Follow TV Tropes


Film / About Time

Go To

About Time is a British romantic comedy science fiction film revolving around time travel. Written and directed by Richard Curtis, the film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy. The film was released in Britain and Ireland on September 3, 2013, and was released in the United States on November 1, 2013.

Tim Lake finds out from his father when he's 21 that every male in his family has the ability to travel in time. At first, the awkward Tim uses it to improve his life and impress the girl of his dreams, Mary. But when he accidentally erases part of his timeline, he learns about the ramifications causality can have on his life.

Not to be confused with 2011's In Time, also science fiction but without time travel.

This film provides examples of:

  • Amnesiac Lover: Of a sort. Tim and Mary have a brilliant first date, but it gets erased when he goes back in time to help a friend instead of going to the restaurant.
  • An Aesop: Live life to the fullest.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Kit Kat gets married to Jay, Tim's best friend.
  • Big "OMG!": On discovering Tim had sent her back in time, Kit Kat lets out several of these while punching Tim.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mary decides she wants another child, meaning that Tim won't be able to travel back in time to see his father again. Shortly before the child's birth, Tim travels back to relive one last memory with his father before saying goodbye for good. Eventually, after learning to live life without him, Tim realizes it is better to live each day once and decides to stop using his ability so he can enjoy life as it unfolds.
  • Break the Cutie: Happens to Kit Kat. She starts out as a Wide-Eyed Idealist her unhealthy relationship with Jimmy makes her become The Alcoholic which leads to a serious car accident.
  • The Cameo: Richard Griffiths and Richard E. Grant appear in Harry's play, as opposing lawyers in a court scene.
  • Coming of Age Story: Tim falls in love for the first time with Charlotte, then again with Mary, with whom he has his first relationship. He gets his first job and leaves his parents' house. He has his first experience of grief when his father dies.
  • Costume-Test Montage: Where Tim watches Mary try different dresses for her dinner with the bestselling author. The very first dress turns out to be the winner. The whole scene could be seen as an allegory for the revisions Tim is going through with his life.
  • Cringe Comedy: Tim is very nervous around women at the start of the movie and consequently tends to behave very awkwardly. Thankfully he gets second chances by time-traveling. Even then, it often takes him multiple goes, especially at the beginning when he is still learning that telling people who never met him in their timeline how much he knows about them is not a good way to get them to open up to him.
  • Debate and Switch: A number of ethical issues of time travel are alluded to, but not really addressed. A big example is when Tim has the chance to cheat on Mary with Charlotte. If he'd succumbed to temptation, then felt bad and went back to change it, would that still be cheating? All of the external consequences would be erased, but Tim would still have the experience and the memories. What if he slept with her, planning to reset the timeline? What if he did so repeatedly? This entire ethical question is sidestepped by Tim realizing that he loves Mary and doesn't want to sleep with anyone else.
  • Disposable Love Interest: The second time Tim meets her, Mary is dating a guy she met at a party the week before. She does not even have to dump him to start a relationship with Tim since Tim uses his power to prevent her to meet him in another timeline.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Tim is dodged by Charlotte, but he finds his Second Love with Mary.
  • Glomp: How Kit-Kat greets Mary, toppling her in the process.
  • "Groundhog Day" Loop: While the setup would lend itself to this, Tim doesn't replay many events repeatedly. But he does loop over his choice of best man quite a few times, with each candidate giving a worse speech than the last.
  • Hero of Another Story: Tim's dad could easily have a movie to himself. Kit-Kat to a lesser extent.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Tim's dad explains that since it's Mental Time Travel, neither he nor Tim can change events from before they were born, and names killing Hitler as an example.
  • Instant Seduction: Tim walks up to Mary (who doesn't know him at all), quotes pretty much her own words about Kate Moss back to her, and she pretty much swoons and invites him up to her apartment.
  • Intimate Lotion Application: Soon after Tim discovers he has the power to travel in time, his sister's boyfriend's hot cousin Charlotte comes to stay for the whole summer. The first time Charlotte asks him to apply lotion to her back while sunbathing, he eagerly rushes over, but accidentally squirts half the bottle all over her. Embarrassed, he immediately redoes the whole event, trying to play it cool this time, and Charlotte compliments him. It is implied he continues to do this for Charlotte the entire rest of the summer, only for him to get rejected by her when he asks her out on the last day of the vacation (and when he goes back in time a month to try it then).
    Tim: It was the summer of suntan and torture.
  • Kindhearted Simpleton: Uncle Desmond whom Tim describes as the ''most charming and least clever man you could ever meet".
  • Lonely Piano Piece: Plays swiftly for Tim as he wanders the streets of London after having lost Mary's phone number.
  • Love Triangle: Averted. Tim is initially in love with Charlotte, but she feels nothing for him. He then meets Mary and the two start dating. In the middle of the film, Tim meets Charlotte again, who this time is interested in him and invites him to spend a night of love with her. Tim could perfectly spending the night with Charlotte and later using his powers to erase this event. However, he realizes that he loves Mary and rejects Charlotte's invitation, which no longer appears for the rest of the film.
  • Make Wrong What Once Went Right: Tim disastrously does this accidentally, erasing his relationship with Mary.
  • Meet the In-Laws: Tim is very awkward when he meets Mary's very conservative parents. Mary's meeting with Tim's parents is more pleasant.
  • Mental Time Travel: Tim can send his mind back into his past self.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Charlotte introduces her female friend as her "girlfriend" which confuses Tim. However, her friend really is a lesbian.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Charlotte spends a lot of her time at the house in revealing clothes and Tim falls in love with her almost instantly. Kind of inevitable considering she's played by Margot Robbie.
  • Mundane Utility: Neither Tim nor his father seem to have any interest in using time travel for anything big, due in part to the limitation that both can only travel within their own life, to places they physically were and can remember. His father warns him against using to become rich, as that only makes people miserable. And if it occurs to them to intervene in major events, it's never shown, possibly to avoid the damaging effects of time travel Tim was wary about at the start. His father mostly uses it to get more time to read, and advises Tim to re-live ordinary days just to appreciate them more.
  • Nice Guy: Tim is an exceptionally charming and likable young man who tries to use his powers to help his friends when he can.
  • No Antagonist: The movie avoids the usual Love Triangle plot (there's one romantic rival for each one, and he quickly rejects Charlotte after realising he loves Mary, ans uses his power to outflank the other guy immediately). Instead, it has Tim battle with his own life decisions.
  • No Name Given: Tim's Dad is listed as such in the credits (but Tim calls him James in passing to Harry). As is his mother although it is mentioned many times that she is also called Mary.
  • One Last Field Trip: Tim and his family go together one last time at the beach where they have so many memories.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Tim's wife and mother are both called Mary.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: Tim merely has to go into a dark place, close his eyes and focus, and he instantly goes back.
  • Out of Time, Out of Mind: Averted. Tim is definitively changed by falling in love with Mary and treats losing that as losing a central part of his life.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Tim doesn't seem to particularly revisit his sex scenes with Mary apart from the first. Though considering any one of those encounters could have led to a child, alter the timeline and erase his current children, perhaps this is merely caution on his part. Tim also rejects the chance to abuse his power to cheat on his girlfriend, despite knowing full well he can make it so it never happened.
  • Ret-Gone: After changing his sister's life, Tim's daughter is replaced by a son. He brings her back by retgoning the son.
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Only the person who makes the trip back in time possesses this. Tim's dad is a time traveler too but doesn't remember the changes Tim makes.
    • At one point Tim travels back with his sister (who can't travel back in time on her own). When they return to the present her memory is affected (she suddenly knows she is in a different relationship in the altered timeline) but she also retains the knowledge they time traveled in the first place.
    • In one conversation with his dad, Tim guesses that his dad may also have gone back and replayed it, and his dad confirms this. One wonders what'd happen if Tim and his dad really wanted opposite things from a conversation: would they both keep replaying it, flip-flopping the outcome, ad infinitum?
  • Second Love: Tim is first infatuated with his sister's boyfriend's cousin Charlotte, from whom he learns an important lesson: "All the time travel in the world won't make someone love you." It works out with Mary because they have actual chemistry without time travel.
  • Secret-Keeper: Tim reveals his secret to his sister and actually takes her back time traveling with him. She only knows briefly, however; due to other circumstances Tim ends up reverting this edit to the timeline.
  • Set Wrong What Was Once Made Right: After accidentally erasing his daughter from existence by stopping his sister from becoming an alcoholic, Tim has to go back and stop himself, letting his sister begin her descent into addiction.
  • Shoutout: There is a poster of Amélie in Tim's bedroom in his parents' house.
  • Suspiciously Apropos Music: The chorus of Nelly's song "Dilemma" plays when Tim spots Mary at the party: "No matter what I do, all I think about is you..."
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Tim to Mary's parents: "Yeah, but no oral sex, I promise you."
  • Time Travel for Fun and Profit: This is, very understandably, Tim's first thought when he learns about time travel. His father immediately warns against it, as he's seen money cause more problems than it solves. Tim takes his words to heart, as we never once see him use time travel for financial benefit (though it's lightly implied that he may use it to help with legal cases).
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: The time travel appears to have at least two different modes, but the explanation is very scanty. Tim can go back to a previous occasion and change what he did, but then he can choose to either live from that point onwards, or snap forward to where he jumped from and see what the changes have been. The event described in Secret-Keeper seems to suggest he can also undo these changes.
  • Trailers Always Lie: The trailer suggests that Tim and Mary's entire relationship is eradicated from the timeline, but actually it's only their first meeting. Furthermore, the trailer gives the impression that he erases their meeting by going back in time to prevent his father from dying in a car accident. In fact, it's his sister, not his father, who's involved in a (non-fatal) car accident, and it happens much later in the movie. His father does eventually die, of lung cancer, but there's no way to prevent it without erasing his children from existence, so he simply accepts his fate.
  • Unconventional Wedding Dress: Mary wears red on her wedding day. While nobody comments on it in the film, Word of God is that he had a feeling she would go for something unusual.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Tim at first wanted to get with Charlotte, but she wasn't interested in him. A long time later, they run into each other again and this time Charlotte is interested, but Tim has already moved on with Mary.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Subverted. Mary thanks Tim for not staging one, and Tim agrees... and then goes outside to dismiss the one he actually did stage.