Time Travel in Film: Does it Interfere with Pathos?

It is no surprise that time travel has been used in so many films. The use of time travel in film, as well as in television and books, has allowed for interesting scenarios for characters. It is also a means for the protagonist to gain a second chance or prevent a horrific event from happening.For example, X-Men: Days of Future Past uses time travel in this way. The writers used time travel not only for the benefit of the characters, but also for the writers themselves. They were able to change everything from the previous films just by this one plot device. While the film was a hit, and many fans welcomed the changes caused by the film, others argued that it could lower the stakes in other films in the franchise. If something horrible happens in a film, and time travel is force existing in the film’s universe, then the protagonist can go back in time as a means to prevent the event from happening. But does this create more complications?

  • I think this question is actually super interesting. Can stakes possibly exist in a world with time travel? I'd say a good reference against this theory is the show/game; Stein's Gate. This is a story with a lot of time travel, and a lot of "undoing" or "redoing" horrible events to make things better. However, this show keeps the stakes by always having a balance. In one reality, a character may have their dead father back - but as a result their friend dies in this new timeline. The characters have to choose between the two realities, and ultimately go back to the "original reality." Reliving trauma and ideas of equivalent exchange are excellent ways to balance stories about time travel. Having a drawback or repercussion of time travel is a great way to have the characters question whether altering time and reality is for the best. ... however, the X-Men movies haven't really touched on this much. It ends up being more of a plot device to keep the franchise going rather to explore characters and time travel in a meaningful way. As an x-men fan, I appreciated the way they "fixed" the mistakes of the past movies, but also it does detract from the overall meaning and stakes of the movies. If they want to keep exploring/using time travel as a plot device, I would really want them to learn from stories like Steins; Gate that explore it meaningfully. – Dimitri 6 years ago
  • Time travel does seem to take away existing stakes in the ways you mentioned. However, remember that it comes with it's own stakes as well! "X Men" did not touch on this much, but if you look at "Back to the Future," time travel created all of the stakes Marty had to face for the duration of the first movie. Because he went back in time, he messed up the sequence of events that would erase his siblings and himself from existence, and those screw ups could only be fixed if he recreated the timeline himself and went back to his own timeline by way of a freak storm with one shot of getting it right - which is a lot at stake. Yes, time travel in "X Men" really did seem to eliminate the stakes in a lot of regards, but there is more to time travel than just righting a wrong. – Sara L. 6 years ago
  • Great topic! I certainly didn't feel the pathos I think I was supposed to feel toward the end of Avengers: Infinity War. (SPOILER ALERT, probably wholly unnecessary at this point----->) The one-by-one dissolution of our beloved heroes didn't move me much at all. After all, we saw the time stone used just a bit earlier in the film to rewind time and essentially undo an act of extreme sacrifice. – JamesBKelley 6 years ago
  • In Days of Future Past, time travel was portrayed as a complicated process, which helps with the stakes. Time passes synchronously in the present and past, so if the robots kill Time Travel Girl before Wolverine can change things, the mission fails. Also, only Wolverine can survive the trip; next time, if Wolverine is unavailable, everyone else is out of luck. The stakes were treated in similar ways in Back to the Future. Even if Marty McFly changes history, he requires 2.21 gigawatts of electricity and 88 mph speeds to get back to his present to enjoy the changes. Now in, say, Doctor Who, time travel is portrayed as pretty easy, so problems can be fixed without much pathos. Indeed, whenever something can't be fixed by time travel, many fans cry "plot convenience." – noahspud 6 years ago
  • Not much more than any other plot element would. The power of time travel to move and shape (or reshape) events is probably no different than the death of a pivotal character, the effect of a natural disaster on story outcome, or a protagonist triumphant foil as an uncompromising twist to the ending, seems to me. Time travel is just mayhem and haywire to the extreme. – L:Freire 5 years ago

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