Romantic comedies are hits and misses. I usually don’t enjoy them, though I suppose I’m not the intended audience. My wife very much wanted to see this movie, and the purported sci-fi element intrigued me, so I gave it a chance.
About Time was an above average rom-com. It wore its heart and themes firmly on its sleeve, as most of this genre do, but the time travel piece made it a little more unique and interesting. The movie does what all good time-travel movies do: focus more on the people and relationships than the effects of the time travel itself.
The movie was surprisingly deep. It was not so much about actual romance as it was about relationships in general and, as the title suggests, time we spend with those people we call “family.” It also posed ideas to the audience about how we use our limited time on earth, appreciating every day the Lord has made, and why God allows bad things to happen.
This film grabs the viewer like a nice, warm hug. It is a very sweet movie in a sea of callous, cynical films.
Going more in depth… SPOILERS AHEAD
Unlike most films of this genre, the story was the thing that grabbed me. Rom-coms usually have some quirky and silly side characters to distract viewers from the thin story lines and prop up the cardboard leads, but this one was pretty solid. The time travel element is used as a tool, rather than than the purpose of the whole story. It was easy to follow and keep up with, despite the time jumps.
I liked that the time travel concept was finite and had rules (sort of – see the next section). Even though they can travel through time, there were limits. They were still mortal, as Tim’s dad’s diagnosis illustrated, and there was no way to “out-travel” time itself.
This film keeps the viewer guessing as to where the story is going, which was exciting in its own way. We might think that the story is simply about Tim falling in love with Mary. Just as we get settled into that plot line, director Richard Curtis adds another layer to it. First come Tim’s friends, then Mary, then children, and finally reflection. We realize that this isn’t so much a rom-com, but a family drama.
Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams have a natural chemistry. Gleeson’s strength comes from his sympathetic disposition – a sort of British Charlie Brown. We want to see him succeed and get the girl. McAdams plays off Gleeson with a thin layer of confidence masking vulnerability and her own insecurities.
The side characters are also great, with Bill Nighy as the standout. Nighy is one of my favorite actors, and is always a joy to watch. He is the film’s heart, patiently dispensing sage advice to his son, as well as teaching him the basics of his time travel ability. Really good stuff.
Richard Curtis has an eye for a good image. The cinematography in this film is absolutely beautiful. Curtis’ lens gives London a warm, whimsical feel with its various hues of gold. And the greens and blues of the English coast really pop. The image really works well with the positive outlook of the film’s story itself.
Ironically, one of the few quibbles I have with About Time is the main reason why I was intrigued by it. The time travel element is never explained with any depth, and it bothered me. The entire film seemed real, dealing with real people in a real place, and the presence of this one “magical” element was strange. If this were one of the Harry Potter films or something of the same genre, it would be much easier to accept. Tim simply walks into a dark room, clenches his fists, thinks of a time he wants to go to, and – BOOM – he’s there. That’s it. What? Even just a throwaway explanation like “we’re descendants of Merlin” would have sufficed.
While I shouldn’t hold a piece of secular cinema to biblical standards, the passive attitude toward cohabitation and sex before marriage in this movie troubled me. It was seen as normal, which is probably more of an indictment of the culture at large.
Themes and Thoughts
The film’s title is a clever play on words about its themes; it’s about time. Tim’s journey is one of discovering that time itself is a very precious thing – not just time with Mary, but time with his family (specifically his father), and time to just reflect and enjoy the day.
“Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24
Toward the end of the film, Tim’s father gives him a great piece of advice: use the time travel to live each day one more time. Not to change events, but to simply appreciate the day – to look around at the world and gaze in awestruck wonder at the beauty of it all.
It’s a lovely thought: not worrying how the day is going to go and just enjoying it. After a while, Tim stops time traveling, and simply learns to enjoy each day as it happens. That was the payoff for me. Tim learns that he doesn’t need his magic to make life better; he simply needs to appreciate what he has.
While it is true that we were made to work and should find enjoyment in that (Genesis 2:15 and Ecclesiastes 5:18), the Lord also expects us to be able to enjoy the day the He has given us. We are to be appreciative of everything God does, and be able to enjoy the wonder of His creation. It’s another way we can worship Him – seeing His hand in the making of the cloud patterns, majestic mountains and the tiniest minutiae of life itself.
“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreath; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.” Psalm 39:4-5
One of the most-used clichés is “we’re only on this earth for a limited time, and we should make the most of it” – do good things, treat people well, etc. But our life is more than just “doing good.” It is about praising God, thanking Him for the life we have. It’s about having relationships with others, with our family. Most importantly, it’s about spreading the Gospel to everyone we can.
We are only here for so long on earth, and when we die, we die – and so do those around us. No one knows when their day will be, except God. Salvation can only come from one source: Jesus Christ (John 14:6). It was God’s sacrifice that allowed us to be with Him in eternity. Though it is God’s job to change people’s hearts, it is up to us as Christians to help people come to Him.
“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
Tim has a few selfish uses for his ability, such as having sex with Mary for the first time over and over to build up his stamina. However, he also wants to use time travel for what he thinks are benevolent situations – to save people from painful events. But his attempts to save others often backfire. Tim realizes that, sometimes, people need hardship to learn lessons.
This theme raises one of the most common questions non-believers pose to Christians: “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” Couldn’t He prevent terrible events from happening? We would all like the ability to prevent others from suffering; it’s one of the reasons why we enjoy watching super heroes perform great deeds in film and other media.
The short answer is, of course, “I don’t know.” I’m not God, and therefore, I don’t fully understand His plan and reasons for doing what He does (1 Corinthians 13:12). According to Christian apologist Lee Strobel, we may not be able to know the specific reasons for certain events transpiring until we get to heaven, but the Scriptures give us clues and insight into God’s character.
Strobel points out that it is sin itself that is responsible for the suffering in this world. “So much of the world’s suffering results from the sinful action or inaction of ourselves and others,” he said in a sermon after the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. “In other words: look at your hand. You can choose to use that hand to hold a gun and shoot someone, or you can use it to feed hungry people. It’s your choice. But it’s unfair to shoot someone and then blame God for the existence of evil and suffering.”
God gave us the ability to choose Him freely, for love itself is a choice. He wants our love to be free and voluntary. We have free will, and that includes the ability to do evil, to sin. And since God is perfect, He cannot tolerate sin. We all have sinned; no one is immune. This is why God became flesh in the form of Jesus – to pay the price intended for us and redeem everyone of their sin.
Though there is a lot of bad that happens, God can use even the most tragic of events for good (Romans 8:28). In About Time, Tim’s sister Kit Kat’s situation is a great example. Tim tried to use his ability to save Kit Kat from a horrific car accident. However, after he saw what would happen had she not experienced it, Tim realized that Kit Kat needed the shock of the accident to turn her life around, quit drinking and partying, and break up with her lousy boyfriend.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” C.S. Lewis
I recommend About Time. It is a warm movie full of hope and wonder about life itself. It has a good message about spending as much time as we can with those we love, and fully appreciating the day. While it is secular at its core, the film does reflect many biblical truths – truths we hold on to as human beings, whether we believe in God or not.
Don’t let the R rating dissuade you. I do not understand why this movie is rated R. It shouldn’t be. There is profanity, but I’ve heard worse in films rated PG-13. All of the nudity is implied and not explicit. It’s upsetting that the MPAA’s rating system is so arbitrary.
About Time (2013)
Universal Pictures / Working Title Films / Relativity Media
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy,
Tom Hollander and Margot Robbie
Written and Directed by Richard Curtis