Romance of the Past: Somewhere in Time



With the rush of our everyday lives continuing nonstop around us, it can be easy, especially as an audience, to view the distant past as a simpler, better time.

Most bygone eras can evoke a tendency to see them through rose-colored glasses and filmmakers take full advantage of that by setting many romances (usually of the tragic variety, alas) in historical time periods far removed from our own. The reasoning seems to be that since there were more obstacles to love in the past, when it happened it must have been real. There is a film that is not only set in the past but also weaves the notion of time itself into the love story. Somewhere in Time uses the idea of time as a tangible barrier to a fierce and tender romance.

Based on a novel by Richard Matheson (who also wrote the screenplay) it introduces us to a college student and writer, Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), on the triumphant opening night of his first play. Flush with success, he is startled when an elderly woman approaches him, puts a gold watch in his hand, and begs him to “Come back to me.”

Eight years later, after major success writing plays in Chicago, Collier is feeling restless without knowing why. Impulsively, he decides to get away and is compelled to stop and stay in the Grand Hotel near his college town. Exploring the storied hotel’s Hall of History, he is inexplicably captivated by an old photograph of a beautiful young woman. He finds out she is Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour), a famous American stage actress, and the photo was taken in 1912. Intrigued, Collier researches her and is stunned when he sees another photo of McKenna in her later years… she was the one who gave him the watch and cryptic message.

Now is when the idea of time fully emerges in the plot of the film. When he discovers that Elise passed away the night she gave him the watch and had a book about time travel (written by one of his old professors, no less), Collier realizes that, as impossible as it may seem, he and Elise somehow had something between them that he must experience by going to her in 1912. A short conversation with the man who wrote the book reveals to Collier what he must do: self-hypnosis. By being surrounded by only objects from the time period he wishes to go to (including his own clothing) and repeating the details of where and when he wants to be, Collier can experience 1912. Though the process is difficult (in fact, it doesn’t work the first time he tries) and he is warned that it will exhaust him, Collier finally accomplishes his goal. He opens his eyes to find himself physically in the past, on the date and in the place he chose.

Immediately, Collier goes looking for Elise and the love story that follows won’t fail to affect most viewers. The extraordinary nature of his circumstances creates an urgency and intensity in him that Elise responds to from the beginning. Her manager W.F. Robinson (Christopher Plummer) is controlling and aggressive but that still doesn’t prevent the feelings that explode between the pair. Conversations, a dance, and an afternoon spent together deepen their connection faster than would feel possible in a modern setting. Audiences might raise their eyebrows at a contemporary couple being so fervent and adamant about their feelings after only 2 days but when we watch romances set in eras of history, we believe it. At a performance of Elise’s theater group the night after Collier’s arrival in 1912, she spontaneously ad-libs a monologue that emphasizes what she and Collier feel. They are already in love.

Robinson feels that a relationship between his protégé and Collier would damage Elise’s career irreparably, so he provides concrete opposition to their union. He almost succeeds in keeping the two apart but the physical obstacle of his actions are  insurmountable.

One of the more significant successes in the script is how time is shifted from an abstract concept to a tangible thing that asserts its own barriers in the path of romance. How easy will it be to overcome such trials on their way to happiness? (Without spoiling the end of the film, audiences should be warned that they will need tissues.) The viewer sees what a struggle it was for Collier to make it to 1912 in the first place, and he even says to Elise, “You have no idea what I’ve been through to get here.” Time is subtly endowed with corporeal traits. It can be moved through and bent to the will of someone whose will is strong enough, but it also has power of it’s own.

Small details add support to this aspect of the writing. Humorous commentary shows the audience that the suit Collier chooses to wear into the past is 10 or 15 years older than the style seen at his destination while he also gets to see the 5-year-old incarnation of Arthur, an elderly porter at the hotel he becomes friends with and who assists him in his quest for information before he travels to 1912. Also of note is the fact that Collier’s first attempt to go into the past fails to work because the tape recorder he uses for his hypnosis is in sight.

The love between Richard Collier and Elise McKenna in Somewhere in Time is crafted so that time itself becomes a concrete antagonist in the story, one with unyielding strength. It is interesting that this film is set in the Edwardian era because that time seems to be a preferred setting for thwarted romances. Edith Wharton’s novels, like The Age of Innocence, were published during this time, of course, while Titanic and Downton Abbey are set in the time period as well. Those films and historical settings also offer a distinct background for engaging romances on screen and that is perhaps because, compared to our modern world, the past feels more open to the possibility of true romance. ♥


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. But what you really need to know is that she has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life and her favorite fandoms are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Once Upon a Time. Plus, she is most described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Oh, and her main hobby is editing fan videos.


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