I’m pretty sure About Time, which follows protagonist, Tim Lake, as he navigates work, love, marriage, and family life with time travel thrown in, will convince any vocational on-the-fencers that they’re called to marriage. I watched the film just weeks before my wedding and it bowled me over into a heap of achingly blissful sobs. How could it not? It movingly and wittily centers on marital and parental love and it was only a matter of time before I’d be eternally vowing myself to a life of that.
Every time I’ve seen it since, it never fails to make me joyously reaffirm my marital vows–the highest of compliments for a film. But it doesn’t just flatly affirm the goodness of love, marriage, and family. It touches on something more nuanced that’s been on my mind ever since I first realized my changed identity as someone’s mother: the relationship of time and family life.
Here are a few things on that theme that stick out to me:
Parents are the keepers of time in their children’s lives
He always seemed to have time on his hands. After giving up teaching university students on his 50th birthday, he was eternally available for a leisurely chat or to let me win at table tennis.
All in all it was a pretty good childhood. Full of repeated rhythms and patterns. By the time I was 21, we were still having tea on the beach every single day. Skimming stones and eating sandwiches, summer and winter, no matter what the weather…And every Friday night a film, no matter what the weather.
These are some of the first lines of the film which opens in the loveliest way–placing us in the midst of a happy, idiosyncratic, imperfect, but love-filled family (in idyllic Cornwall to boot). When I begin watching this film I always think, “That’s what I want my family to look like.” But this life of repeated rhythms and patterns doesn’t just happen its own. Rather, it’s a parent’s responsibility to structure their children’s and their own time in a meaningful way.
I don’t think it’s too bold to say that parents are tasked with the reclamation of time as a sacred element of human life. Modern life sets upon us the pressures of instant connectability and a never-ending influx of information. We become sick with the glorification of busyness as work increasingly spills into personal life. Our children’s inner lives begin to dim when every moment of their lives is crammed with activity.
And so within the home, we must reclaim time for contemplation, for leisure, for recreation. And that atmosphere is precisely what the teas and the table tennis matches and the family dinners all create in the film. That’s why Christian parents, in particular, are meant to live out the liturgical year in their home both daily and seasonally.
Children teach us something about the nature of eternity
No one can ever prepare you for what happens when you have a child. When you see the baby in your arms and you know that it’s your job now. No one can prepare you for the love and the fear. No one can prepare you for the love from the people you love can feel for them, and nothing can prepare you for the indifference of friends who don’t have babies…Suddenly, time travel seems almost unnecessary, because every detail of life is so delightful.
I’ve written before about the weird and wonderful stretching of the metaphysical confines of time and space in pregnancy. And equally wild is the baby’s actual arrival. Because you’re going about life linearly hitting different milestones and achievements and then this new, intense human being emerges (out. of. your. body.) and time feels as though it stops and everything is suspended in this new dimension of reality: slow and sweet and grueling and frenetic all at once.
The film does an excellent job of highlighting how having a child is both miraculous and commonplace.
The scene after Tim and Mary’s first child is born is a tender one and I love the choice of Arvo Part’s “Spiegel im Spiegel” playing at that moment. The name of the song translates to “mirror in the mirror” referring to an infinity of images connoting the profound transcendental weight that moments in time carry.
We then follow more commonplace, miraculous moments in Tim and Mary’s new life as parents that show how children only magnify the love of one’s community and offer more opportunities to come together, pause, and celebrate–a foretaste of eternity.
It is the ordinariness in our lives that reveals the extraordinary
We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.
Director, Richard Curtis, got the idea for About Time when he was talking to a friend about how they would want to spend the last day of their lives.
I love that this film is littered with scenes from ordinary life. Going on nervous, thrilling first dates. Waking up in the morning next to your spouse and playfully teasing one another about who is going to get the kids. Listening to your dad read you a favorite passage from Dickens. Coloring monsters with your three-year-old.
Time travel may be the plot device that the film pivots on, but it isn’t really about that. It’s about real time travel. That is, our travels through our days that are made up mostly of small moments in which we may forge love and kinship with one another. These moments make up the framework of our relationships and create a space in which we can delight in one another and be vulnerable with one another.
In one of my favorite scenes near the end of the film after his father has passed away, Tim has one last opportunity to visit him in the past. His father beats him at a game of table tennis and Tim asks him for a kiss goodbye. It’s a moment that moves quickly from hilarity to poignancy. They decide to travel back to a moment from Tim’s childhood where they walk along the beach and skip stones. The two of them have played hundreds of table tennis matches and skipped hundreds of stones together and these repeated ordinary rituals culminate in this last scene revealing an extraordinary love between father and son.
Do yourself a favor and watch About Time. Or rewatch it. And think of the remarkable ordinary moments of our days that we all too frequently let slip away unnoticed.
As Mary Oliver says, “Who needs poets if we just offer up to the world our attention.”
P.S. another to reason to watch: to mourn the fact that you don’t live in this house.