Somewhere in Time- A Lovely Little Mess

Hi, fellow movie buffs. I have a strange attachment to stories about time with great concepts and terrible execution. One example is the 1980 “classic” Somewhere in Time, starring the late Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as lovers across centuries.

There isn’t much to summarize because the “plot” of the movie isn’t all that complex. Richard Collier falls in love with actress Elise McKenna and travels back in time to meet her. The movie’s premise appealed to me personally because I had a similar experience with a faded gravestone at Melrose Abbey. Still, the film loses all momentum when the initial goals of the plot are achieved. A deeper explanation (with spoilers) is in the “pacing” section for curious readers.

I was also drawn to this movie because I admire Christopher Reeve as a medical activist. Christopher Reeve was already a prominent actor when he fell off a horse in 1995 and sustained severe spinal cord injuries. He lived with 24/7 home care, continuing to act, write books, and speak publicly to raise awareness and funds for spinal cord injury research. Reeve used his pre-existing platform to make a tangible positive impact in a sector of activism very close to my heart. While this movie is long before his accident, I was curious to see how he came across on screen in his prime. Unfortunately, Somewhere In Time may not be his best performance

Characters

Richard Collier is an obsessed man. His first bizarre interaction with Elise McKenna sets him on a path similar to Victor Frankenstein’s – even including counsel from an old professor. Christopher Reeve’s melodrama and intensity in his pursuit are captivating, but his awkwardness around Elise and refusal of her rejections comes off as “creepy stalker”.

Despite setting the entire story in motion, the motivations of Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour) are never clear. She makes a “time circle” by giving Richard a locket that eventually causes him to travel back in time and meet her, but aside from this singular act, she mainly reacts to Richard and William.

As Elise’s manager, William Fawcett Robinson is “protective” in a way that borders on controlling. He focuses more on Elise’s career than her whole well-being, as stereotypical managers tend to do. He and Elise share an unexplained foreknowledge of Richard, but the “soul connection” between the couple is never fully explained. Christopher Plummer (may he Rest In Peace) commands the screen, outshining even Reeve in their confrontation. He is the best actor this movie offers, second to none.

Arthur, the hotel bellman, has an endearing plot arc. Richard meets him as an older man, played by Bill Erwin, who serves mainly as an exposition device. But the addition of the time travel allows Richard also to see young Arthur, which highlights the aesthetic tension between the two eras, and gives more indirect insight into Arthur’s background. Their interactions are endearing, which almost offsets Richard’s awkwardness and forcefulness around Elise.

Aesthetics

The movie was filmed in 1979, and the setting alternates between “contemporary” and 1912. The antique theater costumes and ornate hotel decorations of 1912 are gorgeous, a callback to a bygone era. This is an excellent contrast to the drab and bare settings of 1980. The vibrancy of the past is represented well in the visuals. The two eras are tied together by beautiful lakeside scenery at the Grand Hotel.

Pacing

The circular plot structure is intriguing. The story starts with Richard meeting an elderly woman in 1972, who tells him to “come back to me”. The surprise and confusion on his part (and the extensive obsessive research that follows) are engaging and relatable to history nerds and hopeless romantics. The buildup and suspense are exciting.

However, the payoff is not worth the buildup. When Richard and Elise finally meet after 45 minutes of runtime, it is timid and awkward, and I was left wondering what we were waiting for. Without too many spoilers, the “relationship” hits cliché milestones in the same way a Danielle Steele novel progresses, by sheer force and suspension of disbelief. The emotional investment of the characters far outpaces rationality, even by the standards of rom-coms. And while 1910 dating rules may be different from 2021 dating rules, there’s still an imbalance of chemistry between them, and Richard is far more invested. The movie alternately sprints and crawls, with the final ten minutes being an abrupt ending.

Overall, I would only recommend this movie to people who like romantic time-travel stories or Christopher Reeve, and even then, I would caution against high expectations. I’ll give the film 5/10 because it is watchable, but it asks for a lot of grace.

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