Time Travel 101, or, I’m About to Watch WAAAAAAAAAY Too Many Time Travel Movies!

I don’t think anyone will accuse me of hyperbole when I say that the last twelve months have been, to use the scientific term, an absolute fucking nightmare.

As I publish this, we’ve just passed the one year anniversary of the full Covid-19 lockdowns around the globe, and even this worldwide pandemic that has killed millions was just the most notable entry on a long list of deadly disasters. I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail, you were there after all, but 2020 featured earthquakes, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, typhoons, a tsunami, hurricanes, flash floods, and an explosion in Beirut so big it was felt in at least five other countries. Throw in increasingly draconian tactics by governments and police in response to unconnected protests in countries around the world — United States, India, Myanmar, and Nigeria to name a few — and it’s clear the word apocalyptic isn’t a hyperbolic adjective for the last year. And it didn’t begin with 2020. At least the last five years revealed themselves to be a series of ever-worsening hellscapes. Every time we think we’ve reached the bottom, we find out we’ve only just begun our descent.

Seeing as how all indicators point to a forecast of shitty with a chance of catastrophe, it’s well past the time for me to devise an exit strategy to get out of this mess. In truth, I should have had a go-bag packed by the front door ages ago, so it’s time to get my shit together. The last thing I’d want is to be caught unprepared when things go from worse to worst to holy fuck this is bad!

Here’s the thing, though, where does one escape when the chaos and clusterfuckery is everywhere? There’s certainly no quarter to be found by merely fleeing to a new locale.

No, the way I see it, there are only four real options.

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Option 1: Gear up, train hard, and try to survive in an apocalyptic wasteland.

I’ll just be straight with you, I am very much not a survivalist. But even if I had more of the necessary qualities, this option is still a hard sell. By definition, any attempt to survive beyond Thunderdome is a nightmare scenario.

I mean, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find a remote and undiscovered safe haven. Maybe you can even build a nice little life for yourself as you try to ride out the apocalypse, but how long could that really last before someone stumbles across your idyllic post-apocalyptic oasis? Sorry to my fellow spoiler-phobes out there, but that story doesn’t have a happy ending.

The opposite alternative would be to head out on the road and never stop moving, trying to survive by your wits on an unending search for the resources you need to survive another day. I’d say this strategy is the epitome of the whole ‘prolonging the inevitable’ thing. Your best chance of surviving would be finding a cannibal murder cult willing to let you join up, maybe because you have the same taste in music or books or something.

Even with all the zombie movies I’ve watched in preparation, I don’t see myself surviving long in either of these scenarios.

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Option 2: An underground bunker or shelter

Now, I’m talking here about the sort of fallout shelter you lock yourself into and don’t leave for years or decades, while hoping everything up top blows over. As far as bunkers you stay in for safety at night while living your daily life above ground? That would be covered above, under Option 1.

The whole full-time underground scenario is going to be a hard pass for me for so many reasons, the most urgent of which is my severe claustrophobia. Now, maybe I could make this option work if I had access to one of those massive fallout paradises created exclusively for the uber-wealthy (which was also stocked with an indefinite supply of powerful psychiatric medications), but let’s be honest, I’ll never qualify for one of those. If I end up trapped in anything smaller, breathing nothing but recycled air indefinitely, I’d have a series of increasingly intense panic attacks before finally succumbing to a stroke or heart attack. No joke.

Sorry, Ben Folds, I can’t be happy underground.

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Option 3: Space travel

Again, claustrophobia! It would take quite the colossal generational space ark for me to survive even the early weeks of the voyage without having a complete meltdown, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any colossal generational space arks in our near future.

Alternatively, I’m also a no-go on the whole cryogenic hibernation thing. I mean, how many happy endings have you heard for stories about subzero space slumber? There’s always some sort of catastrophic system failure, after which some people die in their pods while others go space mad and turn on each other, die of some horrifying alien virus, get picked off one by one by a super-predator, or meet some other similarly grisly end. It’s never, “And then the brave explorers were awoken ahead of schedule, because they’d been discovered by aliens who wanted to share space cupcakes and the secret to immortality.”

So, space travel? No-thank-you-please.

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Option 4: Time travel

And here we come to the correct answer. I mean, come on, this is obviously the best option! When all else fails, it’s best to just grab your flux capacitor, kick that DeLorean up to 88 mph, and party like it’s… well, whatever fucking year you want!

And as we’ve established, for me it’s not simply the best option, but the only option.

— — — — —

Good, so that’s settled. Now the real work begins. I’ve got so much to learn to make this dream a reality. This isn’t the sort of endeavor where you just wing it and hope for the best.

For one, there’s the question of how one travels through time. I mean, are we talking a traditional Wellesian time machine? Maybe a vehicle of some sort? Some wearable tech, perhaps? Will there be dimension hopping, or black holes, or maybe some wormholes? Will some fourth-dimensional alien technology play a role? A deal with the gods or some other mysterious mystical tomfoolery? Maybe the trick is surrounding myself with artifacts of an earlier time and using self-hypnosis to convince myself I’m in the past (I know that one sounds absolutely ridiculous, but it worked for Christopher Reeve).

Once a method of travel is finally settled on, there is still so much to account for. This is time travel we’re talking about, and it’s certainly nothing to be taken lightly. There’s so much that can go wrong. Not just for me, all of human history might be at risk. Or worse, all of time and space for that matter! If I’m going to safely navigate the space-time continuum, and help all my loved ones do the same — while avoiding destroying the entire universe or whatever — I’m going to need to become a bonafide expert.

I bet you’re out there asking, “But Scott, how will you become such an expert? Will you spend a decade-plus getting multiple doctorates related to quantum physics? Will you spend thousands of hours exploring the relationship between speed, gravity, and time, whilst studying theories of negative energy density, wormholes, and cosmic strings?”

No, of course not. First off, I have more than enough student debt as it is before heading back for the masters level post-graduate work I’d need to get me started. Besides, that just seems like a whole fucking thing. Pass.

I’ve got an even better idea. I’m going to watch an absurdly long list of movies and see if that does the trick. I’m fairly confident a crash course in the storied history of time travel cinema will teach me everything I need to know to execute, survive, and even thrive during my temporally flexible adventures. Trust me, the logic checks out.

I’m certainly not entering my studies as a complete neophyte, but while I’m already relatively well-versed in the subgenre, the time for half measures has come and gone. I’m going all-in, whole-hog, full-bore! We’re talking a deep dive into the celluloid space-time continuum, and I’m inviting all of you to come along.

And what a deep dive it will be! It turns out there are a lot of time travel movies. Like, I knew there was a sizable catalogue, but when I started doing research for this series there were soooo many more than I could’ve guessed. Like, every time I reached the bottom of a rabbit hole of obscure time-travel films, it’s not that the hole would get deeper, it’s that I’d find another rabbit hole. I guess I really shouldn’t have been surprised. Time travel stories date back to at least the 1700s, and 2021 marks the 100 year anniversary of time travel in film (that’s not the reason I’m doing this, but it’s a nice little bit of kismet).

So far — and knowing me, I’ll keep searching — I’ve compiled a list of over 180 movies, that I’ll be using to watch my way to time travel expertise.* And because I’m nice like that, I’ll share conveniently organized movie lists with all of you, both for your viewing pleasure, and to aid you should you choose to devise a time hopping exit strategy of your very own.

I do hope you’ll join me on my cinematic time travel odyssey, beginning next week with a movie list all about resetting time loops.

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*Full disclosure: I won’t watch or rewatch every film on the list. Even taking a mastery of time itself into effect, life’s way too short to spend 96 minutes watching the 2002 adaption of The Time Machine.

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