Top 5 Existential (Sort of) Time Travel Movies

by Sinke Car
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Why is time travel such a mind-boggling idea? Even though it’s been a subgenre of SciFi, it is actually a very mundane thing. Time travel is something we do privately every day, actually, we travel to the past to ruminate or rethink decisions, or we project our future, daydream or make future plans. 

This is something essentially human, which is why this topic so flexible and popular for all the media that wish to reflect on various topics from human nature, fundamental philosophical questions to everyday wisdom. Here’s how some great movies explored the concept of time travel to address the questions of the meaning of life. 

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See our top picks for time travel movies 

1. Donnie Darko

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Donnie Darko (2001) is a cult psychological drama, written and directed by Richard Kelly.

Features a “what am I going to do with my life” panic that happens to all teenagers. There isn’t a set plan on how to become who you should be. 

Donnie Darko is an unusual and complex take at what is essentially the topic of sacrifice. What can I sacrifice in the now for a better tomorrow? The exploration of parallel time universe signifies that imaginative potential that makes us rethink our time reality, what’s worth it and what’s not. For all those that feel disillusioned and lost in a rabbit hole, this is a must-see.

2. Groundhog Day

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On a different note, Groundhog day (1993) is a fantasy comedy by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin. It follows a day in the life of Phil Connors who is stuck in a time loop and keeps repeating the same day over and over. He goes through different phases of crisis, that struggle with and question the monotony of passive life. Until Phil starts experiencing his day to the fullest, he remains stuck. The groundhog day finally passes when he commits to love and finds happiness.

3. Interstellar

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Interstellar (2014) is a work of science fiction, but it wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan movie if there weren’t any existential questions involved. Themes of loneliness and despair spur from the narrative in which the characters can’t return to the Earth. The dread from being the last possible human in existence intertwines with the theme of living on through others. This is actually the anxiety of human condition encapsulated in a small cabin in space. 

Time travel paradox here plays with the existentialist view on future and past, making the future the one in charge of changing the past, and not the other way around. Which also means our past can impact us only as much as we allow it to.  

4. Mr. Nobody

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This isn’t exactly what you expect when you think of time travel, but it is definitely the epitome of mental Odyssey. Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody (2009) is the multifaceted life story told by the protagonist, Nemo Nobody. He tells us of three different narratives, three different possibilities of his life, which all played out, as he was unable to choose between challenging decisions that ultimately changed the course of his life. This science-fiction drama is the drama of memory, which is what time travel essentially is.

5. About Time

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For those that would rather spend their evening to a romantic comedy, Richard Curtis’ About Time (2013) is the time travel comedy-drama that also questions decisions in a heartwarming and mind-relaxing way. When the protagonist finds out of his ability to time-travel, he uses this power to correct and rewrite situations in his life to the preferred ones. However, the butterfly effect is a messed up thing, and makes him question the banality of his revisions. Our perfect version of life might not be so perfect, after all.

This list is supposed to bring you closer to the topic of mental time travel and existential questioning with movies that vary in tone and sentiment. However, if time travel topic is something you enjoy in itself, then visit SuggestedReads for a full list of time travel books. 

Fiction is a way of time traveling in itself and does the same as this evolutionary process that developed our consciousness, so indulge in fiction, it is never too banal and always worth your time!

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