I’m the overly analytical type. I’ll think about something fantastic to the point that it’s not much fun any more. Case in point, time travel. If you subscribe to certain theoretical physics, time travel is a theoretical possibility but once you start considering the real dynamics of time travel, where you are in space in time becomes a jumbled mess. Because of this, I have a hard time accepting time travel movies like Back to the Future because of the way that they casually dismiss the science of it all. Equally, because of this obsession with considering all the angles, recent time travel movies like Primer excite my imagination because of the way that they take into account the actual paradoxes of time travel when you’re moving backward in relatively short amounts. I sound like a lot of fun, don’t I?
Primer gets way out of hand and its ultimate success lies in the puzzle that it creates by trying to work out the massively confusing tapestry but Timecrimes compacts the paradox down to something that’s more like boneless buffalo wings than String Theory. That is not to say that it’s some kind of pseudoscientific pap from Spain. Quite the opposite. It’s delicious, easy to eat and spicy enough to be challenging. If you were to garnish it with blue cheese dressing, carrot sticks and celery, you’d have quite an appetizer and you wouldn’t wind up with Frank’s Red Hot on your hands because you can eat Timecrimes with a fork. Am I making sense? I didn’t think so. It’s lunch time and my blood sugar is low.
Hector and his wife have just moved into their new home. As they’re getting settled, strange things happen. They get what seems like a wrong number phone call. Hector spots a woman undressing in the woods nearby through his binoculars and then later sees what appears to be her passed out naked in the woods. When he slips away to see if she’s alright, he winds up chased by a man in pink bandages around his head and a black trench coat and the only place that he can find shelter from his stalker happens to be the home of an experimental device that transports him back in time an hour. What he discovers is that he probably should have just stayed sitting at home, staring at the naked woman in his binoculars because time travel is a real pain in the ass.
Mashing up a mystery with time travel doesn’t exactly seem intuitive but director Nacho Vigalondo saw a fit in the two mediums and put them together to make one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen. Ever. Seriously. It’s difficult to talk about the plot when giving away anything about it would rob you, the potential viewer, of the magic as this movie unfolds. I’m not going to go ahead and call this a perfect movie like the big Ain’t It Cool blurb on the cover says, but I am going to declare one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.
What qualifies it so, you ask? Understand this. When Timecrimes started making the festival rounds, people immediately started hyping it. Since they were as apprehensive to give plot details away for the very same spoilerific reasons as I, there was an immediate air of mystery surrounding the movie. The man in the pink bandages became as iconic to the film and maybe even foreign cinema in ’08 as, say, Michael J. Anderson in Twin Peaks. Bandage head and his scissors became this menacing force that helped push this mysterious Spanish film around the country and it had other critics raving, using the same veiled means of review as I am now.
What sells Timecrimes, ultimately, isn’t necessarily strong characterization as this isn’t really about Hector so much as it’s about Hector desperately trying to clean up the mess that he created by climbing into the time machine and how cleaning that mess up only made things worse. Ultimately, the entire movie is a series of paradoxes and how things have a tendency to work themselves out if you just let them. It still results in a couple of car wrecks, grievous bodily harm and a broken neck. The fun is in watching it all unfold.
My earliest impression of the movie was actually quite bland, waiting for the man back in time angle to turn into something worthy of the praise that the film had been receiving until Vigalondo added a second layer, which then explained certain pieces of the first layer and a third layer which explains pieces of the second layer. In the end, this time travel mystery comes off like Pulp Fiction without the greased lighting pace of Tarantino’s dialog and 100% less anal rape.
Timecrimes may not necessarily be a once in a lifetime kind of movie but it’s a hell of an example of what a good idea can do for your low budget movie. This is twice now that time travel has come to the rescue of small budget productions and elevated it to a much higher level. Rather than bog you down with the physics of time travel or even make up some dubious bullshit to explain how Hector got to be where he is, the movie throws a very confused man back one hour into his life. Sure, he probably should have stayed put in the conference room like the scientist told him to, but the truth is, he probably should have just hung out in his backyard spying on naked women and napping. However, had he not gotten into the time machine, would there have been a naked woman to look at at all?
It won’t give you a headache like Primer and it unfolds at a natural, manageable pace to be a rewarding film by anyone’s standards. Take it from me. I was so preoccupied by the unfolding, moebius strip nature of the script that I completely failed to over analyze the time travel angle and had no way to bitch about how the time machine actually works. Vigalondo tosses all that aside as completely unnecessary and allows his weird approach to become one of the most compelling movies I’ve seen in years. I don’t even think this qualifies as science fiction.