When H.G. Wells was first in the process of writing The Time Machine, his editor, W.E. Henley, told him to stop talking about time travel, and instead simply take his readers on a voyage through time.†
The result was a story that focused less on the technicalities and science behind the time machine (“There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space,” says the Time Traveller, “except that our consciousness moves along it.”), but rather on the journey.
The 2011 British independent film Dimensions is similar, only the time travel story therein is really about neither the machine nor the journey. It’s about the desire to travel through time, itself.
A Line, A Loop
Directed by Sloane U’Ren and written by her husband, Ant Neely, Dimensions: A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads is a period film wrapped in an ethereal web of time travel and many-worlds.
Hoping to use a time machine constructed with bits of electrical scrap and assembled inside of a piano, a young scientist, Stephen, dedicates his life to one singular goal: to travel back in time and, if not change the past, then to at least say goodbye to a childhood love.
The film is set in a dreamlike 1920s-1930s England. An old Cambridge estate, large trees surrounding wide open fields, social gatherings by the river. Dimensions has been called “Downton Abbey on acid,” after all. But soon the enchantment ends, and Stephen finds himself on a path of scientific and personal discovery.
There’s a tension throughout the film, like an undercurrent, but it doesn’t come from time travel or science fiction. There’s no real villain, here, besides fate. Instead, it’s that restless, wistful regret of the main character. It’s the what-could-have-beens that drive the narrative forward.
The casting, in that case, feels about perfect. Henry Lloyd-Hughes as Stephen, the obsessed scientist. Camilla Rutherford as his mother, Jane, who portrays the passing from young to old with relative ease. Olivia Llewellyn as Annie, and Sean Hart as Stephen’s childhood friend Conrad, perhaps as equally obsessed, or at least as regretful. And, of course, there’s Hannah Carson as the young Victoria, charming and tragic.
Together, they weave a tale of childhood loss and how singular events can change the course of a person’s history.
Unless you can change it back, of course.
I should also mention that the cinematography is one of the film’s highlights, and while the fade transitions may take a bit of getting used to (maybe that’s just me), each scene is like a painting, or a perfect photograph. Take a look at these images, and you’ll have a good idea of what I’m talking about.
I’m not exactly qualified to comment on the artistic or technical aspects of the film, but Dimensions looks great (with a budget of only £180,000, and shot in only 21 days, at that). I’d also give the same level of praise to its musical score, composed by Ant Neely.
A Tangle of Threads
The thing about time travel, in fiction or otherwise, is that everyone seems to have their own idea about how it should work. Which is, to me, often comical, at least when people complain about “plot holes” or scientific misunderstandings.
Do we exist in a single universe, or a multiverse? If there are multiple universes, are new branches (universes) created for every possible outcome of events (many-worlds interpretation)? Or does each observation simply tell us within which of an infinite number of already-existing universes we are currently inhabiting (multiple histories)? There’s no right or wrong answer, only points of view. We don’t know, and every answer might be wrong.
That’s not to mention the fact that every work of fiction has its own rules, its own universe. We don’t have a consensus about these things in reality, let alone fantasy.
Dimensions doesn’t really make you ask those questions, anyway (well, mostly). Like The Time Machine, its time travel explanations are swift and intuitive, and rely on the grounded science of spatial dimensions and the possibility that yes, we do live within a tangle of multiple universes, meaning that changes to the past would never affect our future.
But you know what? That’s all I’m going to say, for now. Dimensions is still occupying that hazy part of my mind that exists for strange adventures that take a while to think over (which is a good thing!), and I’m looking forward to watching it again. It’s not perfect, I’ll admit; there are some plot elements that could be considered predictable, maybe even cliché. But even then, given the focus of the movie, I’m not entirely sure they were meant to be surprises, anyway.
What’s certainly not surprising is how much I enjoyed it. I had a good feeling about Dimensions the first time I saw that trailer however long ago. Which brings me to the bottom line: watch the trailers, and if they even remotely pique your interest, well, you know what to do next.
Dimensions: A Line, A Loop, A Tangle of Threads is available digitally on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video, and on DVD from Film Festival Flix. There’s also a companion novel on Amazon and a companion blog called Project Chronos. I’m hoping the soundtrack eventually becomes available, as well.
At any rate, I highly recommend the film, and I look forward to Ant & Sloane’s next endeavor, wherever (or whenever) it may take us.
†I read this little anecdote in the introduction, written by Alfred Mac Adam, of the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Time Machine and the Invisible Man.