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What I’ve learned from watching Richard Curtis’s About Time — gift of present, dealing with loss

Time. It punishes the lazy and rewards the diligent. It moves even when no one notices. It is relentless and waits for no one. It can only be defeated if one can travel faster than the speed of light.

Humans are so obsessed with transcending time (and space) that “time-travel” is a genre by itself. Games, films, stories, anything but reality. Albert Einstein argues, however, that:

“Time and space are not conditions in which we live but modes by which we think.”

What he means is time and space technically do not exist — they are concepts invented by humans. But without the concept of time, we won’t be able to keep track of our age, justify our working durations, measure tasks and efficiency, etc.

Basically, without the concept of time (and space), many things in the world would be hard to keep track of. In time-travel films, character(s) are able to trascend time, something almost every human dreams of — undesired mistakes and failures could be reversed (or not in some films).

In Richard Curtis’s About Time (2013), the main character (Tim Lake, played by Domhnall Gleeson) and all the other males in his family have the ability to travel back to the past; travelling to the future is not possible, though. All they had to do is get into a closet (or any other place where no one can see them), close their eyes, clench their fists and think about a moment in the past.

Details about the time travel rules (and time travel altogether, actually) in the film aside, I’m more interested in the implied meanings behind the whole plot. This film is a lot deeper than it looks — it’s not (just all) about time travel, it’s about time and our relationship with it. There are some simple (and valuable) lessons we can glean from the film.

Before I go on to discuss the lessons and ideas that resonated with me, I want to put this disclaimer out: this is merely my opinion about the film. There might be lopeholes in my analysis of the film but the ideas Richard Curtis conveyed in the film (subtly) are more important.

Dealing with loss

In the film, one might think that the turning point of the film revolved around Tim and Mary, and their daughter. But really, the turning point was when Tim knew Dad (Curtis did not give a name to Tim’s Dad) was diagnosed with cancer.

Only after Tim knew he was going to lose the person he loved most, apart from Mary, he started learning more about time, its value and importance. Tim and Dad debated how they could just go back in the past to save him but Dad said it was mainly due to his smoking and lifestyle habits. Going back in time to change some of that is definitely possible. But that would be before Tim was born. And a different baby would be born if Dad were to do that (this is one of the time travel rules in the film).

Fast forward to the time Dad died of cancer. Everyone in the family was devastated, particularly Tim, of course — Dad “taught” him time travel and many valuable lessons. Luckily for Tim, though, he could still keep Dad “alive” by travelling back in time before Dad’s death.

It was the only way Tim could still spend time with Dad but that quickly changed when Mary wanted more children. When the new baby is born, Tim couldn’t travel back in time anymore, not without having a different kid every time he did that.

At this point, Tim had to let Dad go. In my view, this is synonymous with learning how to deal with the loss of loved ones. Because Dad would still be “alive” in Tim’s memory, just like how our loved ones who passed on before us live on in our memories.

Dad did not leave Tim without a gift. He told Tim to live everyday as it is — for the first time — and relive it at the end of the day. Tim would come to realise how powerful that was.

Gift of present

So Dad is “gone for good” now. No more travelling back in time before Dad’s death. Life seems a lot less exciting now. But Tim heeded Dad’s advice and lived everyday twice.

He started each day like any other person. Getting his breakfast from the convenience store, complaining about small problems and obstacles in life. Tim — like many of us — did not live in the present moment.

But when he relived the same day, he was able to see how invaluable each moment in life — and time — is. He greeted the convenience store cashier, connected better with his colleagues, cherished his surroundings and enjoyed every moment with his loved ones.

Because he didn’t rush through each relived day, he was able to get so much more out of a day, much more than any of us. We rush through each working day as if time isn’t precious. As if the 24 hours of each weekday are not as precious as each weekend’s.

Tim relived every day until one day, he realised he didn’t need to anymore. He lived each day as if it was his last day on earth. He didn’t need to relive each day in order to learn how to cherish his time. He learned the gift of present. He learned to cherish time.

But that wasn’t the case till he started to relive each day after Dad’s death. How about us? How can we learn how to cherish time in our real world?

We all can “travel back” in time

Now, this is just a theory I have so I might be terribly wrong. But I think About Time is quite similar to Mr. Nobody (2009). That means Tim is actually recounting the events that happened throughout his life, talking about alternate realities if he were to make different decisions in his life. Then again, I might be wrong. Tim might really possess the power to time travel.

But more important, we can “travel back” in time in ways to educate ourselves about our past and mistakes. We can’t change (some of) the past — Tim tried it with his sister’s hot friend, Charlotte, his sister, Kit Kat, and her relationship with men. Of course, there were many other things he changed but he went ahead and undo some of the changes. Some things were just meant to be (and probably better that way too) and he respected that.

More than changing, Tim actually learned lessons from his mistakes in life — relationships, work, friendship, family, decisions. The whole film isn’t so much about time travel and changing the past, but really, it’s about learning from mistakes and cherishing life (and time).

So for us, human beings who can’t travel back in time, we have to make our time count on Earth. In About Time, relationships were the key focal point of the film. We have to cherish our time with our loved ones before they leave us physically.

But even then, we can still relive the sweet memories after they’re gone — these stay for as long as we live. Last but not least, we need to constantly “travel back” in time and learn from our mistakes. That way, time will pass a lot slower for us and we will enjoy every moment of our life.

I’m on a quest to understand myself better through these collective of “What I’ve learned from…” articles. I believe self-awareness leads to self-improvement, which leads to action and certainly and inevitably to failures. But only with failure, would I be introduced to success.

“Failure introduces you to success.” — Billionaire P.A. from Wealthy Minds Online