Read carefully. This is a message from the future. The following content will change your perception of time-travel forever. I have gone back in time to add this disclaimer so that you still have the option to avoid reading any further.
Disclaimer: Readers with dull imagination and no sense of humour should probably read no further. You have been warned.
Of course, if you’ve come this far, then you’re my kind of audience – smart and funny, with a few minutes to waste. Cheers!
What if I actually end up writing a mind-boggling piece of time travel literature only because I read that first line? Did my future self influence my past to alter the words as I write them now?
How’s this even possible?
Welcome to the time paradox.
Time travel has been a fascinating literary device in science-fiction and comic books only because of the unlimited possibilities that it presents right off the bat, including its definition. There are at least a few distinct ways in which we can define time travel, starting with the most simple one that our partially-formed brains could have understood while reading the Prisoner of Azkaban. We stand still while the time reverses around us. Easy.
Then we graduate to a more advanced form of travel like the one shown in Primer – where we’d have to wait inside a box or a device for an equivalent amount of time to ‘physically’ go back in time.
Hot-take: If you haven’t watched this bitch of a movie yet, I’d suggest to keep it that way. The experience of watching Primer is similar to literally travelling back in time at least 15 times, to understand a mere 15% of the plot. By the end of it, you’d actually want to own a time machine, just so that you could get all those hours back!Now that’s a paradox!
At this point, I’ve had to rewind the last five minutes of my chain of thought to get back on topic, and continue describing the various ways in which we have envisioned time travel over the years.
So, having talked about the ‘Primer’ time travel (or not ), let us now move on to the inter-dimensional time travel exhibited in mainstream cinemas like Interstellar. Now, this one is equally difficult to understand, but we nod along because Matthew McConaughey cries and Nolan’s word is the gospel.
By the way, based on the current trajectory of Nolan’s film-making it almost seems like he travelled back in time to improve upon his earlier efforts which may be why ‘The Prestige’ arguably feels like the pinnacle of his craft. Of course, the paradox, in this case, would explain why we still have brilliant masterpieces like Dunkirk thrown amidst derivative works like Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar.Ouch.
Finally, we have the conventional time-travel technique used by The Flash in comic books since the Golden Ages, which is as simple as breaking the time barrier by travelling faster than the speed of light. This sort of time travel has its own problems, based off of which CW has spun a decade worth of superhero TV shows, and that’s the exact difference between this sort of cheap time travel and the rest. While examples like Primer tickle your brain until the nerves pop out, the DC TV universe makes you WANT to pull out your nerves because you seem to be stuck in a time-loop!
There ARE other stupid examples that we shall not discuss here, because
A. I’ve seen the future and the word count on this post will get dangerously close to 2000 B. Having re-read the first line of the post that promised to change your perception of time travel, any further additions would not positively contribute to the foundation of that perception
Okay then! The diverse definitions of time travel itself present different plot devices, but what are the two primary branches of storytelling that emerge from any of these definitions?
At one end of the temporal confusion, we have the famous time loops, while at the other end, we have infinite timelines. This is the base difference in the way smart people (Primer camp) and dumb people (MCU/DCU camp) view time travel.
Hey, I loved Avengers Endgame, and I am a big fan of the popular Flashpoint storyline, but you’ve got to admit – it’s just lazy story writing.
Saying that time travel leads to the creation of alternate timelines is as good as making fine Italian spaghetti out of the time-space continuum. Top that with the ridiculous infinity stone nonsense, and you’ll finally understand why they had to kill off Ironman – because, an emotional climax trumps logic.But, seriously, long live RDJ, Marvel’s one-way ticket to a saga that sent Star Wars into the kiddie league.
(Also I wonder why I did not choose to travel back to this exact moment, and stop myself from writing this very controversial piece of opinion)
So yes, pulling ourselves back to the original timeline, let us talk about the second approach – the one with time loops.
Obviously, there is nothing else to be said about alternate timelines. Except that I may consider writing an alternate post about it in a few months as a result of this very decision to not talk about it further
Time loops are hard to explain. Because they have no beginning, and definitely no end. For instance, in life, you’d start with the pilot episode, and logically end the series where you’d be done with time-travel for life. But in reality, because every time you’d come across newer applications of this concept, you’d hope to understand it better, while becoming a bigger fool at the expense of actual physical time. So every new time-travel content that you consume is actually pushing you deeper into the loop!
To give you an example, the first time-travel reference that I witnessed was Harry Potter. Then, I watched Interstellar. Later, I watched Primer. Most recently, I watched Dark. The only things that I gained over these years were more questions, bragging rights, and of course, enough crap to fill in this blog-post.
Theoretically, of course, a time loop and paradox go hand in hand. You start at point A, and you eventually return to point A to prevent an event in the future. But, because you travelled back in time to stop the event, you will inadvertently ensure its inevitability.
It’s as if the future ‘me’ were to suddenly appear, only to ask me to not look out the window, and disappear. The present ‘me’ is naturally intrigued and tries to look out the window to see what is about to happen. In the next five seconds, a firecracker flies in through the window and blinds the present ‘me’. At that point, I realize that the apparition that I saw in my past was wearing black shades. So it makes sense that in the future, I’d decide to go back in time to warn my past self. Ta-da!
And that’s what makes time travel the most intriguing sci-fi device after zombies. Obviously, nothing can top brain-eating monsters, and frankly, the humorous undertone of zombies has a far greater potential than the creeped out revelations that time-travel can present. Also, unlike time-travel, that as a topic is tough to start or end, zombies have a definite end – they turn everyone else into a zombie.
And now that I have derailed onto that topic, I am quite sure that there will be a branch of time where I end up writing about zombies too. Funnily, in real life, that is just another week, while in the world of DC, it’d be a parallel timeline.
Okay! Once again, let us travel back to the ‘original’ timeline.
This post is already approaching 1500 words, so I need to close it with a jaw-dropping revelation, and I need to do it fast. Because as I write this, I see the word-counter blaze past the 1300 mark, and I am struggling to string the right words together.
Maybe a side quote would help… …maybe not ….. I don’t know….Not really….. It is too difficult… much too difficult… ….. … Only if there was a way to simplify this whole concept.
That’s it! The aptest way to end this post would be to simplify the time-loop paradox. So let’s take a stab at it.
I began writing this post and towards the end, I realized that I didn’t have a great ending! So I went back in time, and I sprinkled certain helping devices throughout the post, such as the disclaimer, the word limit, and the promise to not run into alternate timelines. But because I did all that, I basically rushed through the last hundred words in this post and did not end up with enough thoughts or space to end it ‘truly’ well, thus giving birth to the ‘loop’ …