About Time
Especially now, we need to learn to appreciate each moment. (Illustration by Emmalia Godshall, Columbia University)

‘About Time’ Offers Insight Into Appreciating Our Own Time

Even seven years after it was released, the time-travel film’s theme of treasuring the time spent with loved ones remains remarkably relevant, particularly during the pandemic.

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About Time

Even seven years after it was released, the time-travel film’s theme of treasuring the time spent with loved ones remains remarkably relevant, particularly during the pandemic.

*Spoiler Warnings*

About Timeoffers a glimpse into the world of a time traveler who comes to appreciate life when he is given a surplus amount of time. In this movie, traveling through time has implications that can be confusing, complicated, and at times, heartbreaking. Many of us wonder what to do with time, how to make a good life and what to do with time’s vivid lessons. “About Time” offers an intense and heartwarming critique on the importance of crystallized moments as well as the relationships with the people around you.

When you are busy, it is easy to miss the importance of those around you. Conversely, during COVID-19, many of us have been offered a twisted but profound gift — time to reexamine our lives. As many of us work to find ourselves, “About Time” offers clever insights on our surroundings. Even as our lives are at a standstill, we can still pay attention to the importance of family and love.

The time travel restrictions in “About Time” raise important questions

The rules of time travel are clear for Tim Lake, portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson in Richard Curtis’ “About Time.” When he is introduced to his family’s secret, he learns that he cannot travel to a time when he does not exist. For times that he did exist, he would take on whatever age and form he was at that time. This begs the question — what exactly can, or should you do with time travel?

Obviously, many people would use knowledge of the future for financial gain. Though most people would relish in the idea of wealth, Tim’s father, James, played by Bill Nighy, warns that someone in their family had already attempted this, and noted the consequences and blessings of money was a mixed bag. Tim realizes that money might not be the most important thing in the world and turns his attention to other ways to construct his life in a way that can more profoundly enhance his relationships and experiences.

When Tim asks his father what he has used time travel on, James discloses that this strange gift has given him time to acquire knowledge and explore books. To James, books and their knowledge have made life grand for him and thus, he tells Tim to only use time travel on the experiences that will enhance his life in ways that are irreplaceable and insightful. However, it comes as no surprise to both James or the audience that the decision to improve one’s life usually starts selfishly — and with that in mind, Tim decides that he will use time travel to acquire a girlfriend.

Love is a mixed bag in “About Time”

At first glance, “About Time” resembles a classic romantic drama. Tim attempts to win a girl and uses time travel until he garners her affections, loses them, and, after learning a grand lesson, uses time travel again to win her back. However, “About Time” shamelessly spins the typical rom-com narrative on its head by showcasing Tim’s pursuit of love differently. Tim’s decision to use time travel to acquire a girlfriend is selfish, but his thoughts are always about the people around him — and quite selflessly, Tim also uses time travel at the expense of his own romantic conquests.

This is especially true after he meets his roommate, Harry, portrayed by Tom Hollander, an associate of James and a struggling playwright. Harry can be brash and harsh, but his hopes and aspirations do not fall on deaf ears. As Tim has a life-changing date with Mary, played by Rachel McAdams, he learns that the same night produces the worst night for Harry after one of his actors forgets their lines. Despite having the choice to let these events stay the same, Tim uses time travel to erase his date with Mary in exchange for Harry’s success as a playwright. This selfless moment highlights how Tim’s initial decision to use time travel for personal reasons becomes more about creating a life for those around him rather than simply for himself.

Eventually, Tim and Mary do end up dating and get married. Tim never uses time travel to fix his relationship with Mary; instead, he uses it to enhance the moments they spend together, like their wedding. It doesn’t take long before Tim and Mary announce their pregnancy with their first child. With the birth of Posey, the audience sees the complications of time travel for the lives of those who do not have the ability to travel through time.

Time travel and family are a complex combination

The first quirk of time travel is its effects on newborns. Changing significant events changes the outcomes of a life that required specific events in order to exist. Helping Tim’s sister, Kit-Kat, portrayed by Lydia Wilson, escape an abusive relationship prevents her from meeting her eventual boyfriend in the future. As far as he is concerned, the consequences of saving his sister from a car accident caused by this boyfriend far outweigh any consequences he could have foreseen. By preventing the car accident, Tim changes the outcome of his child’s life, and instead of having a daughter, he now has a son. Ultimately, there is no going back in time prior to a child’s birth.

“About Time” uses this revelation to probe further into the secret to a good life. When James is dying, he tells Tim to live every day twice, once with all the mundane twists it brings, and the second with the intentional purpose of making cheerful amends for those around him. This leads Tim to be kind to his coworker who has a rude boss, help his sister find love with his friend, and spend time with his family. “About Time” addresses how happiness is in the time spent with others, especially when time is fleeting.

The clever insight for “About Time” presents itself at the end

Death divides loved ones, whether you are a time traveler or not. Tim’s dilemma is that while time travel allows him to visit his father whenever he misses him, this opportunity will come to an end when Mary has another child. Tim shares the peace and stability of his life with his father even after his death and is faced with the choice of letting his father persist only as a memory and having a child, or not having another child at all.

Tim’s final conversation with his father marks the end of one life and heralds the beginning of another. It is a bittersweet celebration of life’s little moments. As they spend their final moments together on the beach, a tradition and memory they both were fond of, you can’t help but cry as you’ve developed an appreciation for the bond they share.

The movie draws to a close as Tim makes his final remarks: “Live life as if there were no second chances. I just try to live every day as if I have deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it… As if it was the full, final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.” The audience is left to reflect on life’s importance as the final moments of the film fade.

COVID-19 is perfect for time traveling in a world that lacks appreciation

When a movie about time travel is made well, it not only sticks with you but inspires you to examine your surroundings too. Tim’s dilemma in how to use time travel was the lesson we all needed to see — he was a normal guy with an extraordinary gift that allowed him to have a different perspective. If you take time to think about the movie instead of taking it at face value, Tim’s ordinary, extraordinary life helps us examine an existence where we choose the stillness of fleeting moments to internalize gratitude and appreciate what we choose to experience.

Tough choices are the heart of “About Time.” When Tim chooses to miss his date with Mary to help Harry, who had been mean to him before, Tim helps his friend rather than himself. Tim also chooses to time travel to help his sister not end up in an abusive relationship, helping her move on with her life, and date someone who cares about her. He helps Mary whenever he can, and allows his father to choose how to experience their final moments together. These plot points remind the audience that life is not just about them — life’s profound journey is about the people we choose to share our lives with.

Even though “About Time” graced the silver screen in 2013, the lessons from Tim’s journey remain relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. As many remain inside due to COVID-19, audiences may find that the movie helps them appreciate the time we have with those we live with. “About Time” addresses the importance of spending time with those around us, living life every day as if it was our last, and loving the people around us with every fiber of our being.

As Tim reflects on the final moments of the movie and his life thus far, he resolves to not time travel, as every day should be appreciated. Tim imagines life as if every day is lived twice, choosing to live a life with no second chances. The beauty in “About Time” is its reminders to live remarkably and act lovingly in our extraordinary, but ordinary lives.

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