Time travel is a subject that has been broached many times in film. Back to the Future, The Butterfly Effect, Jumanji, Kate & Leopold, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Lake House, and most recently the excellent Looper have all dealt with it in a variety of ways. In Canadian director/writer Richie Mehta’s third film he comes at the subject from a very science perspective. There is nothing ethereal or mythical about it. It is very reality based and yet Mehta has managed to instill plenty of emotion into it. Enough to make us care about these characters and what happens to them.
I’ll Follow You Down is the type of film that makes me leery about writing about it. Almost anything you say after the first 20 minutes of the film is pretty much a spoiler. So I will tread carefully here.
An almost too perfect life is what husband and wife Gabriel (Rufus Sewell – Dark City, The Illusionist) and Marika (Gillian Anderson – from television’s The X-Files) seem to be living. Even though they have been married a while they are still very much in love. She is an artist and he is a physicist. They have a 9-year-old son named Erol (John Paul Ruttan – This Means War), who is incredibly bright and sensitive. Then all their lives change in what seems to be the blink of an eye.
Gabriel is leaving for a couple of days to fly down to his alma mater, Princeton, for a conference. There he is going to meet up with Marika’s father Sal (Victor Garber – from television’s Alias), who is a physics professor at the prestigious university. After Gabriel arrives Sal shows him to a subterranean work space that the physicist has requested in order to work on something. They plan to have lunch the next day, but that is that last anyone sees of Gabriel. Marika and Erol wait at Pearson Airport in Toronto, but he never shows up. Marika flies down to Princeton, but neither she nor the police can find any clue about what happened to Gabriel. He is just simply gone.
It is now 12 years later and Erol (Haley Joel Osment – Sixth Sense, Pay It Forward) is 21-years-old and from what we gather, the man of the house. He is taking care of his mother who has never gotten over the disappearance of her husband and is prone to periods of severe depression. Sal has moved up to Toronto to be near his fragile daughter. Erol has followed in his dad’s footsteps and is studying physics at university. He is even taking a class given by his grandfather, but is rarely there due to his responsibilities at home. Despite his lack of attendance, Erol is obviously a brilliant physicist. He also is dating Grace (Susanna Fournier – from television’s Being Human), a friend since childhood.
Once again the stability is pulled out from under Erol’s feet like a proverbial rug and it causes him to go down the path his father once started. Sal has been using Gabriel’s old notes in order to build a machine that enables time travel. Gabriel agrees to help seeing it as an opportunity to make things right in his life. What becomes his dilemma is that Erol will have to say goodbye to his present life to do so.
Time travel and its related issues/questions is something that has intrigued human beings for almost as long as we have been on this planet. Questions like how moments can change lives and how we become the people we are based on the lives we live so if we were to go back and change those lives we would most likely come out as different people. Better? Worse? Who’s to say? What is fun is to think about the possibility. Richie Mehta’s delicately written film tries to address some of the questions surrounding this intriguing topic.
One of the central themes of the film is consequence. How everything we do brings about a reaction and how we must be willing to accept whatever consequence happens in reaction to our actions. It is not a simple concept rather it is quite complex. The domino effect is very real as illustrated in I’ll Follow You Down.
Another theme is how human beings deal with not having answers to occurrences. We all need to know. We are driven by that need. In this film Marika is driven to madness because she does not know what happened to her husband. It would be infinitely better if she found out that he left her for another woman rather than having to live a life of uncertainty. Gillian Anderson, a talented actress who is making a return to films and television lately after a long disappearing act, does a wonderful job as the wife and mother who just cannot go on. As you are watching the film her portrayal of Marika will break your heart and make you want to reach out, hug her and tell her to hold on just a little longer.
Time travel becomes the device through which these issues of choice and consequence are examined by Mehta. What would you do if you could change your decisions? If you could take back wrongs you committed in the past? I think we would all grab at that chance, wouldn’t we? Then there is the dealing with the consequences of changing things. Would you want to risk what you had already achieved? There are no guarantees that even if you change one thing in the past that many things in the present would not be different.
No review of this film would be complete without addressing the whole Haley Joel Osment thing. Yes, he was that adorable wide-eyed kid who was nominated for an Oscar at the age of 11 and then kind of disappeared and did the normal thing. He is now back and doesn’t really look like that kid we all loved. He is rather hairier and beefier than that slight little boy. Osment is still a talented actor, but that naiveté is gone.
Richie Mehta takes on the difficult task of making all this understandable, believable and not overly melodramatic. He has his hands full because as complex a concept as time travel is that is as involved it is to get cogent version of his idea onto the screen. For the most part he succeeds. At times he does stumble a bit and allow some holes in the story to creep in or melodrama to get amped up unneccessarily. Whatever few weaknesses there are in the film Mehta manages to right the ship with a strong ending and a rather ambiguous one. It seems like he goes for the tying everything up in a nice bow ending, but if you really think about it the whole thing is rather up in the air and verging on sad. And it is that ability to make us feel in what is essentially a pseudo Sci Fi film that demonstrates Mehta’s talent as a director. He keeps the focus on the human and emotional issues rather than the science and that is the call of an astute director.