In just about any time travel movie you have ever seen, science and technology are involved somehow. Never mind exactly what that scientific explanation is for time travel or what the technological gadget is that makes it possible, because it’s all a bunch of hooey anyway. We go along with it not because we believe for one second that such a thing is possible, but because we are willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a good story. So we know we are in for a different kind of time travel movie when the man that advises Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) about traveling through time is a philosophy professor.
According to the philosophy professor, if you want to go back in time, you have to think really hard about the period of time to which you wish to go, while making sure there is nothing in the room that will remind you of the present, such as a recently minted coin. In particular, if Collier wants to go back to August, 1912, he must think August, 1912. It reminded me of Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man (1962) telling the students who just got their new musical instruments that they don’t need to learn how to read music or the technique of playing the instruments they now own. They just need to “Think the Minuet.”
Collier wants to go back to 1912 because that is when a woman lived with whom he fell in love while looking at her picture. Now, if you can’t find a woman to fall in love with in the time period in which you exist, you have problems that a time machine can’t solve. But that aside, it all started when that woman, Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), now very old, gave him a watch and said, “Come back to me,” and then walked away. Why she didn’t stick around and tell him to read the professor’s book on time travel and to “think 1912,” we do not know. And what is going on between them in general, we do not know. Of course, there is some kind of meant-for-each-other destiny involved, maybe with a little reincarnation thrown in, but it’s hard to tell, because the movie never makes that clear.
I know what it is like to be in love, but if I managed to travel back in time just by thinking about it, I would not be able to contain myself. I would have to sit in a chair and contemplate the implications of something I had heretofore thought impossible. Love would just have to wait. On the other hand, if I did catch up with the woman in question, I would have to blurt out, “I fell in love with your picture, so I came back from the future to be with you. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this penny. Oops!”
Finally, because Collier fell asleep while he was thinking 1912, we are never sure whether he just dreamed it or not. In fact, at the end of the movie, he seems to be in a catatonic trance. So, maybe what we just watched was the hallucination of a loony. In fact, that really is the only way to make any sense out of this movie.