Thursday, July 7, 2011

Jac Schaeffer's TiMER

I can't decide if I need a shower because I just sat through a romantic comedy (eww) or if I want to think some more (by which I mean blog, I guess) about this film, which I just watched out of wayward laziness and essential trust in Netflix's recommendations.

It has all of the usual rom-com conceits, starting with the idea that an unbelievably pretty actress can be believable as a lovelorn lonley heart, continuing with a meet cute and ensuing idyll and all of the other crap that makes the formula so annoyingly predictable I want to scream at everyone to stop forking over money to see "new" iterations of it so that maybe Hollywood and its wannabes will stop making it. It's all there, and it's eyeball-rolling and scream-worthy and reductionist and highly emetically hateable.

There's the argument for how I need a shower now, and a good rinse with some brain bleach.

Amazingly, though, while honoring faithfully every single one of those conventions, this film also managed to critique them, not by mocking them, exaggerating them, undercutting them or sending them up, but by presenting them in complete, wide-eyed earnest, trusting the story's real engine to keep us chugging through them.

And chug I did.

As the trailer above lays out, the world of TiMER is a world in which somehow an ultimate formula has been established whereby each person can find his or her absolute perfect soul mate by trusting a gadget implanted in the arm to go off when eye contact with that person is at last made. Furthermore, the gadget can predict to the second just how long the client has to wait before that magic moment: everyone has a countdown -- provided his or her soul mate has also so been implanted. How all this is supposed to work is glossed over via infomercial-esque "interviews" with scientists using a lot of buzzwords like oxytocin; we're not supposed to sit there and ponder how it's so or even if it's really possible in the real world. We're in a thought experiment, here.

But it's a thought experiment conducted way outside the lab, out in the big, messy world which isn't all that much tidier for everyone's potentially having that one big uncertainty (which, since this is rom-com, is basically the only big uncertainty worth worrying about, natch) removed. How like life that is: with that question more or less answered for everyone, everyone now finds something new to stress out over, namely how to conduct themselves with potential partners who really aren't "The One" while you're waiting for him or her to show up.

So here's our protagonist, Oona (Emma Caulfield, known to us nerds as the vengeance demon with a heart of gold from Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- interesting casting there, what?), who starts off the film coercing her current beau to get implanted (men who don't have TiMERS are now suspect; they're not serious, they're toxic bachelors, they're dangerous) to see if he's her "One" and dumps him when he proves not to be, even though they seem to have been having a nice time together -- the ideal of her future is more important than the real of her present. Her attitude in general seems to be that dallying with anyone who is not one's One is essentially cheating on one's One and should be frowned upon.

But then, of course, she meets someone the old fashioned way, someone whose TiMER puts him just months away from The Day but who doesn't seem all that hung up on it and thinks she's pretty swell. Her TiMER still blank, she knows he's not the One but he's rather swell himself and they spend some swell time making each other feel even more swell and golly gee, could the gadgets just be wrong because really, they're pretty darn good together, if only... if only...

Developments develop, complications complicate and a whole lot of people, not just Oona and Mr. Swell, find themselves in terrific muddles, all because of this constant tension between the real and the ideal that is now given concrete form on almost everyone's wrists. As she looks for answers and whines cutely to her similarly troubled (and also improbably pretty) sister, she starts meeting people who have opted out of the system altogether and seem pretty happy. Some even seem to have found love the old-fashioned way, and decided the gadgets couldn't tell them they're wrong about it.

But our girl has grown up in a world where the gadgets are taken for granted and their pronouncements as deterministic as the adage about death and taxes.

So this is a science fiction rom-com hybrid with a lot of ontology on its noggin and, because it is also an art film, it doesn't even try to answer all the questions it poses -- not even the narrative ones.

So again my dillemma: shower or blog? Looks like I already decided, doesn't it?

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