I recently watched the movie About Time again. I’m not sure how many times I’ve watched it at this point. Probably five or six. Maybe more. I was on an airplane where I could stream a film via my phone. I was going to watch a newer film that I’d been wanting to see, but I knew the run time was longer than the flight and I wasn’t keen on being left hanging. I knew this one, I watched it.
If you read my blog when it was hosted on tumblr, I reviewed the movie when I watched it several years ago. And if you remember that review, kudos to you. Also… you should probably read more so that your brain won’t force to you to remember rubbish like that.
I’m not going to review the film again, but rather review my response to it.
If you don’t know what it’s about, About Time (by Richard Curtis, who has several more famous film credits to his name) centers on a man named Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson) who is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men of their family can travel back in time, specifically the times they have lived in, not beyond in either direction. Tim uses his abilities, or hopes to, in order to fall in love.
On balance, the film is not a romantic comedy. The crescendo of the plot is not Tim finally getting married to The Girl, Mary (played by Rachel McAdams). The romantic portion of the film occupies perhaps 40% of the run time. The last half of the film is about more than romance, though not less than love.
This is not a technically astounding film. It’s not challenging or Oscar-worthy. It’s overly-saccharine at times. The logic of the time traveling falls to pieces, so you have to let that one go. There are moments when it’s hard not to wonder if Tim is actually being kind of gross. He’s definitely being manipulative at some points (though those are unconsidered questions).
But, as I watched this movie again, I realized that I… I love this movie. I properly love it. I watch a decent number of movies, more than many people I know, and I know when I’m watching “good art.” I know this doesn’t rise to the bar in many respects. But I love the performances. I love the charming secondary characters that do just enough. I love the lighting, the settings. The music gets to me.
More than anything else, what I love this movie for is the way that it makes me reflect on what should be the most important things in my life. It makes me think about my mother and father and feel grateful that I’m their son and that I had a childhood with them that I largely do not remember (who can remember all of their childhood?), but has filled me with trust that I was loved. It makes me realize that when my time comes to have to say goodbye to them, I will do so wishing I could be small with them, just one more time. Many people will not feel that when their parents die.
As a father, it makes me want to stare at my own children and try to consume every molecule of them, breathing them in through my nose, and letting their fragrance, their essence linger. I love my children. The tricky thing about having kids, at least for me (and I admit I could be a particularly bad father), is that while raising them, you can lose sight of the love because you’re working so hard to keep your head above the water, trying to make it to each bed time. The moments when your child is unveiled before you and you suddenly say, “Good Lord. They are amazing. I would die for them in a second,” those moments are not every day. They are not all day of any day, really. And, somehow, this film can provoke that in me.
And of course, when I watch this film I do think about the great romantic high point in my life: My wife. My wife, who deserves to have music played over her smile, so brilliant is its light, so magical and illuminating. My wife is the real-life version of a lot of characteristics in fictional love interests. She really does take a stiff like me and drag me into joy. It must be a tremendous amount of work for her all the time. I’m such a stiff. But she seems truly carefree and disposed towards the good and the lovely in a way that seems almost fictional. I watch About Time and I’m amazed because… I have a real-life movie plot. I’m ludicrously, wondrously prosperous in love.
Now, life is not a fairy tale, of course. As mentioned above when talking about my kids, loving these people is hard. Incredibly difficult at times. Shouting and tears and heart-break. It’s all part of my picture. Movies like this one take the highest high points and make them occupy the bulk of the run-time and breeze through the difficulties of stories. And of course, life is not like that. That’s what makes sappy films so irritating at times.
The value of this film for me is the way in which it reminds me that my story contains far more reasons to be deliriously happy and grateful than I often realize. It’s actually not as hectic and tense and hard as it often appears. Time speeds past me, often with my chin in my hands, a frown on my face, staring at the ground. Spinning all around me, everyday, is evidence of a very good story that I should be grateful for.
That’s what lurched out of me when I watched About Time again. It left me… crying. Like, real crying. Tears (plural!) rolling down my face as I tried not to ugly-gasp in my empty house. I was so surprised and caught off-guard by what this stupid movie was doing to me, but so grateful for the way it made me grateful.
My suggestion for you is not to watch this movie and fall in love with it like me. It very well might not even work for you like it does for me. You may watch it and have a very simple response: “This is stupid.” I get that. Truly.
My suggestion to you is instead to find the things (movies, books, activities, photos, whatever) that provoke this kind of joy and gratitude. Pay attention to the things that make you love and give thanks. And you know what? You should just put it on your calendar: Pay attention to that thing. Whatever it is. Force yourself to regularly be reminded. Allow yourself to be provoked by even a cheesy movie so that you can think about things that are bigger than its silliness.
There is something of the heart of spiritual disciplines to this. Our hearts, my heart is naturally in a state of drift away from the place where I give thanks to God for all his gifts and respond sorrowfully to the fact that I spurn them. But spiritual formation is about the pathways God uses to quietly pull me back. Sometimes, most of the time, this does not involve me sobbing on the couch. But I know there are certain ways that God has used again and again to get my attention, redirect it, and cause me to see. Walking in the woods. Reading.
And now, I think that I’ll probably add “watch About Time” onto my list of occasional practices that I should keep up. It seems unexpected and inexplicable and more than a little silly. But I’ve found that God is more like that than we realize. Sometimes he’s so gently, wonderfully sneaky. It would be like him to use something such as a movie like this to make me, an overly-serious, self-aggrandizing person, cry (not so) quietly on the couch. Grateful. Grateful to God for all of his goodness and kindness. Who knows how long he has been trying to get that through my stony heart lately. But he cracked me with a movie. Finally pierced my armor of self-importance. Finally shook my gaze of all that I do not have. Finally got me to remember to give thanks and take heart. Finally.
And honestly… it’s about time.