Continuum (aka I’ll Follow You Down) movie review: the time traveler’s family
Indie science fiction with a rare humanism, a scientific and emotional mystery with a solution Hollywood wouldn’t dare go anywhere near.
I’m “biast” (pro):
I’m a big sci-fi geek
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
I needed a really good science fiction flick to wipe away the couple of bad ones I’ve had to endure in the past week or so, and Continuum — aka I’ll Follow You Down in the U.S. and Canada — did the trick beautifully. This is almost the movie that Project Almanac wanted to be — kinda maybe, if it could have broken out of the cheap Hollywood trope in which FX trump emotion — an exploration of the human impact that time-travel could potentially have. There are next to no FX here, and not even any new SFnal ideas. What there is is a fresh and powerful story about how a couple of wild ideas we’re already familiar with — time travel and the alternate timelines it might spawn — affect people who are actually living with these as realities.
Or, well, as potential realities. Which is itself a sort of human-reality spinoff of the fact that we’ve all been living with at least the possibility of time travel for decades, and been thinking about what that could mean. Movies have typically left the best and most humanistic thinking about this to novels, but here we have the story of Marika (Gillian Anderson: Shadow Dancer, Johnny English Reborn) and her son, Erol (John Paul Ruttan [RoboCop, This Means War] as a youngster, Haley Joel Osment [Secondhand Lions, The Country Bears] as an adult), who are trying to cope, and not doing very well, with the fact that husband and father Gabe (Rufus Sewell: Hercules, The Sea), a brilliant theoretical physicist, went away to a “relativistic dynamics conference” in Princeton 12 years ago (from their home in Toronto) and disappeared without a trace. Now, Marika’s father, Sal (Victor Garber: Argo, Kung Fu Panda 2), a university physics professor and colleague to Gabe — he introduced his once star pupil to his daughter — has come up with an insane idea that Gabe could have taken a time-travel trip while he was at the conference that was meant to be brief, but that something prevented him from returning. This is all based on academic work that Gabe was actually doing — as Sal explains to Erol, now a brilliant student in the same field — and it could mean that they are all living in an alt timeline spawned by Gabe’s trip. And that could mean that if something could be done — ahem, another time-travel trip to rescue Gabe — everything could be put right.
The wonderful thing about how Canadian writer-director Richie Mehta (Siddharth) presents all this is how it exists in a realm where scientific possibility and human drama meet. Is Sal grasping unconsciously at emotional straws, his theory simply a way to channel his grief at Gabe’s long unexplained absence? Sal is also desperate to console his daughter, who refuses to accept that Gabe is dead, as Erol insists, and cannot understand why her husband abandoned her and their son. (There’s one scene in which Marika explains her unconsolable anguish to Erol, and it is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever seen.) The film keeps pushing the dilemma this question represents: When does it become unreasonable to hold on to grief? When does it become sensible to pursue a crazy solution to a problem that might not even be the sort of problem you want it to be?
Where this goes is, I promise, not like anything you’ve seen before, and not like anything the movies typically train you to expect. (Hollywood wouldn’t dare go anywhere near how this ends.) I don’t understand the generic new title for the U.K. home-video release of this film; I’ll Follow You Down works far better for the film, on more than one level. I found myself asking if what I was watching here was a scientific mystery or a human mystery, and eventually the film makes it both. This is about scientists as people first, driven by perhaps irrational desires, even to a sort of insanity propped up by unshakeable faith in the fundamental intelligibility of the universe via the scientific method… but also of an unshakeable faith in the power of love. But how much can you – should you — trust in either faith?