Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Recommend this product?
Somewhere in Time is an enchantingly romantic movie involving time travel. Re-watching it recently for the first time in many years, I did a little time traveling of my own, back to the early 1980s when I first saw this lovely film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
I have an odd sense of connection to this movie because, for quite some time, my family was...ah...obsessed with it might be the best way to describe it. I'm the youngest of four siblings, and before and since our family's love affair with this film, it has been rare indeed for all of us to wholeheartedly like the same movie. (I can still recall my mother giving me a bit of an eye-rolling look as she she said "thanks so much for recommending Remains of the Day. I enjoyed sleeping through it.")
But in an odd bit of synchronicity, we all loved this movie. I say odd, because this movie is not universally loved. Some folks have panned it since it first came out; it tanked at the box office, and only became something of a "cult classic" after finding an audience on t.v. (and early cable, which is where I think we originally saw it). Some people find its emotions corny or over the top, and others express frustration with the time travel elements, which are not fully explained and therefore require some rather major suspension of disbelief.
While I can hear and even understand some of these criticisms, I can't help the fact that I really enjoy this movie. Some of that is because my family has had such fun quoting it to each other over the years, but much of it has to do with how well made it is. It's beautifully and artistically filmed (with some highly creative shots), well though gently paced, incredibly well cast, and the music...well, the score is astonishingly lovely. All in all, it feels like a work of art, lovingly made. Its highly romantic tone is not for everyone, but if you're willing to step inside an evocative and emotional love story, you'll love the experience of watching this film.
Come Back to Me
The story of Somewhere in Time is very simple. It opens in 1972. Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve), a young playwright based in Chicago, has recently seen one of his plays successfully produced. At a cast party after the show, a strikingly lovely and very elderly woman he's never seen approaches him, presses an old-fashioned gold watch into his palm, and beseeches "Come Back to Me."
Eight years and several more success later, Richard finds himself fighting a nasty case of writer's block with a deadline looming. He opts for some time off, and on a whim, checks himself into the beautiful Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan (near his old college). In the Hotel's Hall of History, he becomes obsessed with a photograph of a gorgeous young woman by the name of Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour). Elderly Arthur (Bill Erwin) a bellhop who's been at the hotel since he was a child, tells him Elise McKenna was a famous American stage actress who performed at the hotel in 1912. Richard becomes obsessed with finding out more about her, and the audience is not terribly surprised when he discovers that Elise McKenna was the old woman who gave him the watch.
The film then spends a good bit of time unpacking Richard's ongoing obsession with finding a way to "go back to her." He learns all he can about Elise's career and her personal life, especially from her friend Laura Roberts (acclaimed actress Teresa Wright) who tells him how reclusive Elise became in the years before her death. He then finds a physics professor at his alma mater who is willing to talk to him about time travel. He then conducts an elaborate experiment in tricking his mind into believing that it's 1912 instead of 1980. (Here's where you have to just choose to go with the story, and not get too hung up on details.) Hypnotizing his mind involves getting rid of anything that might possibly remind him of the present. Richard does the job thoroughly, dressing in clothes of a bygone era, purchasing coins from 1912 to put in his pockets, and moving into his closet any lamps, furniture, etc. that might remind him of the present.
Much of the film builds suspense around the natural questions that arise from such a story: Will Richard succeed in going back in time? Will he find Elise McKenna? What will she be like, and will they fall in love? Will he be able to successfully maintain the state of mind he needs to stay in the past?
As you no doubt have surmised from the fact that there would be no love story otherwise, he does succeed in going back to 1912 and finding Elise. There he is faced with other obstacles he didn't expect, especially the firm opposition of Elise's manager, W.F. Robinson (Christopher Plummer) who is obsessed with his protege's career and more than a little in love with her himself.
Excess Within Control
Although the story may stretch plausibility, it's very well written, especially once we move into the past. Screenwriter Richard Matheson adapted his own novel Bid Time Return and did an excellent job.
I am hard pressed, however, to decide who or what really carries this film through and makes it the true work of art it is: the cast, the music, or the cinematography. I would have to say it's all of them working together in harmony, directed with loving care by French-born Jeannot Szwarc (best known, at least before this film, for his direction of Jaws 2).
Christopher Reeve was flying high from his star-turn as Superman when he took on the much gentler and completely different role of Richard Collier. He is, of course, stunningly handsome, but also sweetly innocent, funny and charming, and he makes a passionate obsession with a woman of the past downright believable. Jane Seymour, gorgeous as always, wears the period gowns and upswept hair with tremendous grace and beauty -- she manages to look like a creamy jeweled cameo for the whole film. But it's the chemistry between the two of them that sizzles and enchants. The love they share is love at first sight, and their passion feels palpable...oddly innocent and old-fashioned and yet full of sexual tension. And that love feels so poignant due to the fact that the audience knows they're actually separated by sixty some years, and that it's highly unlikely (given what present day Richard knows of the final years of Elise's life) that they ended up in the same circle of time. What's most poignant about that, however, is that while in the past with her, he completely forgets all that. He is, strangely enough, a man living as passionately and fully as he can in the "present moment" -- it just happens not to be his present moment.
Christopher Plummer is fantastic as Elise's elegant and hard-edged manager: you simultaneously hate him for the way he overprotects and monopolizes her and sympathize with him in his own tender pain as he watches her fall in love with someone else.
John Barry's score is one of my favorite scores of all time. Because I used to listen to it a lot (in fact, I think I fell asleep listening to it for several months in a row when I was in high school) I feel as though I know every note intimately. I cannot imagine this movie without this music specifically -- it moves under, around, over, with and through the story so strikingly that it almost becomes a kind of poetic wordless narration. It's lushly romantic, lilting in some places and haunting in others, sometimes utilizing nothing but simple piano notes and other times pushing into full orchestration, rather heavy on the strings. Barry also interwove Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini into the score, a hauntingly lovely period piece that becomes part of the plot as well as providing perfect accompaniment for the love story in several places.
Finally, the artistic cinematography (done by Isidore Mankofsky) is breath-taking. The past is given a more "pastel" (and sometimes almost sepia toned) feel than the present; the lighting effects are very well-done (especially in scene that marks Richard's passage into the past). And there are other creative shots such as the audience's first peek at the flesh and blood Elise on a sunlit day in 1912; we see her before Richard does, in the reflection of a dark window shade just pulled down behind him.
I must note here that the bonus features on the DVD version are wonderful, providing far more of an in depth look into the creative process of the film that most such features. The best feature is an original documentary made in 2000, which included interviews with all the main cast members, including the inspiring Christopher Reeve. Best of all, within the documentary (and the director's feature commentary) we're provided a number of notes regarding the creative process of making the film, both from the director and the cinematographer. Of particular interest to me was how influenced they were by impressionist paintings in the way they arranged and shot some of the scenes -- I had always thought the montage of Richard and Elise walking together in the park and near the beach had a "Seurat" feel to it, and so was very happy to hear his art, as well as Renoir's, was influential.
There were many other interesting tid-bits too: how they used different film stocks for the present and past scenes; the way they used a split diopter to film the famous scene where Richard is very close to the camera and Elise is very far away, at the bottom of the lengthy staircase and across an extensive lawn, and yet both of them appear visually clear and crisp. They don't get too technical with their information (explaining it in language a layperson like me could understand) but they assume that anyone who loves this film will delight in learning such artistic details, and in my case at least, they were right. So I highly recommend the DVD version in particular.
All in all, this is just a beautiful movie. I've always had mixed feelings about the ending, which I won't reveal here, but in spite of that, I can't give this movie less than five stars. It's a gentle and passionate screen ode to the timelessness of love.
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