this time is out of joint(s)

isn’t that what hamlet says after he’s visited by a ghost?

let us go in together,
[ . . . ]
the time is out of joint—o cursèd spite,
that ever i was born to set it right!
nay, come, let’s go together.

i always suspect hamlet is talking about movies since it’s often through movies that ghosts speak with us today.  (and i’m not just talking about ghost or ghost dad (which is better than ghost in every way), but every movie because movies mostly feature disembodied apparitions (also known as movie actors) in speaking roles.  in other words, my favorite ghosts are katherine hepburn, divine, richard widmark, sterling hayden and the chimp in the mxp movies.)

in movies, time is always disjointed.  isn’t that what walter benjamin said in “the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction”?

[the film actor’s] creation is by no means all of a piece; it is composed of many separate performances.   lighting and it’s installation require the presentation of an event that, on the screen, unfolds as a rapid and unified scene, in the sequence of separate shootings which may take hours at the studio.

but i think there is even a larger disruption of time in movies.  take, for example, 2001: a movie made in the past about the future (a future already past) that begins in prehistory (the first part with early humans learning to use tools), zooms past future (the middle part to the moon) and flashes past time (the last part into the monolith and beyond).  but i can still watch it now in over 2 hours.  or better: i could have watched the first part yesterday, the middle part today and the end tomorrow.

but what about terminator: salvation?  john connors learns that kyle reese, connors’ father who connors will meet sometime in the future and will send back in time to impregnate his mother (a kind of immaculate conception, right?), is being held captive at the headquarters of skynet, the same skynet headquarters the insurgents plan on destroying the next morning.  john conners, with no way to stop the attack and little chance of rescuing reese in time, worries something like, “if kyle reese dies tomorrow, will i ever be born?”  you know, the grandfather paradox of time-travel.  as you’ve already guessed, j(ohn) c(onnors)  and this cyborg (who, even though he’s mostly machine (like darth vader), thinks he’s all human) save jc’s dad (kyle reese or god the father) and still manage to blow-up skynet headquarters.  paradox adverted.

(to make explicit the terminator trilogy i just hinted at: john reese is god the father, john connors is jesus christ and the good terminator in terminator 2 is the holy ghost.  and, of course, sarah connors is the virgin mary.)

but let’s imagine an alternate ending found on a pirated dvd of terminator: salvation.  in this alternate ending, john reese dies before he can be saved by john connors or his cyborg friend.  so what happens to john connors?  does he disappear?  does he cease to exist?  is his existence erased from the terminator universe?  actually, whether he disappears in the alternate ending or not doesn’t matter, because even if kyle reese dies john connors would still exist in terminator 2, terminator3 and most of terminator: salvation.  to state it another way, it may not even matter if kyle reese lives or dies because he’s already traveled back in time and sexed up sarah connors in the first terminator movie.

how is this possible?  i think the answer lies in the way movie-time appears out of joint (or maybe the out-of-jointness of movie-time).  even though we experience time when we’re watching movies as linear (like how i watched terminator:salvation last thursday between the hours of 8 and 10 pm), the time in the movie is anything but linear — you have flashbacks and flashforwards, jump-cuts, slow-motion and so on.   movie don’t need to (and almost never actually do) show linear expressions of time.  in fact, i think you could argue that movies (and photography) reveal possible conceptions and experiences of non-linear time-lines; movies make the impossible possible  (or rather, they make the impossible possible to be shown in a movie).  the entire terminator franchise (not to mention bill and ted’s excellent adventure)  seems to rest on this assumption.  it’s only because skynet sends a terminator back in time to kill john connors’ mother that john connors sends kyle reese back in time to help her and that’s how john connors is conceived.  also, the remains of the terminator from the original terminator are reversed engineered to create  self-aware artificial intelligences (including all the versions of the terminators).  in both cases, an action in the distant future (sending terminators and humans back in time) actualizes the only past which makes this distant future happen.

i think this is getting confusing, so i’ll end with another benjamin quote:

let us assume that an actor is supposed to be startled by a knock at the door.  if his reaction is not satisfactory, the director can resort to an expedient: when the actor happens to be at the studio again he has a shot fired behind him without his being forewarned of it.  the frightened reaction can be shot now and cut into the screen version.



Filed under Brian

5 responses to “this time is out of joint(s)

  1. Ohmygod. This is brilliant. No frontin’.

  2. I can never comment on time travel intelligently, but some of this reminds me of editing theories. Like Eisenstein and Pudovkin stuff.

  3. this also reminds me of eisenstein, but probably a different eisenstein. mostly though i think that reverse engineering future technology is probably the most efficient way to develop it and i hope that there’s a lot of time travelling happening now that i’m unaware of that will let me spend money that i won’t have on a future trip to the moon.

  4. brian

    it’s probably a combination of the two einsteins. like maybe einstein, the director, was only able to edit films the way he was because of the other einstein’s theory of relatively.

    and thanks for the kind words, lauren.

  5. natali

    oh my sometimes you really out/do yourself

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