This project entails an analysis of three Science-Fiction films released in a post-videogame world, between 1972 and 2015: The Terminator (1984), Inception (2010) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). It focuses on how time-travel works inside their narratives, what the consequences are- philosophically, psychoanalytically, conceptually etc. – of time-travel, and whether the invention of videogames have influenced them and how. Through in-depth research from theorists and scholars into the Time-travel narrative, Time theory/philosophy, psychoanalytical examination of the time-travellers, Videogame influence and more, this work looks at how the films play with these key aspects and how they reflect both literary works and societal concerns and anxieties. In Chapter 1; a discussion on The Terminator regarding it’s narrative, false mantra, and reasons for it’s popularity with audiences of the time. Chapter 2 is an analysis of Inception, focusing on it’s remediation of videogames and it’s societal commentary of a new virtual age. Within Chapter 3 on Edge of Tomorrow, we dive deep into what time-travel is meant to represent within the film’s narrative, stronger videogame remediation, and the affect of ‘new media’. This project shows us that analysing Time-travel means a deeper insightful understanding of these films narratives – a narrative that has become increasingly popular through the simple human desire of wanting to revisit the past to alter our choices. Furthermore, we see how film is remediating to evolve for a new digital world, now increasingly evoking the medium of videogames in an attempt to capture the affect of an interactive, immediate art-form. Ultimately we can understand that our time-travel machine is -as of right now- cinema itself.
My dissertation will focus on the popular ‘time-travel’ narrative of films in the Science Fiction genre. By exploring Time-Travel within several films, I will analyse the logic behind the narrative, the themes brought about by time-travel, including discussion on how time is represented, comparisons between how films approach the subject of time-travel, paradoxes, and how these film shows the flexibility offered by the narrative. Also, my research will delve into philosophical questions on what Time is, and how we perceive Time. In addition, I will analyse how Videogames have impacted the Science Fiction genre, with main focus on the time-travel narrative. My work will discover how some of these ‘time-travel’ films have re-mediated Videogames, in form and narrative, and how convergence between games and film have altered the Sci-Fi film landscape after the invention of Pong in 1972, the first arcade game that brought Videogames into our mainstream culture. Using theorists (Grusin, Shaviro, Bolter, Adorno etc.) I will look at how New Media, in particular videogames, have altered the Science Fiction genre, and how the ‘virtuality’ of new media is an important discussion that is affecting the films we see today. In a time where we crave immediacy and interactivity from our entertainment more than ever, I will discuss how games are affecting film, and how ‘time-travel’ is synonymous with videogame narrative, hence how game theory, known as ‘ludology’ is an important component to understanding the way these films operate. In the 21st Century, now more than ever Science Fiction films are hitting the ‘reset’ button, and this work will dive into what it truly means to “try again” and change the future.
Matthew Jones & Joan Omrod’s Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games, and Steven Sanders’ The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film are sources that will be a great starting base to my discussion on how my Science-Fiction films present the time-travel narrative within their stories. The first book is an all-encompassing look at time-travel, with analytical essays written on popular media that use the narrative in multiple ways. This first source is wonderfully up-to-date, having been printed July 2015, and has been clearly been written with the mindset to offer a look into a popular narrative that the authors preface by saying “they could not find a single book written about time-travel in media”, even though clearly not because of lack of popularity. Sanders’ book is a more philosophical look at Science-Fiction Films, and should prove invaluable for time theory study.
Looking at the remediation of videogames in some of my chosen films, Matteo Bittanti’s “The Technoludic Film: Images of Videogames in Movies” and Richard Grusin’s essay “DVDs, Video Games, and the Cinema of Interactions” are both hugely informative studies on how the aesthetic and narrative form of videogames are influencing what we see in 21st Century Time-travel films. These sources are focused on explaining the ‘techno-ludic’ genre, and how the ‘interactivity’ and ‘virtuality’ of videogames are becoming implemented more and more in cinema today. I will touch upon the elements of videogames that immerse us, and ‘ludology’ or game theory is a useful component to understanding why films are taking notice of the feeling we have when playing videogames.
Focusing on the future of cinema, what is the impact of our ‘new media’ on the time-travel film, the Science-Fiction genre, and cinema in general? Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect, Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Jay David Bolter & Richard Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media should all help in answering that question. Focusing on the ‘post-cinematic affect’, and the dialectic’s between old and new media, this literature is key to analysing the broader impact of how film is looking to the way society is being entertained and captured by media in the modern day in order to stay relevant and up-to-date in an ever changing entertainment world.
In my research, I will take theoretical approaches from theorists such as Freud to look at the psychoanalytical aspects of time-travel, Thomas Elsaesser on genre theory including ‘mind-game’ films such as Inception – which has time-travel inside a person’s mind- and Steven Shaviro’s thoughts on the ‘post-cinematic’ context of my chosen films. Meanwhile, theorists Grusin, Bittanti and others use a ‘new media’ theoretical approach to answer how film is being impacted by videogames in aesthetic and narrative form; Bittanti exploring ludology and knowledge of game form in order to show the connections between what we play and what we watch, and some striking observations between how much modern cinema is borrowing from videogames.
To conclude the work, I will discuss the possible future of film in a world of new media, of interactivity and immediacy, and how cinema itself is our present day time machine.
What is Time? Time is a part of our reality that can’t be quantified; it can’t be argued with; it’s merely a construct of our lives and the universe around us. Everything is bound by time, and time never stops. It endlessly hurtles on, affecting us and the world we live in. Time is a measure where events can be put in chronological order from past to present, and it measures the duration of events and every single event in between. Time ages humans, it ages the creatures of our world, and it is the definer for what’s considered young and old. As the Oxford Dictionary defines Time: “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole” (2016).
There seems to be two opposing theories where Time is concerned. Isaac Newton’s realist view is that time is a fundamental structure of the universe, or as it’s more commonly known- the Fourth Dimension, that is after the three dimensions of space that us humans live within. Because of course we do not witness time in our reality, we merely know of its existence by staring at a clock, for example. We perceive time; we don’t physically see it. As Rynasiewicz explains, Newton “did not regard space and time as genuine substances (as are, paradigmatically, bodies and minds), but rather as real entities with their own manner of existence as necessitated by God’s existence (more specifically, his omnipresence and eternality)” (pg.1).
The second prominent theory is, in the mind-set of Gottfried Leibniz, that time is a fundamental intellectual structure- along with space and number– where humans are able to compare and sequence events. This theoretical approach tells us that time is not an event, or even a thing and therefore cannot be measured or travelled (Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2016).
Now, of course, this dissertation will be discussing Time-Travel, hence this latter theory will be put aside for the sake of allowing the possibility of not only Time-Travel being possible in film and a fictional world, but even our own reality. Newton’s theory, or Newtonian Time, is a far more optimistic view of time; it’s a theory that opens up our world and the possibilities of humans being able to actually effect Time, and that is a quite wondrous outlook. If Newton is correct, it means that in our future the possibility of Time-Travel could be utterly achievable. If Time-travel were to be invented, it would shake the very nature of our reality. Of course, there would be an immense amount of potential problems with the ability to travel through time, some of which will be addressed in this work.
Time to begin.
Is The Future Not Set? The Terminator (1984)
“Time is a flat circle.”
In the critically acclaimed Season One of television crime drama True Detective (2014), this is how philosophical character Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) theorises how time operates. This hypothesis is the logic and basis used in countless time-travel films and it’s derived from an object entitled ‘The Mobius Strip’. Discovered in 1858 by German mathematicians August Ferdinand Mobius and Johann Benedict Listing, ‘The Mobius Strip’ is the name for an object with only one surface and one boundary. In simpler terms, a loop or ‘flat circle’ (Polster, Steinke, pg.13). Two of the three films in this study use this time-as-a-loop theory as the basis for how time works within their science-fiction worlds. The Terminator (1984) is the first of them that will be analysed.
Known as a sci-fi classic, directed by James Cameron, The Terminator tells the story of a cybernetic humanoid machine that gets sent back to the past from the future to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. In 1997, Skynet (a computer system) becomes self-aware and begins a war with humans, exterminating almost the entirety of the human race. By 2027, Skynet’s machines are running amok across the planet as pockets of human resistance fighters’ battle for their existence. The leader of the resistance is a man named John Connor. As he is the ultimate threat to the machines victory and would actually end up defeating Skynet by 2029, the machines decide to send a Terminator – a machine that looks human, or more accurately ‘human tissue over cybernetic endoskeleton’- to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah. This would result in John never being born, therefore securing the machines victory instead. Realising the machines’ plan, the resistance send a human man, Kyle Reese, back in time to protect Sarah from the Terminator, and ensure her survival and the survival of her unborn son. Within the film’s fictional world the catalyst for time-travel is a mechanical time-machine; a transportation device that sends both machine and human back to the past to alter events which in turn alter the future. So for example, the machines want to send a Terminator to stop Sarah giving birth to her son, so it makes clear that if she does indeed get killed, John would never exist. However, there is a great theoretical issue that arises when time is travelled. This problem is what is known as the Grandfather Paradox.
The Grandfather Paradox is derived from an imaginary anecdote that postulates if a man was to return to the past to kill his biological grandfather – thereby preventing his birth – how could the man even return to the past if he was never born? How can you alter the past without altering your own existence and the very fabric of normative reality? This paradox “was represented by the rationalists among science-fiction fans as an argument against the possibility of time travel” (Penley, pg.119). This brings up theorist Gilles Deleuze’s struggle with time as a concept in cinema, and the belief that past and the present can co-exist, side by side. This co-existence Deleuze theorises about time-movement is best exemplified by cinema itself; it’s “the one-twentieth century art form that comes closest”, Radowick interprets (1997, pg.39). As Haim Bresheeth explains in his paper entitled ‘The Flexibility of Narrative Time: Time Travel in Science Fiction Cinema’, the “Deleuzian flexibility of time – that can be “subordinated” and “bifurcated”; the movement of time – emerges with great clarity during the second period of the cinematic Sci-Fi genre, from the 1980’s onward” (pp.3-4). If Deleuze’s theory is correct, the Grandfather Paradox is negated by the understanding of time as being able to be split, where there are multiple timelines running in parallel with each other. This is known as a “multi-verse”, or a parallel universe.
In Steven Sanders’ The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, writer William J. Devlin believes The Terminator indeed espouses this “branching universe metaphysical model”, where John Connor’s actions can in theory potentially create new timelines (pg.112). However, whilst this is entirely possible, a casual loop timeline makes far greater sense because Connor already exists in the future that we are presented. At no point does the spectator ever witness an alternate timeline, therefore Devlin’s theory is nothing more than a guess; whereas this analysis later will provide evidence for my loop theory. It’s my belief that in order to avoid the Grandfather Paradox entirely, the Terminator cannot succeed in his mission to kill Sarah. Sarah and her son have to live, in order for her son to even send Kyle Reese back from the future. Hence the closed loop; or a ‘Predestination Paradox’. This paradox occurs when a time traveller is caught in a loop of events that “predestines” him or her to travel back in time. “A time traveller attempting to alter the past in this model, intentionally or not, would only be fulfilling his role in creating history as we know it, not changing it” (Wiki Definitions, 2016). That is truly Kyle Reese’s raison d’être.
Along with a potential number of paradoxes firing it’s narrative, the film also raises psychoanalytical questions about what occurs when John Connor from the future sends his junior soldier (would-be father) Kyle Reese back in time to impregnate his mother Sarah in order for him to be born, before the Terminator kills her. Sigmund Freud, in his psychoanalytical studies -along with psychologists in general- all view time as a linear concept where our present behaviour and our present selves are intrinsically driven and informed by the first event in our lives: birth. Psychoanalysis looks at this linear timeline of a person’s life using a “cause and effect” model, where issues of causality, change, process, and behaviour are brought to the fore. Sigmund’s ‘time-travel’ is based in this theoretical field where humans all subconsciously yearn to return to the womb, so to speak. In ‘The Uncanny’, Freud writes:
“Neurotic men declare that they feel there is something uncanny about the female genital organs. This unheimlich (un-homely) place, however, is the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning. There is a joking saying that ‘Love is home-sickness’; and whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, while he is still dreaming: ‘this place is familiar to me, I’ve been here before.’ We may interpret the place as being his mother’s genitals or her body. In this case too, then, the unheimlich is what was once heimisch, familiar; the prefix ‘un’ [‘un-‘] is the token of repression.” (Freud, pg.245)
In The Terminator, John Connor’s existence requires this return to the womb, and a return to the ‘Primal Scene’- Freud’s term for the first time a child witnesses their parents having sexual intercourse. Unlike in Back To The Future (1985) though, where Marty must witness his father and mother lovemaking in the past to secure his existence, John Connor himself does not return to the past, instead sending his deputy Kyle Reese to return to the womb, and in turn become his father and enable his existence. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, that tells the story of Oedipus, a man who would become king of Thebes who unwittingly fulfils the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, here we have John Connor returning – not personally, but figuratively in Kyle Reese’s embodiment of him – to the origin of his creation. However, unlike in the story of Oedipus Rex, The Terminator’s narrative means John Connor can, metaphysically speaking, be himself and his father all at once. As Constance Penley describes in her article on the film: “That such a fantasy is an attempted end-run around Oedipus is also obvious: John Conner can identify with his father, can even be his father in the scene of the parental intercourse, and also conveniently dispose of him in order to go off with (in) his mother” (Penley, pg.121).
After viewing a play of Oedipus Rex in the late 1890’s, Freud coined the term ‘Oedipus Complex’ that describes how every child has repressed desires to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex. This theory could be easily considered as a subtle driving force of The Terminator’s narrative and plot, and clearly shows the psychological aspect to time-travel in the film along with the similarity that both stories are told over a 24 hour period. As Aristotle’s Poetics suggests is one of the three rules (unities) of drama or perfect tragedy (although never acknowledged by Aristotle himself, merely an observation of Greek drama) – The Unity of Time: “The dramatic time of the action [should] not exceed one day” (Hochman, pg.261).
As discussed earlier, The Mobius Strip and the circularity of time is evident in the story. For example, John Connor is a warrior in the machine-future, and was only taught to be by his mother, who herself was taught by Kyle Reese, a man from the future with knowledge of how to fight the Terminators. In turn, Reese learned everything he knew from his commander, John Connor- which returns us right back where we started. Kyle never existed in the time of Sarah Connor, he is purely from the future, but without him, John Connor would not exist. To put it simply, Sarah’s and Reese’s existence is a definite, but John’s is variable to the point where it cannot be otherwise the Grandfather Paradox would arise.
Apart from the Terminator and Kyle Reese travelling back in time, a symbolic object is the only other clue we have that we are in a loop timeline. Kyle is in possession of a photograph of Sarah at the Mexican border, soon before she would give birth to John. This image also happens to be the last image of the film, and constitutes what is Sarah’s inevitable escape from the Terminator. However, we see this photo near the beginning of the film, but of course for Sarah (and viewers), this hasn’t happened yet. Thus the story, at its conclusion, comes literally full circle. As Zizek describes it: “To be present as a pure gaze prior to one’s own conception” (Zizek, pg.22).
Understanding The Terminator’s events as a cyclical timeline (excluding the sequels which make events even more twisted and complex) actually is the film’s narrative undoing. The famous mantra for The Terminator has always been “The future is not set.” In Terminator 2 (1991), it’s “No fate but what we make”. This optimistic outlook to the future is the film’s guiding light, and we as viewers truly would like to believe that we have the power to change our own fate. Unfortunately, in this case, the mantra is a lie. For as we can see, if John, Sarah, Kyle and the Terminator are on a casual loop timeline, then fate has already been decided. Sarah can never die before giving birth to John. John’s existence is certain from the very beginning of the movie, because he is alive in the future. This casual loop would be set to repeat itself over and over again- ad infinitum. As spectators to the story, once we understand how time works in this fictional universe, we can know that the Terminator will never succeed in its mission. Furthermore, nothing symbolises fate more than the photograph of Sarah that John hands to Kyle Reese. Ultimately, this story is all about fate, and there could only ever be one outcome.
In the film, “Time is not perceived spatially, as zones spread along a line, themselves immobile, but as movement, change and transition: the present turning into the past, the future turning into the present, but also into the past” (Bresheeth, pg.9). Delueze theorises that a photograph, or film is a “time-image”, so in The Terminator, the photograph of Sarah becomes the key to understanding the entire narrative’s time logic. Throughout the film Kyle Reese has flashbacks looking at Sarah’s picture, almost like he has been there before; because he has. Bergsen calls this illusion of déjà vu ‘paramnesia’ (Bergson, p.137). Thus, “our actual existence, then, whilst it is unrolled in time, duplicates itself along with a virtual existence, a mirror image. Every moment of our life presents the two aspects, it is actual and virtual, perception on the one side and recollection on the other. . . Whoever becomes conscious of the continual duplicating of his present into perception and recollection … will compare himself to an actor playing his part automatically, listening to himself and beholding himself playing” (Bergson, pp.135-8).
Ultimately, The Terminator‘s time-travel story and characters drove the film to success and eventual sequels. So does The Terminator‘s narrative, along with the time-travel genre as a whole, speak to us as humans? Floortje Sprenkels -using Andrew Gordon’s thoughts- believes so. Whilst there can’t be any strong arguments made for this film having any videogame elements per-say, there is most certainly a societal, human connection that reflected people’s anxiety’s of the future in the 80’s. It can be argued that this is the reason why the time-travel genre rose in popularity amidst this angst-ridden time. As Sprenkels explains:
“Gordon ascribes this sudden popularity and growth also to the political and economic crises shaping this decade (caused by the tensions of the Cold War and the political and social unrest of the Vietnam War), creating a flight mentality among society. Time travel films are then the perfect means for expressing this desire, speaking to “our nostalgia for the past, our dissatisfaction with the present and our dread of the future.” For the time travel narrative can allow the viewer to project their fantasies and desires onto it and create new realities. The overall dread of the future in society and the belonging negative Hollywood vision of the future, are probably most famously illustrated in James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. This film tells the story of a future that is dominated by artificial intelligence machines, attempting to exterminate the entire human race. The future is bleak and rotten, and one of the main characters has to travel back in time in order to save the human race in the future.” (Sprenkels, pp.12-13)
Therefore, through close analysis of narrative, understanding the timeline structure, a focused look at key objects in the story, psychoanalytical subtext, the theory that time can be past, present and future simultaneously, along with the societal context of the 80’s which would lead to the rise of the time-travel genre, is abject to the comprehension of The Terminator.
Virtual Time Travel: Inception (2010)
“An idea is like a virus; resilient, highly contagious.”
In Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception (2010), Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) is the leader of a team of mind-hijackers that plant ideas in their targets minds, thereby altering their actions for the gain of whoever hired them. In order for an idea to be planted in the target’s mind, Cobb’s crew must enter their subconscious whilst their sleeping within a sedated dream-state. They then navigate the target’s mind through mazes of the team’s design until they reach a point where the idea can be successfully planted so to naturally evolve and become the target’s real-world action. That is inception. The deeper the crew venture into the target’s mind; the further down they go, the more likely inception will be achieved. “Downwards is the only way forwards”, as Dom explains.
Inception follows Cobb as he takes on “one last mission” to gain access to the United States to see his children again. After being forced out of the country on the charges that he may have murdered his wife Mal (Marion Cottilard), he finds himself in a desperate state, willing to do anything to be reunited with his kids. Then Saito, a shady Japanese corporate mogul, approaches Cobb with a job. He wants Cobb to infiltrate and manipulate the mind of Robert Fischer – heir to the Fischer-Morrow conglomerate that will soon monopolize the energy industry- and induce Fischer to break-up the business for the personal gain of Saito, a competitor. Once the mission is complete, one phone call from Saito will reward Cobb with what he desires most. Cobb accepts the job, and his crew get to work.
Not time-travel in the typical sense, Inception compresses time and focuses on “temporality, duration, memory and aging” (Burnetts, pg.234). Rather than physical time-travel to a different time period/location, the film is about travelling through the subconscious mind. As explained in the film, time moves more slowly whilst we’re dreaming. Within Fischer’s dream, Cobb’s crew must travel through his mind, battling Fisher’s projections (“subconscious security”, Cobb calls the virtual bodyguards) in an attempt to reach the inception point. Facing this difficult mission, Cobb decides to go deeper. That is: a dream within a dream within a dream. Three layers and three mazes to guide Fischer through. The deeper they go, the more time slows in the virtual world. In the real world, time operates as normal. In Inception, Cobb explains “Five minutes in the real world gives you one hour in the dream world.” By this math, each subsequent layer they move into, time moves twelve times slower. In real-time, on a 10 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, that means they have approximately: one week in the first dream, six months in the second, and ten years in the third.
This narrative is made possible by a fictional future technology named the ‘PASIV’ device. With the appearance of a bulky, silver briefcase, the device is opened up to reveal a sci-fi piece of equipment, with long, thin tubes branching out from the centre of the briefcase where lies a capsule with a strong sedative and a large white button. Once the tubes are inserted into the veins of Cobb and his crew, the button is pressed and the sedative is released into the crew’s bloodstreams, sending them into a deep dream-state. “Taking place in the dream-space of characters, time is not so much traversed as compressed and virtualized by the PASIV technology”, Burnetts explains (pg.235). The technology allows them to tap into Fischer’s dreams psychologically.
However, the technology has it’s risks, which Cobb explains to his new tutee, Ariadne (Ellen Page) before the mission. In order to perform inception, an ‘architect’ is needed. As the newly appointed architect, Ariadne must create the three different worlds of dream layers that Fischer will enter. She is the ‘dreamer’; who has ultimate power of creating and modifying the virtual world of which they will enter. But there is not ultimate freedom- as Cobb warns, the worst thing you can do is create places drawn from one’s own memory. The reason is, as Cobb mentions, because doing so risks no longer being able to distinguish reality from the dream. Cobb has experienced this himself, and a large part of the narrative focuses on his struggle with an ‘idea’ that throughout the film undermines the Fischer mission and Cobb’s own sense of reality. After the suicide of his wife, who Cobb performed inception on, he continuously sees Mal popping up within the dream-worlds, endangering him and compounding his guilt towards her death. Freud’s mention of the ‘uncanny’ and “involuntary return to the same situation” is clear here, and it’s these memories that prevent Cobb from moving on. In order for Cobb to be free, he must learn to stop feeling guilty for Mal’s death, and confront the memory of his wife once and for all.
Inception is a narrative driven by the psychology that one can implant an idea in the mind of an unaware subject in a way that the subject believes it was their idea. Whilst it may seem preposterous and completely fictional, perhaps –in some sense- this psychology is based firmly in reality, too. Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment includes a chapter entitled “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” which provides a discussion on how our culture industry uses very similar tactics in order to deceive and persuade us to consume more. In the 21st Century, capitalist industries bombard us with targeted advertising, attempting to enslave us to the system upon which we are bound. Because of course, Cobb and Saito are not morally right in their actions. They ultimately trick Fischer into believing he wants to dismantle his father Maurice’s company. Therefore, Cobb is the deceiver, and Fischer is the deceived. Adorno’s arguably pessimistic view sees the culture industry as the deceiver: “films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part…..culture impresses the same stamp upon everyone” (Adorno, pg.120).
However, even if we as a society are being deceived by the culture industry we can still be aware of the potential negative influences that it has on our lives. Just as within Mal’s dream, where Cobb and her live for several decades, growing old together, Cobb is still aware that what they are experiencing isn’t real. It’s not reality, therefore it cannot be true happiness. It is simulated truth; simulated happiness, a simulated time – which arguably is what our culture industry incepts in us. As Ben Aguinaga explains:
“Happiness, for Adorno, seems to be the pivotal factor influenced by the culture industry. He carefully describes how the magazine stands take into account every type of person and, thus, how those magazines are designed to bring about the happiness and enjoyment of every person that peruses the stands. The thousands of television channels are specifically designed to cover the diverse interests of the American population. So, it would seem that the culture industry, as Adorno understands, is primarily geared towards satisfying the population.” (Aguinaga, pg.29).
Ultimately, my belief is that it’s our choice to decide whether we choose to believe the seemingly dire view of Adorno, or we choose to believe our reality is based upon true happiness. In Inception, whist Cobb chooses to be self-aware that he’s growing old with Mal inside her dream, Mal consciously chooses to believe her dream is reality. That idea becomes so powerful within her mind that even once she wakes up with Cobb -both younger in reality as time is stretched in the dream-state – even in the real world she continues to believe she is dreaming; so she kills herself in the hope of waking up. Alas, she of course does not, and Cobb is forced to escape the U.S. on his wife’s murder charge.
In the film, time is not so much traversed as it is simulated, distorted and elongated in dreams. However, as Burnetts points out, whilst “the story of Inception differs significantly from time-travel films, its plot is in fact quite similar, in as much as the film is about characters that cross temporal and spatial divides in order to intervene in a predetermined turn of events” (Burnetts, pg.236). Everyone in the story, including most importantly Cobb, Mal and Saito, experiences this time-distortion upon entering the dream-state, and upon leaving they are once again their younger selves. The whole PASIV system is like a high-tech hallucinatory device, where its subjects can enjoy (Cobb and Mal growing old together) – or endure – incredible amounts of time in dream-states; the worst of which is ‘Limbo’, where Saito is subjected to as a result of dying in the 3rd Dream Level, which cannot be woken up from by dying within the dream. Time in Inception is “not only subjective and personally endured, but also relative; an unfixed and unstable experience of duration that cannot be fully objectified and measured. The dream-spaces [of the film] share a different ontology to those of the time travel genre while articulating its concerns with change, continuity, escape and return” (Burnetts, pg.238). That differing ontology refers to how reality is shown by the film and accounted for its spectator, especially the crucial understanding between “character perception and externally rendered events and locations” (Burnetts, pg.238).
Similarly to The Terminator and Kyle Reese’s character, Cobb has flashbacks of past memories of his wife and children. These memories are an embodiment of Cobb’s guilt of incepting his wife and abandoning his kids, which complicate and problematize the spectator’s vision of reality. In the dream-state, artificial simulation combines with memory, which contrasts with the typical time-travel environment where the past and future is are utterly self-contained and completely external. In Inception, external environments once we enter a dream can no longer be trusted, because they are not real. As Ariadne experiments in the dream-world of Paris, she has the power to manipulate the environment, changing her surroundings at will with the power of imagination and her own internalized memories. In the dream-state the laws of time, physics, and our real-world no longer apply. Inception’s distortion of time means the clear distinctions between the past, present, real and virtual are blurred. As when Cobb visits Mombasa to recruit an alchemist (the sedative creator), an old man who supervises a room of “dreamers” -who spend more time in the dream-state than reality – explains: “The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?”
‘Mind-game’ films like Inception or the more recent Mindscape (2013), starring Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga, are good examples of how cinema is moving forward into a more virtual, interactive, instantaneous world of media and society in general. In Mindscape, for example, Mark Strong plays a detective in a near-future world who can solve crimes by entering the mind of a victim. Through time manipulation within the victims’ memories, he can view and access their view of the crime. So are these mind-game films a somewhat evolution of the time-travel narrative? Arguably so. Thomas Elsaesser notes that these films are a key “tendency” in contemporary American cinema (2009, pg.13). Mind-game films share “art-film” qualities with the “New Hollywood Film”; they tend to employ special effects and complex premises, with loose narratives and unstable characters, like Cobb in Inception, and are “more ambiguous in their rendering of clearly externalised worlds” (Burnetts, pg.238). Therefore, Elsaesser determines:
“Mind-game films, we could say, break one set of rules (realism, transparency, linearity) in order to make way for a new set, and their formal features- whether we examine them from a narratological angle, from an ontological, epistemological, psychopathological, or pedagogical perspective (for all of which they provide credible “entry points”)- represent a compromise formation, which is itself flexible, adaptable, differential, and versatile: not unlike it’s ideal (implied) spectators” (2009, pg.38).
This narrative is a reflection of media and society today. Elsaesser discusses flexibility and linearity, where words such as those can refer to both entertainment and spectators. Steven Shaviro coined the term “post-cinematic”, used to describe how cinema has given “way to television as a “cultural dominant” a long time ago, in the mid-twentieth century; and television in turn has given way in recent years to computer and network based, and digitally generated ‘new media’”. He continues by stating “film has not disappeared, but has been transformed over the past two decades from an analog process to a heavily digitized one” (pg.1). Inception can be viewed as post-cinematic cinema, where the mind-game narrative and focus on unstable memories and distorted time all simultaneously amalgam to create a film that taps into the insecurity, isolation, alienation and detachment from society –the real-world– by entering into the world of dreams and the virtual; not dissimilar to how society have become ever-connected – tethered even- to their myriad technological devices, and virtual lives. How capitalism and ever-rising consumerism is shutting us off from reality, tempting us and planting seeds in our minds for the endless barrage of advertising of products that we “need” to make us “happier”. This is the “post-cinematic affect” it can be seen that Shaviro refers to: cinema today that is a mirror to society as a whole, down to how we feel in the modern world.
One of the most popular forms of entertainment today, annually making more profits than film, are videogames. By 1972, arcade game Pong (Atari) – that resembled table tennis, with two “paddles” running up and down both sides of the screen and a “ball” that would have to be successfully hit back and forth – would launch videogames into popular culture. Videogames have, of course, one key difference to film. They are interactive: they hand over control to the “player”. As games have grown into a mainstream media, it’s not difficult to understand why cinema is remediating the medium in various- often subtle– ways. ‘Ludology’ (or ‘game theory’) is an important aspect when discussing the way films attempt to remediate games; the videogame is often a combination of narrative storytelling and game design. Henry Jenkins explains how the relationship between games and story is a question that still divides “game fans, designers and scholars alike” (pg.118). In his essay “Game Design and Narrative Structure”, Jenkins explains the schism he witnessed whilst attending a Game Studies conference: the ‘self-proclaimed ludologists’, who believe focus should lie on game-play mechanics; and opposing them the ‘narratologists’, who are interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media. Inception, if analyzed closely, shares many traits of a videogame’s gameplay elements and structure within its narrative.
Firstly, the PASIV device itself is like a virtual-reality console. The people hooked up to the machine are “dreamers”, who are just like “gamers” in a multiplayer simulation. The futuristic technology emulates interactive gaming, where players are mentally submerged in the virtual world of the game, and the “virtual space” on which the game is displayed – a TV, monitor, Smartphone etc. As Burnetts points out, “the physical integrity of the time travel hero as he crosses different dimensions is split here between body and mind, where the latter is freed here from its usual physical and ontological constraints and permitted to exercise the full extent of imagination and memory” (pg.242).
Not simply just invoking gaming technology, Inception’s environments are just like “levels” in a game. The first level is ‘Reality’. The second is the ‘Van Chase’ through a rainy city. Third is ‘The Hotel’. Then comes the ‘Snow Fortress’, and finally ‘Limbo’. Furthermore, as when gaming, having familiarity with a level and good timing means the more likely the player is to succeed: in the film time is a key theme- it is what Cobb’s crew use to know when they need to complete their mission within each level by. It’s a literal race against time by the climax of the film, once things inevitably have gone wrong, but above that there is the timing of the “kicks” – a sharp, harsh force that wakes a dreamer up. Cobb’s crew are in three levels down, which means one “kick” is required per each level. Arthur, Cobb’s right-hand man, is in charge of strategy and organization of the mission, and ultimately he must improvise a “kick” at the film’s climax to successfully wake the rest of the crew up from the lower-dream states. Unlike John Connor in The Terminator, or Doc Brown in Back To The Future (1985), the brains behind the operation does not merely orchestrate the action or trigger it, but instead are an integral part of the story and are too valuable as a “gamer” to just sit back and let everyone else play. Arthur gets to play too, thus “foregrounding a spatialized logic as opposed to the more temporal variations of the traditional time travel film” (Burnetts, pg.242). Therefore, unlike most Time-Travel story-worlds, which are “set as a constant against which time is a variable”, Inception “is like a videogame in its rendering of heterogeneous levels within which the mission takes place” (Burnett, pg.242.).
This remediation that Inception has of ‘gameplay’ design whilst also conforming to Hollywood narratological conventions is cinema’s attempt at maintaining relevance in the modern day of new digital media. As Bolter and Grusin explain:
“Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media” (pg.15).
Inception is a nod to time-travel films such as The Terminator, where we have Fischer’s relationship with his “disappointed” father as the typical linear oedipal narrative: his conflict with his dad, then his acceptance of him under the fake idea that Cobb planted, upon which his story concludes by him assuming his father’s position as head of the Energy Company. Themes of reconciliation; Cobb with his children, Fisher with his father, of redemption; Cobb redeeming himself from the guilt of his wife’s death, of getting Saito stuck in Limbo for several decades- and many more classical Hollywood character actions – make it clear that the film utilizes a literary approach in aspects to its narrative.
Simultaneously, however, it’s also an embracing of new digital media; videogames in particular. The film’s narrative is complex, flexible, structured like gameplay, evoking virtual reality technology, and it’s clearly been created for a 21st Century audience. The film is meant to be watched and re-watched in order to uncover all its secrets. Its narrative is a virtualization of the time-travel genre, where instead of the common classic time-travel structure of linear time and related causalities (Cause and Effect), Inception somewhat remediates new digital media’s form to create a re-imagining of time-travel for cinema; time-travel for a new spectator who has grown up in a digitized world. A world where time no longer needs to be traversed physically, but can be traversed mentally. The “mind-game” film is a showing of a performance of skill, memory, and timing, very similar to the experience of playing a game without having the power of interacting yourself.
Finally, we reach the end to Inception’s story. Cobb is reunited with his children at long last, but Nolan quickly focuses on Cobb’s spinning totem – his instrument that shows him that he is still in someone else’s dream if it never topples – and yet it spins and spins. The shot lingers there for a little, and then the screen turns to black. The audience never sees if Cobb’s dreaming this scenario or it’s actually reality. Maybe it doesn’t matter- after all Cobb does not stay to see if the totem will topple. Cobb is finally free of his guilt for Mal’s death; maybe that is enough. Either way, Nolan could be seen as playing with his audience just as we play in our everyday lives. In this world of social media and new digital technologies, humans are increasingly becoming lost in our virtual worlds. Worlds that –in reality- don’t really matter that much.
Nolan’s Inception presents Time as which “essentially folds into itself, and can no longer be can conceived of in terms of an ongoing progression of unfolding events, a condition that requires the subject to more or less gamble with the certainties once ensured by time-travel, and derive faith from whatever provisional reality he or she currently inhabits in his or her present” (Burnetts, pg.246). This reflects Cobb’s choice at the end of his story, and at the end of Inception. He is deciding to have faith in his current environment, in that moment, and is gambling that he truly is back in the real world by not watching his totem fall. This gamble, this faith, is what us humans today place in our technology today. We live in a society of networks, constantly connected to each other at all times. We place so much import on Facebook, and Twitter, and so on, because they are meant to make us feel closer to our friends and family -even people we don’t know- than ever before. My argument is that, whilst our new world presents us with advantages, it also arrives hand-in-hand with disadvantages. Everyone has almost become a performance of themselves, where social media presents the illusion – the idea– of intimacy, but inevitably can never achieve this. Humans will always keep a part of themselves locked away, and we will always need to interact with one another physically to create true meaning and true connection. Nolan’s ambiguous ending is the ultimate reflection to what society feels like in the modern day; a paradigm shift of ultimate proportions as we play with a virtual world that, if not careful, we can get lost in. Just as Time is at a disconnect with Reality in Inception, we spend ever-increasing amounts of time on our screens, disconnecting ourselves from reality; and for better or worse, that is the truest statement about society today.
Resetting the Day: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
“Live. Die. Repeat.”
That’s the other name for Doug Liman’s sci-fi summer thriller Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Based on the book All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the film is set in 2061 and tells the story of Earth under attack by seemingly-invincible aliens called Mimics. Every army that has faced them in battle have perished, and the Mimics are edging ever closer to wiping out the entire human population. Major William Cage (played by Tom Cruise) is tasked with being part of a ground assault in France against the aliens – but he has no combat experience, wrongly ordered into battle by the Head of Humanity’s ‘United Defense Force’(UFD), General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). What follows is a suicide mission where Cage finds himself in an unwinnable battle with the Mimics, and he gets killed within minutes of landing on the French coast. However, instead of death, Cage finds himself caught in a time loop where he has to relive the past day from pre-battle to being back on the beach fighting the aliens, over and over again. Though as he repeatedly dies and tries again, Cage’s fighting skills improve and he and a female warrior, ‘The Angel of Verdun’ (Emily Blunt), edge ever closer to beating the Mimics.
In the ‘Afterword’ within Sakurazaka’s novel, the author writes:
“I look down from above and say, ‘After all the time I put into the game, of course I was going to beat it.’…The ending never changes. The village elder can’t come up with anything better than the same, worn-out line he always uses………I’m just an ordinary guy, and proud of it. I’m here because I put in the time. I have the blisters on my fingers to prove it. It had nothing to do with coincidence, luck, or the activation of my Wonder Twin powers. I reset the game hundreds of times until my special attack finally went off perfectly. Victory was inevitable.” (pg.199).
This quote makes it abundantly clear that games were a huge influence on the story, and were a huge part of Hiroshi’s childhood. Unlike The Terminator, or even Inception, we have proof from the creator himself that this story is set-up just like a videogame, and has been forged by his game-playing experience. Knowing this makes our discussion instantly more accurate.
Firstly, an analysis of how Time and Time-Travel are displayed in Edge of Tomorrow. Where The Terminator also operates under a time loop, one that spans from 1984 to 2029 (forty-five years), here the time loop spans one day. Every time Cage is killed by a Mimic he wakes up at dawn the previous morning back at Heathrow Airport, the U.K operating base of the UFD. On the first day prior to the day of the invasion, Cage awakes there after he gets tasered unconscious for trying to escape General Brigham’s orders. At the airport he is confronted by Major Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) who informs him that he has been demoted to Private and has been charged as a deserter. After failing to convince Farell of the truth of his horrible situation, Cage is assigned to ‘J Squad’, a team of army members for the UFD.
On this first ‘try’ in battle, Cage – despite his incompetence and complete lack of combat experience- manages to kill a large Mimic; a lightning fast, blue, tentacled extra-terrestrial. However, using a mine to achieve the kill, he also kills himself. As the Mimic is right above him at that moment, it gets blown apart and it’s blue blood soaks Cage as he gets burnt to a crisp from the mine explosion. The blood falls into his wounds and devastated body as he’s killed. Cage suddenly wakes up back at Heathrow the previous morning. From this point forwards, the confused Cage tries to convince Farell and anyone else to heed his advice that the mission will fail and thousands of soldier will die, but alas; no one believes him. That is until, on one of many time loops, Cage encounters ‘The Angel of Verdun’ (aka “Full Metal Bitch” to her comrades); a female soldier who earned the name after taking down countless Mimics in battle. Cage and her meet on the beach, and she witnesses his ability to know the future, dodging Mimics and saving her life. It’s then when she tells him to “come find me when you wake up.”
This female war hero is Sergeant Rita Vrataski. Vrataski takes Cage to see
Doc. Carter, a physicist and confidant. After a short presentation we learn that the Mimic that Cage killed, of which blood is inside him, is called an ‘Alpha’. Carter explains the Alpha is like the Mimics ‘nervous system’ which is connected to the Mimics brain, known as the ‘Omega’. The Omega controls all Mimics, but more importantly, it has the ability to control Time. Vrataski informs Cage that anytime an Alpha is killed, the Omega resets the day, and is then able to see what the human enemy is going to do before they do it- hence the Mimics seemingly impossible advantage. As Vrataski and Carter explain in unison: “…And an enemy that knows the future, can’t lose”. However, when Cage was infected with the Alpha’s blood, he seized control of the enemy’s ability to reset time, so therefore now has seized the enemy’s advantage. Vrataski actually had been infected with an Alphas’ blood previously to Cage also, but lost the power when she had a blood transfusion performed whilst in surgery post-battle. This was the reason she was able to defeat so many Mimics at Verdun; earning her that name. Time-travel in Edge of Tomorrow therefore is triggered and allowed through biological means – rather than technological as in most Time-travel narratives.
“First and foremost, Liman’s story is itself a direct expression of the video-game experience. Forced to relive the same day ad infinitum, Cage [then] trains with famous warrior, Rita Vrataski, as well as memorizes the tactics of his enemies”, Nick Shager explains. Similarly to Inception, memorizing events and timing actions are of paramount importance to Cage. Therefore, “consequently, his situation directly emulates action-oriented video games, in which success is predicated on replaying the same scenarios over and over, both in order to hone one’s skills and also to learn enemies’ pre-programmed patterns of behaviour” (Shager, pg.1). Whereas a movie such as Inception may have been inspired by games like Sim City (Maxis, 1989), Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) and other world-building simulations, Edge has clearly taken note of the popularity of Halo (Bungie, 2001), Army of Two (EA, 2008), and other action games – as author Sukurazaki described were a large and influential part of his childhood and the reason for All You Need Is Kill’s existence. In his thesis entitled “The Technoludic Film: Images of Video Games in Movies (1973-2001)”, Matteo Bittanti suggests how the “convergence between cinema and videogames led to the emergence of a new film genre, the Technoludic film. Technoludic is an umbrella term that is to describe films that incorporate videogames in their narratives and visuals” (pg.7). By Bittantis’ explanation, Edge of Tomorrow is most certainly part of that genre.
Philosophically speaking, this narrative of rebirth and reincarnation, is very similar to both The Terminator, Inception, and many other Time-travel stories. Whilst the very essence of this topic can viewed as a remediation of videogame trial-and-error gameplay, it can also be analysed through more academic terms. The Terminator is an Oedipus Story with elements of Freudian psychology, Inception is arguably a social commentary, so where does Edge of Tomorrow lie?
Frederic Nietzsche, renowned German philosopher, believed in ‘Eternal Recurrence’ or the ‘Eternal Return’; that is, the concept that the universe is recurring, and everything that has happened will happen again. The concept is based purely in physical reincarnation, and does not delve into the supernatural. Found in Indian and Ancient Egyptian philosophy, the ‘Eternal return’ views Time not as linear, but cyclical. This being the case, both Nietzsche and Deleuze seem to be in agreement where the philosophy of Time is concerned. Soren Kierkegaard’s version of eternal return, who calls it “Repetition” in his publication of the same name, is a good descriptor for Nietzsche’s Notes on the Eternal Recurrence explaining his thoughts on the infinite repetition of life and the universe:
“Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:- and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon” (Nietzsche, 1911).
Edge of Tomorrow, like Groundhog Day (1993) or Run Lola Run (1998), is the epitome of a cyclical, repetitive narrative. In fact, it is arguably one of the most video-game inspired films ever released, being simultaneously the filmic representation of gameplay– whilst also playing with Nietzsche, Delueze, and even Kierkegaard’s philosophies on Time. As Jay Dyer describes: “Simply put, the film is a presentation of Nietzsche’s eternal return, which is a restatement of the ancient view of cyclical history. The rise of Christianity and biblical, linear history displaced the older, wherein man was viewed as trapped in a never-ending wheel of reincarnations and rebirths” (Dyer, pg.1).
In a world before the birth of Christ, the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Egyptians were known to believe in concepts such as rebirth, hence ceremonies such as mummification, which was “considered integral to one’s afterlife. The mummified body provided a place for a person’s ‘ba’, or spirit, to return to the body after death” (Museum of Science, 2016). A comparative theory is eulogized by Major Sergeant Farell when escorting Cage to his army bunk, where J. Squad await. A stern Farell tells Cage: “The good news is there’s hope for your, Private. Hope in the form of glorious combat, battle is the great redeemer, the fiery crucible in which the only true heroes are forged.” Farell implies war and death as Mans’ opportunity for redemption; that to fight is to bring hope. Therefore, the ultimate objective when trapped in this cycle that is deemed to repeat itself ad infinitum, is – as Dyer believes- “transcending the cycle altogether” (pg.1). This is in stark contrast to the unseen cyclical narrative of The Terminator, where instead of Time being set in stone and fates already decided from the beginning of the story, Edge of Tomorrow’s Time Loop is utterly variable and the narrative is completely determined to show us, the spectators, that Cage can change the future through his actions of learning through repetition. In The Terminator, John Connor was always destined to live, but William Cage in Edge isn’t, and nor is any of ‘J. Squad’ – or more importantly Rita, his eventual love interest.
In terms of other Time-Travel Science-Fiction film that experiment with this concept, we have – to name one- Triangle (2009). In Triangle, a mind-boggling horror sci-fi thriller, our protagonist Jess (Melissa George) is the single mother of an autistic son. She decides to take a boat trip out into the ocean with several friends, but a storm wrecks their boat, causing them to board a passing ocean liner. On board the deserted ship, one of Jess’ male friends notices a painting of Greek King Sisyphus, son of Aeolus (the ship’s name in the film), and he explains the King’s story- how Sisyphus was punished for self-aggrandizing and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down again, repeating this action for all eternity. This ultimately ends up being an analogy of Jess’s punishment for not accepting the true fate of her son. Triangle, like Edge of Tomorrow, utilizes this concept of Time being a causality loop, and the only way to escape is for the protagonist to face their inner most fears, re-incarnating themselves in the process.
At the conclusion of Edge of Tomorrow, Cage finally is able to defeat the Mimics and break the cycle of repeating his day over. By locating the Omega, the Mimic’s brain, he kills it and by doing so kills all the Mimics. However, once again he dies himself defeating the Omega, but somehow the Omega’s blood seeps into his dying body just like before with the Alpha, and Cage once again regains the power to reset the day. This time, when the day resets, Cage does not wake up at Heathrow Airport, but earlier the previous morning when Cage was arriving in London via helicopter. News awaits on landing that the Mimics are defeated. The cycle has been broken.
Edge of Tomorrow is easily the most identifiable remediation of videogames in cinema today (that isn’t actually based on an existing videogame licence). Of course, interactivity is the key exemption. As Geoff King explains, this fact can be a positive though, as interactivity means “the loss of one key source of the appeal of narrative cinema: the enjoyable process of having the balance of events taken entirely out of our hands”. That a film like Edge of Tomorrow can have “carefully balanced and organised tension and suspense; of wondering what exactly is going to happen or when without being able to influence it at all”, whereas a videogame cannot. (King, pg.54). Regardless of this however, as Leon Gurevitch explains, “the implication that interactivity implies a differentiated path from early games not suitable for cinematic analogy is problematic in suggesting that the interactive function is opposed to the cinematic” (pg.186).
Just as in the early days of cinema, when Steven Bottomore coined the term “train effect” to describe how “audiences supposedly ran hysterically from early cinema projections of oncoming trains”, Edge of Tomorrow can be seen a contemporary example of cinema for spectators that are “craving for ever new visual stimuli [which has] often characterised the process of cinematic spectatorship” (Gurevitch, 2010). Upon inspection and analysis, the ever-increased merging of videogames and cinema is clear to see, as Gurevitch sums up:
“At first glance the film and game industries are clearly separate and distinct entities. Not only do they involve different production practices and business models but they also produce separate and distinct products. However, there are also now more and more overlaps. While Hollywood has edged closer to a system of ‘transmedia storytelling’ with an audiovisual form that is increasingly computer generated, the emergent global gaming industry has continued to develop a photorealistic aesthetic that in turn places ever more demands upon the quality and nature of the narrative form which accompanies it…Over the past three decades gaming has not been exempt from the drive toward ever new forms of the spectacular audiovisual stimuli that Bottomore argues always drove cinema.” (Gurevitch, 2010).
If The Terminator is a classic time-travel story, and Inception is a re-invention of time-travel for a new world of virtual and digital media, then Edge of Tomorrow is the epitome of both. Where narrative is informed by literary scholars and philosophical musings on Time, whilst utterly embracing – even more so than Inception– the world of the present and future, where film-makers are recognizing the immediacy and mental excitement and immersion that can only be experienced in an interactive medium like videogames; therefore forging a film in Edge of Tomorrow that breaks classical film narrative and provides the spectator with an experience that is as close to the feeling of game-playing as we may have witnessed. It’s almost harking back to the days of early cinema, or as Tom Gunning described henceforth “The Cinema of Attractions”; an experience that “directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle” (Gunning, pg.16). So is cinema itself destined a quasi-return to the past, into a world of audio-visual stimuli? That may just be the case; devices like the Virtual Reality headset Oculus Rift releasing in 2016 promise to shock and awe us at the possibilities of where our entertainment world could venture next. That in this modern world, we may have become lost in technology that disconnects us, but simultaneously this technology may also be our redemption; our hope. Edge of Tomorrow is truly a cinematic experience for an audience that appreciates and understands why games are so popular today, while providing film-lovers with a time-travel narrative that excites and entertains; further blurring the line between film and new digital media.
The Final Word
In a post-videogame world, this work has looked at three Time-Travel films, beginning in the 80’s. As Tom Shales explains, from 1979-1985 most time travel films failed at the box office. The Terminator, which has been discussed, was successful. However, as Andrew Gordon explains (partly quoting Tom Shales), “the only one to hit it really big was Back to the Future, a phrase that almost sums the eighties up, and partly because the movie made time-travel a joke, a gag; a hoot. We are not amazed at the thought of time-travel because we do it every day.” Gordon continues by describing how Shales called the 80’s ““The Re-Decade”; a decade of replays, re-runs, and recycling of popular culture, epitomized by video recorders and videocassettes” (Gordon, pg.31).
This remediation has become increasingly prevalent as time has moved forward; after all every medium is inspired by other mediums. As videogames drastically changed the entertainment landscape, it also changed cinema. The Terminator does not have any substantial video-game elements that we can make a strong argument for, but instead a societal mirroring of the anxiousness of the future can be seen for the rise in popularity of the time-travel genre. Moving to the 21st Century, though, videogames are making their mark. For Inception, where for director Christopher Nolan, games are the virtual worlds of Dom Cobb and his team, a place which creation and imagination are let to run rampant across a dream-state. Or in Edge of Tomorrow, where the author of the original novel clearly states his inspiration for the story from playing action videogames as a child, employing the same repetitive trial and error nature to what would become a cinematic experience that is arguably the closest we can ever come to having the videogame affect on a cinema screen. As Matteo Bittanti’s research finds: “There is a merging of languages, narrative strategies and genres, as videogames influence films and vice versa” (pg.7).
Looking forward, the future of entertainment is a world of possibility. For now though, Shales believes “Television is our national time machine”(Gordon, pg.31). It’s true that staring at the screen is like peering through a looking glass to past, present and fictional future. Therefore, Time-Travel narratives present spectators with an ability to see that what we would all love to be able to control: Time. Cinema allows us to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours and provides us with a window, a mirror unto our world, a mirror unto our time. That mirror reflects ourselves and society back at us, and in turn allows us to see who we are, what we are, and what makes us human. That we are simultaneously nostalgic and futurist. Perhaps, regarding humans and time, everything is connected:
“To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time. Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” – Somni-451, Cloud Atlas (Mitchell, 2004)
In addition, we can understand that Science Fiction is a genre that presents possible realities based on science that we know today. The genre is rooted in our current reality, and has therefore been shaped by our past research; thus affecting our future reality. Therefore ‘fiction’ now, could very well turn out to be ‘fact’ someday. However, until physical time-travel is invented – and maybe it will be -we already have our metaphorical time-travel. As Thomas C.Wall explains of Charles Deleuze’s two-volume study of Cinema:
“Cinema 2 describes the recovery of cinema’s lost ‘secret’, the direct presentation of that to which only language, not perception, is adequate: time. Beginning with Yasujiro Ozu, cinema presents time, not movement, and only the fact of language is equal to its presentation. As the image is not the presentation of an action, ‘what happens next’ no longer matters, and that which is directly presented is not even, *stricto sensu*, seen. The sensory-motor link is broken and action becomes irrelevant. Movement no longer ‘measures’ time but is folded into time.” (Wall, 2004).
Whatever your personal beliefs, my argument- along with Deleuze and Shales – is that the invention of cinema and the moving image is possibly the greatest time machine of all.
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Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, USA
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Directed by Doug Liman, USA
Groundhog Day (1993) Directed by Harold Ramis, USA
Inception (2010) Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA
Mindscape (2013) Directed by Jorge Dorado, Spain
Run Lola Run (1998) Directed by Tom Tykwer, Germany
Terminator 2 (1991) Directed by James Cameron, USA
The Terminator (1984) Directed by James Cameron, USA
Triangle (2009) Directed by Christopher Smith, USA
Army of Two (2008) EA
Halo (2001) Bungie
Minecraft (2011) Mojang
Pong (1972) Atari
Sim City (1989) Maxis