If Cinderella was about a time traveling Prince, he was the one to disappear at “midnight”, and they DIDN’T live happily ever after… You’d have ‘Somewhere in Time’.
Before The Lake House or The Time Traveler’s Wife, came the time-bending romance ‘Somewhere in Time’. Harnessing the collective star power of Christopher Plummer, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Reeve, the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the novel on which the film was based.
Set in 1980, the film gives us a voyeuristic look into the life of Richard Collier, a successful playwright portrayed by Christopher Reeve (Superman, Deathtrap). Collier goes on an unscheduled getaway prompted by a bout of writer’s block, ending up at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Wandering the hotel, Richard stumbles upon a small museum of hotel artifacts and… this is where the movie really begins. We watch as Richard is drawn— almost against his will— to a photograph that changes his life: A portrait of actress Elise McKenna, played by Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die, Dr. Quinn).
From that moment, Richard is captivated by Ms. McKenna and her Mona Lisa smile. Finding the picture was taken sixty years earlier, Collier goes down a rabbit hole of research. He learns all he can about Elise, each clue deepening his obsession, hinting at an implausible truth: Somehow, in the distant past, the two had known each other. This sets Richard on a quest to see if time travel is possible, as he is determined to achieve it.
( Major SPOILERS ahead )
Locking himself in his room, he dons an early twentieth century suit, and cuts his hair to match. He spends the better part of the day listening to a recording of his own voice, trying to convince himself that it is 1912, the last time Elise McKenna was seen at the hotel. After several hours, he realizes the recording– made with technology that hadn’t existed in 1912– was the very thing preventing him from transporting to the past.
Removing all reminders of the present, Richard again attempts to will himself back in time– and it works. He finds himself in 1912, exactly as he had imagined.
This is a rare moment in movie history, more fairytale than science fiction, where time travel is not achieved via wristwatches or cars or phone booths: It’s more like Dorothy, caught in a tornado, carried off into the Land of Oz.
Collier proceeds to find Elise, overcomes her initial rebuttals, and convinces her of his sincerity of heart. In the span of three days, they go on a horse & carriage ride, share a romantic afternoon in a rowboat (anyone else getting ‘Little Mermaid’ vibes, here?), and bond as only movie lovers can. The only obstacle to their newfound happiness is Elise’s manager, William Robinson, portrayed by Christopher Plummer (Sound of Music, Doctor Parnassus). Regarding himself as her protector, he opposes the match in every way. He even has Collier attacked by thugs. Still, Richard and Elise find their way back to each other, Elise turning her back on her life as an actress, and Robinson.
But just as the couple start to make plans, Collier accidentally pulls something from his pocket that reminds him of the future: A 1979 penny. In one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever seen, Richard is pulled away from his love. In a scene extremely reminiscent of “the sunken place” in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, Richard watches Elise fade into the distance, as we’re left with her screams of abject terror.
Each side of me has her own thoughts. Here are a few:
The Feminist finds Richard’s obsessive desperation insulting: A successful writer, fresh off a breakup, runs from his problems, then promptly fixates on an unobtainable pretty face. Richard essentially time-stalks a dead woman, then applies emotional pressure until she responds the way he’d like. That’s not love. Not a healthy one at least. It’s also ridiculous that she gives up her career and her father figure for a three-day love affair.
The Activist is concerned that there were apparently no Black people in 1980. There didn’t even appear to be any Negro servants in 1912. #Erasure
The Romantic & The Christopher Reeve Fangirl feel like he was the only person that could sell this character on screen. There are moments of such breathtaking sincerity that they make me believe in time travel, magic, and destiny. No one could sell love and heartbreak like Christopher Reeve. Just watch the Lois Lane death scene in Superman: The Movie. But there are also moments of inappropriate camp that jolt me out of the story.
Plummer, as always, is menacing, charming, regal, and believable. Seymour puts in an excellent performance, as well. For me, however, Reeve is the breath and heartbeat of this film.
Yes, this movie is a mixed bag, depending on what values you bring to the viewing, but all in all, I think it is a semi-polished gem: It may not sparkle, but it’s priceless.
Also Read: The Film Fan’s Guide To Time Travel