we want it, we might place our trust somewhere more secure.
About Time is released in cinemas on 6 September. For free official resources, see www.damaris.org/abouttime