Monday, May 6, 2013
Time travel and the obscure flick "An Angel for May"
If a creative mind cannot tap time travel as a bountiful subject, he or she is challenged. So, there has been a raft of movies.
Roger Ebert pointed out there's a fundamental problem in such story lines. Time travel presents unavoidable problems of logic. If one could go back in time and tamper with the past, it would affect the present. Michael Crichton tried tackling that obstacle. The probing mind of the late author suggested maybe we're living in just one of many dimensions. There's a dimension in which the Nazis won World War II. Time travel might just involve skipping through dimensions.
Crichton also suggested that altering history isn't as easy as one might think. The reason is that the major forces of history are just too strong. A single individual waving his arms and imploring about something would be inconsequential. We wait to find out the hard way where the future is taking us.
The futuristic visions presented by world's fairs of the early 20th Century are merely amusing. Cars are simply more streamlined. Skyscrapers are taller. There is no true grasp of what is to come. When the "Back to the Future" movie series shot into the future, all we saw was a fancier or "jazzed up" version of when the movie was made. Sorry, that's the best we can do. We saw flying cars in "The Jetsons," and robot maids, but nothing like Facebook.
I had a college professor whose "claim to fame," as it were, was predicting how tech would impact us. He wrote an original chapter in a book that was otherwise edited from other sources. His thesis: tech inroads would create immense leisure for us. So much leisure, in fact, that adjusting to it would become a prime societal challenge. We should be so fortunate! I'll applaud this guy because he meant the best for us. His last name was Ryan.
In reality, we have become a caffeinated, obsessed sea of souls who cannot seem to complete our assigned tasks.
The hippie movement made an attempt to jettison us into the kind of world foreseen by Mr. Ryan. It was an ill-fated venture. The boomers who once talked about "dropping out," inspired by Timothy Leary, have now become like Norm Coleman. Politician Coleman was once an anti-war activist with superfluous locks of hair. Today he's an anti-tax tea party-ish straight-laced Republican. We adjust to circumstances. There's a zeitgeist.
Was the 2008 "economic slowdown" just a mild tremor, a precursor as it were? Have we just been buying time since then? Have our leaders just found ways to forestall the pain or crisis? If the crisis arrives, we will no longer put stock in the stock market. Our society will go through convulsions and we'll eventually arrive at a new normal. History is full of various ebbs and flows. They just can't be predicted.
Time travel movies toy with our thoughts about this. They can only be speculative in the way of those old world's fairs.
"An Angel for May" (2002)
My favorite time travel movie is one that doesn't show up on the lists of "bests." It never broke out from obscurity. It's one of those hidden gems of cinema. It's called "An Angel for May." It's based on the well-received novel of the same name by Melvin Burgess. I found the VHS tape in one of those discount baskets at a big box store several years ago. It seemed intriguing.
I had been captivated by this genre of movies by the George Pal classic "The Time Machine," based on the H.G. Wells novel.
We see two troubled children in "An Angel for May." The girl is in the 1940s and has been orphaned by war. Stuck in rubble for a long time, "May" has PTSD. Then we have "Tom," the lead character of the movie, whose troubles are in the present. They seem minor compared to war. But they're very real to Tom whose mother is considering re-marrying after an uncomfortable breakup with her first husband. The discord is unnerving to the impressionable Tom. The 12-year-old becomes lost in his own discontent. Time travel becomes a tool for him to be more outwardly-directed, to find fulfillment in caring about others, across generations.
The story takes place in Yorkshire, England. There are striking scenes of rows of wind turbines.
"An Angel for May" might be considered a dog movie. An apparently stray dog named "Tess" gets Tom's attention. Tess is a border collie. We don't see that much of Tess in the movie, but the canine is instrumental to the plot.
The dog attracts Tom to an abandoned farmsite as storm clouds approach. Tom falls through a stone wall that takes him back to 1941. "May" befriends him. She has been taken in by a wholesome farm family. Challenges await. And peril. German bombers pass overhead in one scene, jettisoning bombs from an abortive raid. The two children come to see they are kindred spirits. Their company is healthy for each other.
At the end, Tom is able to do something with his asthma relief device to alter the future of the principals around May. Tom's final time trip is from the past to the present. This time the stone wall wasn't involved. Rather it's a blow to the head caused by a falling beam. He awakens in a hospital, his concerned mother present. We wonder if the whole story of May might have been some sort of hallucination caused by blacking out. Of course we want to believe otherwise, that Tom was transformed by his experience of being thrust into crisis and realizing how important it can be for all of us to rely on each other.
Tom is content at the end, even accepting the new father-to-be, "a nice enough bloke," to use his words.
Matthew Beard plays the role of "Tom." Charlotte Wakefield is "May." The movie might have some pacing issues. Also, I had to watch it more than once to accurately place all characters, especially Alison who I learn is the adult daughter of the farm owner. Alison, who wears a military type of uniform, discovers May in the rubble.
Time travel movies are many and various. I liked Kirk Douglas in "The Final Countdown." I liked the movie based on the Crichton book "Timeline." Critics were cool on "Timeline" and I thought that unfortunate. It could have been the start of a franchise of movies. Different time periods could be explored. Alas, Crichton with his genius wasn't able to inspire such a franchise as he had with "Jurassic Park."
We all ponder what we might do if we went back in time. We might make a different choice at a certain juncture. But we wouldn't be able to stop Pearl Harbor.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org