Saturday, May 31, 2014

Days of Future Past: A Study In Time Travel

WARNING:  Do not read this unless you either have seen the latest X-Men movie or do not care to be spoiled. There will be spoilers contained herein; there might also be headache-inducing discussion of time-travel concepts as presented in various media. You have been warned…so have at thee! (Wait…that’s an Avenger, not an X-Men.)

Seems there is confusion concerning the timeline based on the events that occur in X-Men:  Days of Future Past. In my opinion, I felt the movie did an impressive job of shoring up some of the continuity issues encountered in the previous trilogy and spinoffs, while maintaining certain nods to them moving forward. As someone who has watched and read countless movies, television shows, science-fiction and non-fiction books, etc, I consider myself somewhat of an amateur time-travel expert (i.e. self-anointed). Thus, allow me to make sense of the matter with my own analysis/theories:

Let’s just get this one out of the way…X-Men Origins:  Wolverine has been ignored and is not canonical to the X-Men cinematic universe, and was disavowed almost immediately after its widely-panned release. At the very least, it is not a part of either the previous or current movie series. This minimizes one (minor) issue between it, X-Men 2 and DoFP:  William Stryker’s age in each time period. (This also would mean Deadpool is alive and kicking, without being a mutant-Frankenstein stuffed doll…roll sequel reboot for his character!)


In my opinion, this probably is the source for most of the confusion:  how time-travel works – at least, for someone’s “conscious” – in the X-Men cinematic universe is explained at the very beginning of the film. (I will allow that many people may have missed it, as it was stated rather quickly without extensive discussion.) Wolverine’s mind is sent back in time to his younger self; anything that he does as his younger self will affect the future. If you’ve ever seen the series Quantum Leap or the movies Somewhere In Time, The Butterfly Effect or Timecop, it’s the same fluidity concept of time:  events changed in the past warp and refigure events of the future, and whether someone’s physical or mental essence is sent back in time – like Bishop, who mind jumps back a few hours to warn the others when Sentinels arrive – they don’t create a new timeline but rather simply change the current one in the past. AGAIN, NO ALTERNATIVE TIMELINE IS CREATED. I mean, it’s in the title…THE FUTURE LIES IN THE PAST! There was also the assertion that if Wolverine succeeded in changing the timeline, his mind would return to his “present” self and only he would remember both the events of the dystopian and changed future (albeit, with some necessary memory updating à la Butterfly Effect or Timecop). If he failed to change the timeline, his mind would simply return to the dystopian future.

The Star Trek franchise – mind you, my all-time favorite – is notorious for using the alternate timeline concept quite frequently, which I feel is the reason for the confusion. Although there are multitudes of theories on time-travel, this is the concept most people are familiar with because it has been used in countless movies and television shows. The reason for this is that it presents the least paradoxical situation encountered with a singular timeline concept:  if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather before you are born, how can you go back in time and kill your own grandfather? [See Back to the Future] Theoretically, you can’t because you’re not killing your own grandfather; you’re killing the grandfather of an alternate version of you, who now will never be born or never existed in that alternate timeline in the first place. Theoretically as well, even if you again travel back in time in order to undo the change(s) to the timeline, yet another alternate timeline is actually created that, yes, is, and will be, similar to the timeline from which you originally came but it is not, and will never be, the original timeline. The original timeline either continues on without you or it blinks out of existence the moment you travel back in time – not to mention that the original you is now a person out of sync from any timeline, as this new alternate “original” timeline will already have an alternate you…who, by and large, is you. There’s no way for you to get back to the original timeline. [Think Prime Spock and Alternate Spock in the reboot Star Trek; even if Prime Spock were to again travel back in time to stop Nero at the point he first appeared in the past, yet another Alternate Spock – in every way similar to Prime Spock – would be created with Prime Spock now stuck in that alternate “original” timeline rather than returning to the original timeline. Star Trek: First Contact glosses over this idea when they return to the future; theoretically, they wouldn’t be returning to “their” future.]