Since the pandemic began two years ago, most of us have been staying at home so much that the days, months and even years are starting to blur, so this is a perfect time for the Jerusalem Cinematheque’s new program Déjà Vu, featuring time travel movies, which starts on February 2 and runs through February 12.
Perhaps no movie could be more appropriate in our current reality than Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day (1993) to open the program, which will be preceded by a lecture from Alon Gur-Arye, the director of such comedies as Mossad (2019) and Operation Egg (2017). In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray gives what may be his funniest and most touching performance ever of a weatherman who gets stuck waking up on a certain day in a continuous time loop. Andie MacDowell plays the love interest with whom he most wants to get unstuck with, while the cast features such wonderful character actors as Chris Elliott (who plays Roland Schitt in Schitt’s Creek and is the son Bob Elliott, one half of the legendary radio duo, Bob and Ray) and Stephen Tobolowsky (Principal Ball on The Goldbergs).
The truth is that all time travel movies have a dark side and the movie Palm Springs (2020) is a good example. Directed by Max Barbakow, it stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti as a couple who meet at a wedding and find that they have to start that day over and over. They try to find a way to make their romance blossom as they keep ending up back at square one. Described as fantasy, sci-fi and rom-com, it can be seen as a metaphor for trying to keep love alive when life can be monotonous. J.K. Simmons, always a scene stealer, is a highlight of the cast.
Peter Howitt’s Sliding Doors (1998), which stars Gwyneth Paltrow in perhaps her most charming performance, and John Hannah, is one of those what-if movies. Set in London, it asks what would happen if a woman misses a train or catches it. If she catches it, she gets home early and finds out that her boyfriend is cheating, gets a better haircut and starts a new business and romance. If she misses it, she stays with the boyfriend, but somehow the new romance finds her anyway. It may sound light, but it could make you think about why thinks turn out the way they do and what you might not know right now.
The rest of the movies are more serious. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet (2020) is a portentous thriller about a CIA operative (John David Washington) who must find a way to prevent a time-bending global disaster. It co-stars Robert Pattinson (Twilight) and Elizabeth Debicki (The Night Manager) and features incredible cinematography and production design, but the plot is so convoluted, it would probably take you the rest of your life to figure it out.
I would skip Tenet and instead see 12 Monkeys (1995), Terry Gilliam’s classic that set the standard for dark time-travel movies in the way that Groundhog Day did for comedies. It stars Bruce Willis as a prisoner in a future where humanity must live underground due to a pandemic in 1996 that has wiped out five billion people – maybe not the most relaxing premise, but it’s a fascinating script. Willis’ character is sent back in time to try to stop a terrorist, who might be a crazy rich guy played by Brad Pitt, from setting loose a virus. It has an incredible dreamlike quality.
Rian Johnson’s Looper (2012) also stars Bruce Willis in a time travel story, this time about assassins being sent back into the past to kill and dispose of people. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a younger version of Willis’ character.
There are three films not in English, which only have Hebrew subtitles, but are well worth watching if you can read the translations fast enough. My recommendation is Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon (1950), which is not exactly about time travel, but about different perspectives of the same event, in this case the murder of a samurai and the rape of his bride. It’s so brilliantly done that the phrase the Rashomon effect has come to mean differing perspectives on reality. It is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run (1998) stars the engaging Franka Potente as a crazed young woman who must suddenly come up with a huge sum of money after a botched robbery and it plays out different scenarios for how she attempts this. It’s a wild ride and a lot of fun.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blind Chance (1981) is about a young man who, in the wake of his father’s death and a student strike, leaves law school and wonders which way to go with his life. The film shows him moving in different directions.
All of these films should provide a fun escape from our 2022 reality.