no spoilers, or : time travel makes me nauseous

I hated Looper. I thought of it today while sitting through a presentation on about an old, rehabilitated building that had kept, for posterity’s sake, a corner of its floorspace the way it had been when workers used to work there until they were sawn in half by machinery (accidentally) or boiled alive in chemical vats (whoops). I thought of some poor old salt now able to look, in this shiny updated building otherwise reserved for office spaces and start-up projects, at the place where he lost his hand when young, or where he lost his best friend. And I thought of the beginning of Looper, the disappearing fingers and noses and legs. And I felt sick.

It’s not just Looper and it’s not just physical deformation that makes my stomach churn. I know that now thanks to the slow game of catch-up I’m playing with Doctor Who, wherein, in certain high-drama episodes, a momentary fuck-up can erase whole histories from your head. Whole people. That definitely made me have to put down my drink and stop watching for awhile.

Because, look. There are definitely moments in life on which your whole future hinges. Potentially every moment could be, I suppose. But the grace of being human is that we don’t have to be aware of the import of that moment when we’re in it. If we knew, every breath we took, that this or that action not just could but would have recriminations decades down the road, we’d be paralyzed. Sure, people might make some better decisions, like deciding not to smoke if they could see the gaping bloody hole that would be carved in their throats in 30 years when they needed an laryngectomy. But you’d also have people, I don’t know, going all Eternal Sunshine and not dating that person because of the pain they’d experience when being dumped by and/or divorcing them. (I should point out that–spoilers!–the reason Eternal Sunshine does not leave me with a bad taste in my mouth is that, despite this foreknowledge of the possibility of impending heartache, they go on and date again anyway not because they feel confident that heartache can be avoided, but that 1.) maybe it could work this time, and 2.) even if it doesn’t, the experience will be worth the pain at the end. In the premise put forth most time travel narratives, including Looper, the finality of the recriminations of the past act cannot be argued with.)

Part of the additional horror of the carvings of the past appearing on Bruce Willis’s arm, for example, or those disappearing digits, is that the years during which one hopes one accustoms oneself to one’s past mistakes are not there. They never were there. They’re being put into place as we watch, but the lived experience, while supposedly implanted in some sort of muddle in the time traveler’s brain, got skipped. It took no time at all to whisk from “I’ve lived my life a certain way for forty years and those forty years have informed who I am today” to “oh whoops, actually, apparently I fucked up forty years ago, and that’s why I have no arms.”

This–becoming who we are–is supposed to take time.

And the loss of that time, whether through time travel or the erasure of memory (or the frequent entwining of both) is nauseating to me. Maybe if the narratives we wrote and watched of time travel started back at the beginning each time some tweak was made and reconstructed the person in each instance–showed us how the change in their past affected them all throughout their lives–I’d be less disturbed. But of course then the horror of the time disruption might be softened, and that’s not in the best interests of the plot or the ticket sales. I realize this. I realize, too, that the running of Alzheimer’s through my family might also increase my aversion to time or memory obliterated in an instant. I’m not completely lacking in self-awareness.

I guess my point is that, while I guess part of the appeal for many people of the TARDIS and its powers is that ability to skate through time and space and see what was and what will be, I could never be a candidate for that kind of awareness. I don’t want to know. Because when I’m there, I will know. I’ll have lived it. And I hate spoilers. I may not like River Song–neither men nor women were made to dangle like fishes on hooks, and people who act like they are will receive only scorn from me–but I agree with her on that point. No spoilers.

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