There are many movies that employ time travel mechanics as a plot device within their narrative. Though, a subsection of this bounty operate uniquely in that they rationalize time travel into a narrative where it otherwise has no place exclusively for the purpose of exploring how romantic dynamics are impacted by such a huge technological milestone.
These movies – namely 2018’s Time Freak and 2015’s Time Lapse as examples – frequently fall upon a concept that anyone with their foot in the door of movie analysis has heard before: “Abduction as Romance.” They just do it a little differently.
“Abduction as Romance” (or alternatively “Abduction is Love”) refers to the repeated depiction of abductors in movies being framed so much as reasonable and protagonistic that their victim (who no matter how well treated is still a victim of being restricted from choice) will “grow tired of beating on you and start to find you strangely attractive” (TV Tropes, 2020).
We will observe the occurrence of this trope in the aforementioned pair of movies (with strikingly similar titles) and ponder the impact they have on people’s ideals of relationships, the lengths to which someone should go to keep their partner by their side, and the inequality this incites when written from different perspectives.
Time Freak’s narrative involves a young man named Stillman’s use of time travel to attempt to win back the girlfriend (Debbie) he has just been broken up with. Over the course of the story, Stillman is successful at building a time machine that launches him and his friend’s consciousnesses into their past selves to adjust their actions. After successfully undoing every argument and negative moment between himself and Debbie, her apparent unhappiness with the lack of realism that comes from a “perfect” relationship causes him to go back and stop himself from ever inventing the machine in the first place.
By the end however, future Debbie (who has been his wife for a period of time, jumps back with him to rave at him about his actions. This unsettling discovery (as per the trope) ends with her loving embrace of him, and them living through the past again with their future knowledge, as a couple.
Though Stillman never once pulled out the rope and chains or ever stuffed Debbie into the back of an SUV, this can still be considered an instance of abduction. He robbed her of choice and (despite her lack of knowledge about it) she was tricked into living a life that was not her own. It is a wild idea to develop, but it is one of the few times that abduction could plausibly be pulled off without the victim knowing. As is said by YouTube video essayist Pop Culture Detective, “Like most media tropes there are variations on the theme.” (2018)
“Abduction as Romance” almost exclusively places the man in the “abductor” position, and the woman in the “abducted” position. That, coupled with the power disparity between men and women in general, creates a less than ideal idea being reinforced through media. Which is why it is interesting to view a secondary movie like Time Lapse where the roles are reversed.
In Time Lapse, it is revealed towards the end that Callie (girlfriend to Finn) has been abusing the power of a machine that takes pictures of the future by not telling the other characters some vital information. Her concealment of the fact that the machine puts out two photos a day (one for the morning and one for the night) allows her to manipulate her own actions by sending messages to herself in the past, and also allows her to bury the evidence of her past unfaithful acts.
Callie acts on these messages, going as far as to kill another character for the sake of inspiring Finn to be more invested in their relationship.
This is still an example of “Abduction as Romance,” though now framed entirely differently. The feminist viewpoint of this change includes too the fact that the story ends so terribly for her (as she is caught and arrested by a police officer and unable to change her past). When a woman is put in the same role as Time Freak’s Stillman character, she is punished and unable to get away with something dastardly.
But wait, “Didn’t Callie go far further and down a darker path than Stillman did?”
It’s a valid question to ask on some level, but it’s both not for us to decide how much of someone’s life you can time travel back and change and still be morally sound with it (nor is it relevantly possible for us to know), and it also brings up the follow up question of: “Is there no gender ideals influencing the decision to write Callie as a person who is willing to go far further and down a darker path?” Which from a feminist standpoint (and from a mostly realistic one), we can probably say there was – considering just at a base level that both movies were made by men.
Time Freak and Time Lapse both include a romantic partner abusing a form of time travel to adjust their actions in order to win the love of the other. And while, Time Lapse’s example includes a far more drastic plan with much more brutal measures, it helps develop the narrative that both the scope (from actual kidnapping to retroactive time traveling) and execution (man to woman and woman to man) of “Abduction as Romance” can vary, and that there so far is not a very fair and equal message being portrayed by the difference in both.
These notions might help us traverse the rocky landscape of media choices and how far the roots can go down about what they mean to say, and how far the branches can go up about who they affect. As Hayden Cornmell writes, “it is greatly important to be aware. Aware of what these tropes are, how they find their way into popular media and how they can impact the viewer.” (2018)
Jonathan. (2018, June 24). Abduction as romance. The Pop Culture Detective Agency. http://popculturedetective.agency/2018/abduction-as-romance.
Abduction is love. (n.d.). TV Tropes. Retrieved July 1, 2020, from https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AbductionIsLove.
A look at the “abduction as romance” trope. (2018, July 11). Film School Rejects. https://filmschoolrejects.com/a-look-at-the-abduction-as-romance-trope/.