We live in a divisive time. But here's one subject matter that all people gravitate towards: time travel.
For decades, time travel has fascinated us. H.G. Wells first popularized the concept with his 1895 novel The Time Machine. Since then, time travel has been a constant of literature, film and television.
With critically acclaimed shows like The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow and Doctor Who reinvigorating interest in the plot device for today's generation — as well as classics like Back to the Future — it's evident that people still very much love time travel. The fact that three separate shows based on characters voyaging through history are scheduled to debut next season just proves this concept never goes out of style.
Time travel is as relevant now as it was in its earliest fictional incarnations. Moreover, its popularity and relevance have outgrown the science fiction genre as it spreads its wings into other genres, such as comedy — a fact we will know all too well when Fox's comedy Making History debuts this fall. But why has time travel become so increasingly popular?
A Sense Of Escapism
For years, time travel has been a core plot device of science fiction and fantasy. Films of that ilk thrive on the element of escapism. No matter what's going on in the world, time travel gives us the opportunity to take flight from our present and venture into someone else's past or future.
For example, there was a lot happening in the world during the 1980s, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the eruption of Mount St. Helens and the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. However, the 1980s also saw a massive surge in time travel movies — that decade produced some of the most iconic films of that genre, including The Terminator, Back to the Future and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
It's no coincidence that time travel films and TV shows pop up whenever people are looking for a departure of sorts. Whether you want to break away from something that's happening on a global scale or something in your own personal life, time travel is a form of escapism that can take us away, at least for a little while.
Changing Something For The Better
Perhaps one of the most timeless qualities of time travel is our obsession with wanting to change something for the better. Most of these films deal with the idea of bettering something by changing it. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day Sarah Connor concludes that altering the present would give the world a more positive future. Similarly, in X-Men: Days of Future Past Logan is sent back in time to influence events and ultimately change what lies ahead.
This idea of altering the timeline to better the future is something that will always be incredibly relevant to us. Think about it — most of us have something that we would all like to change.
Who wouldn't want to travel back in time to stop a horrific event like the Chernobyl disaster from ever taking place? Or who wouldn't want to go back to erase a personal incident, like showing up late for an important meeting or falling out with a friend? Whether you made a serious mistake or fell victim to an humiliating moment, for many of us there is that overwhelming desire to change something in our lives.
As seen in DC's Legends of Tomorrow, Rip Hunter and the Legends destroy the Oculus, restoring order and free will to the timeline, thus changing the events fixed by the Time Masters. The idea of being able to shape and change our own destiny without interference from others is another incredibly relevant theme. And thus, time travel continues to resonate with us on a personal level as the main characters are given the opportunity that many of us would love.
Watching History Unfold
The desire to watch a historical event take place is something we can all relate to. Imagine being part of a bygone era as you watch the first man walk on the moon, or witness Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in person? I'm sure we all have our own desires to witness something significant that took place before our lifetime. And it's because of these yearnings that we can always relate to the main characters in these films.
In Back to the Future, when Marty McFly was asked for donations to save the clock tower that got struck by lightning 30 years prior, he didn't know he would be witnessing said event in person less than a week later. Moments like these will always resonate with us on a personal level, making us wish that we could do the same with personal moments that are important to us.
The Hope For A Better Future
Every time travel film and TV show seems rife with deeper messages. The fact that our protagonist is afforded the opportunity to travel in time means they get the chance to bring a unique perspective with them. Whether they are from the past or the future, these characters become people we can learn from. And just as the characters learn in the respective films, we learn as viewers.
Looking at The Terminator, Kyle Reese was sent to the past in order to save the savior of mankind, warning of the dangers of man's reliance on machines. On the other hand, if someone from the past travels to the present, they can learn what's to come and, if it's something bad, they can do their utmost to eradicate anything that is wrong with their time in order to prevent said future from ever coming to fruition. To quote Terminator 2, "The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves."
These messages bring with them the hope of being able to change things for the better. The hope of a better future. In Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the titular characters arrive in the future, bringing with them a vitally important message: "Be excellent to each other."
If we as viewers take anything away from Bill & Ted, it should be this incredibly apt message. It's a message that transcends space and time. No matter what changes between the past, present and future, time travel is an effective way of relaying the fact that core human values must stand the test of time.
Time travel has always been relevant. From its inception through to the string of successful films in the 1980s to its resurgence now, we as viewers simply can't get enough of time travel — and we never will. Even today, with all the division in the world, we all find ourselves continually gravitating toward this genre.
The plot device allows us to escape from reality through fictional characters' escapades through time. It reinforces the importance of how we must learn from our mistakes and fight for a better tomorrow. Because when you think about it, that's really what we all want — the promise of a brighter tomorrow. I have grown up watching time travel with the Terminator franchise and continue to watch it manifest today in The Flash. Time travel has been a staple of past cinematic adventures and will continue to be so well into the future. Simply put: Time travel is timeless.