Movie Musing: Swings and Roundabouts (and a Guitar)

Playing with paradoxes and comedy time travel. This is a diamond!
(Warning: bad language)

“Paradox avoidance clauses: they’re just a formality”!

Who says paradoxes can’t be fun! Let’s take a look! 🙂

Grandfather paradox

Where a family line starts with Grampa, this movie clip kicks off with his paradox.

The motivation for going back to the past is Richard’s inability to play the guitar. This means that if he’s successful and he grows up as a guitar player, the motivation no longer exists and the return trip won’t be made.

The explanation here is that Richard has a “double”; the younger guitar-playing version of him grows up to be a separate version of him.

Double take
Multiple time lines with doubles?

I’ve always thought that additional time lines are a bit of a cop-out in terms of explaining the grandfather paradox. Maybe this explains why Richard is assured that he will retain his own memories on his return to the present. This makes sense because the memories of the guitar playing are ‘made’ in the younger double; there’s no chance that the version who time travels and comes back will know how to play the guitar. It’s a futile journey in time!

Ontological paradox

The ontological paradox is sometimes known as a “bootstrap paradox” after Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “By His Bootstraps”. It’s a causal loop and refers to an object or information having no origin. It’s potentially realised here with the disposal of the double (i.e. the original). The surviving ‘older’ version now has no ancestory so is self-existing if we assume a single time line.

It appears that we sort of step around it with the double, but I’m not convinced! The original doesn’t grow up to be the time traveller, so working this backwards, the time traveller never was the original in the first place. Where’s he from then? We have our ontological paradox again!

As a little bonus complexity…

There are multiple trips to the past (with compounding facial hair growth!). Each version admittedly doesn’t grow up towards the present (except one notable version…) but does indeed return to the present. They are therefore doubles which are presumably disposed of – and we have a bonus compounded ontological situation as above!

A couple more musings

A historical perspective

Each iteration on each trip to the past has a different experience in that Richard has new conversations with future versions of himself who travel back into the past. This would appear to again suggest multiple time lines.

But there’s a part of me which questions this assumption because this requires the time travel mechanism to be very specific in which time line to place a time traveler. And I don’t quite buy it; this is after all time travel at the Chronometry Department (OK, admittedly a misnomer) of the hospital where the procedure is carried out, and not inter-dimensional travel.

I’m more inclined to think that we see history progressively being changed with each trip to the past. This means that history is changeable (on a single time line) and perhaps confirmed by the rewind sequence.

That said, there’s an interesting twist at the end where we learn that the guy in the waiting room who wanted to say goodbye to his Mum (Larry?) in fact causes her death. We don’t know how she died the first time around, but there is a sense that history has happened and cannot be changed.

Otherwise we’re back to multiple time lines / dimensions!

Did you feel the Earth move?

This bit…

Same time machine, different locations!

The time machine is not in the same geographical space on each iteration! Why? Many novels take a change in the Earth’s position into account when travelling to a different time. (“The Chronothon” by Nathan van Coops is a good example.) I’d hazard a guess that in this clip we’re looking only at aesthetics, but for any time machine builders out there, it would be well worth taking changes in spatial position into account; it could be deadly:

Earth moving during time travel
Beware! Earth moves during time travel! Image credit:

Step Dad

I must admit that when I saw the stepdad for the first time in the present, I thought that Richard was being visited by a future version of himself – and was therefore expecting to be eliminated himself.

It turns out that the reverse is true; the stepdad has now become a double and it is he who should expect to be disposed of at any moment. I wonder if he knows?

Guitar non-solo

Ultimately Richard doesn’t want to play the guitar; he wants a way he can be with Ingrid. It’s just as well because whatever paradoxes come into play we’ve seen that he can never learn the guitar in this way (and he wasn’t willing to simply pay for lessons!).

He’s successful – Richard (original) ends up with Ingrid. And Richard (time traveler) also gets to be with her without knowing how to play the guitar himself. He therefore indirectly solves the grandfather paradox because there’s no longer any causal loop.

However, he’s now impersonating himself rather than being himself. (How often do we hear that we should be ourselves to get the girl?! 😉 ) I wonder how long this relationship will last?

His victory comes at a cost, though it seems that he doesn’t mind paying it! Richard manages to become his own stepfather and fathers his own step brother (this short movie has clear similarities to Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” and David Gerrold’s “The Man Who Folded Himself“!)

It’s a very warped and twisted scenario, but one which comes about because there is a transfer of information which is retained during each time jump. We see glimpses of Groundhog Day – type repetition where prior information of the present is used to influence its future direction.

Ironically, where Richard is able to learn in the past, he’s unable to do that in the present and is ready to go through who knows what in order to settle a parking ticket.

What a dickhead idiot! – but a funny one to watch! 🙂


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I'm You Dickhead
I'm You Dickhead

Richard goes back in time to convince his yonger self to learn how to play the guitar. Then he'll surely get all the babes, right? Hang tight - he gets more than he bargained for!

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