Monday, 16 November 2015

Parenting, And The Butterfly Effect. Or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Stop Watching Time Travel Movies

Or, to put it another way, I wish, I wish, I didn’t kill that fish.

My wife and I had a conversation a few weeks ago about, of all things, the apocalypse. We deal with cheery topics of discussion in our house. I think we were watching Children of Men.

And my wife told me that since becoming a parent she doesn’t think she can watch movies that deal with it anymore.

I sort of laughed it off a bit, but as she went into detail I came around to her way of thinking. We - used to - watch and - also, used to - enjoy The Walking Dead (show me someone that doesn’t love a zombie apocalypse and I will show you a liar) and its depiction of the misery upon misery upon misery of survival in a post collapse world.

She told me she had a dream that such a thing had actually happened and that we, as a family, were trying to survive in that world, and that it scared the bejesus out of her, so much so that she doesn’t really want to continue watching it for fear of adding yet more nightmare fuel to the fire.* Fair enough. It is a fairly terrifying notion but in my head I thought that it was only a dream and that nothing like that would ever happen. *crosses fingers, touches wood* I think myself pretty good at suspending my disbelief and disassociating real life with the movies and TV shows I watch.**

Or so I thought.

You see, I recently watched the Back to the Future trilogy, and while it’s still the only perfect trilogy out there (not my opinion, just a stone cold FACT) unspoiled by fourquels or worse, prequels, something in it struck a chord with me that had never been struck before.

When Marty goes back to 1955 and accidentally torpedoes his own parents meet-cute, he sets in motion a chain of events that, as his family photograph attests, will cause him to simply disappear unless he fixes things. He will be “erased…from existence.” In the movie, its fun and played for laughs, the threat never entirely serious in this sort of knockabout time travel romp, but the notion of it chilled my bones.

I’ve always thought that time travel would be great fun (show me someone that doesn’t love at least one time travel movie and I will show you a liar) but now, since becoming a dad, I’m not so sure. Ignoring all sorts of paradoxes that real world scientists have hypothesised and dealing strictly in movie science, there are a myriad of ways I could monumentally alter the course of not just my life, but the lives of those I love, by doing only the tiniest thing in the past. Given that this is the basis for the film The Butterfly Effect, I know have two reasons for never watching it ever again. Mostly because it’s terrible though.

I’ve not even seen About Time, and I’m not likely to now, but I’ve heard that a small decision Domnhall Glesson makes in the past changes his son into a daughter upon his return, and only he (and Bill Nighy, because Bill Nighy knows all) knows that anything is different. That truly terrifies me. My son is a year and a half. If such a thing happened to me now, I would be distraught. Even the thought of it gives me a knot in my gut. Not to take things in too maudlin a direction and I hope this doesn’t come off as flippant, but as I was explaining this (admittedly dumb) fear to my wife she brought up as a comparison her/our miscarriage. Had things gone differently, we would have had a baby a few months before we did, and while that would have been brilliant and we would have been thrilled, my son would never have existed. If for whatever reason I could travel back in time and “fix” what happened, a wish that at the time no doubt passed through my mind, it would lead to my son never being born. And while the pain of that experience still exists I wouldn’t change it for the world because I have my baby boy.

Which is why time travel movies and the usual problems that befall the protagonist, not just losing those they love but them never having existed, give me the heebie-jeebies more now that I’m a father.
Like, imagine I wanted to travel back in time to before I had a child, before I was married even, to have one night of responsibility free fun times (or two nights. Or a fortnight.). Assume that we aren’t dealing with a causal loop here and that anything I do in the past affects the future. What if something I do directly affects me meeting my wife, or conceiving my son? That is the stuff of nightmares for me, all because I wanted a few days of no responsibil…oh, God. This is the plot to Shrek 4! My wife is now some warrior woman and I’m stuck with a donkey.

Even in the playful, nearly consequence free version of time travel Back to the Future showcases, Marty returns to 1985 with a home life vastly different to the one he left pre his 1955 diversion, a published author father, a loving mother, successful siblings and, somehow, a brand new 4x4. He doesn’t know these people, his entire life has been rewritten, Marty’s lucky he even exists in this timeline and that his ‘new’ parents decided to have kids (oddly, exactly the same kids) in the first place. Imagine if Marty returned to 1985, climbed into his parent’s house and they didn’t know who he was and ran him out of the house. Marty is now without a home, without a family. That, to me, is scarier than the Biff Tannen ruled alternate 1985. That we never see anything post trilogy is probably for the best as Marty gets committed for constantly reminiscing about things that never happened in this new timeline.

So, yeah, time travel movies have taken on a whole new aspect in my head lately. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be holed up in a bunker avoiding becoming my own grandfather, killing Hitler and waiting for the Morlocks to come.

Your friend in time.
Jonathan Cardwell

* She continues to watch countless shows about serial killers and terrorists though, but nope, zombie apocalypses are the real threat.
**Although she did also mention Contagion, a movie whose apocalypse is so bowel looseningly plausible I just ignored that she’d even brought in up, lest I curl up into the foetal position with a gas mask and some disinfectant spray.