The Time Machine Short Film Review: A Charming Ode To ‘Young’ Science Fiction

Filmmaker Arati Kadav’s short film is a crafty, dreamy DIY-fairytale-bleached spin on time-travel and its absolute consequences. She merely uses the genre as a quirky device to examine the tender contradictions of growing up

Rahul Desai
Rahul Desai

December 12, 2016

FC Rating

★★★★★
The Time Machine Short Film Review: A Charming Ode To ‘Young’ Science Fiction

Director: Arati Kadav

Cast: Siddharth Menon, Twinkle Patel, Loveleen Misra, Anjum Rajabali

I didn’t think they made them like these anymore. Not here, at least. Arati Kadav’s The Time Machine is a charming little Michel-Gondry-ish ode to ‘young’ science fiction: a crafty, dreamy DIY-fairytale-bleached spin on time-travel and its absolute consequences.

At its core though, this film merely uses its genre as a quirky device to examine the tender contradictions of growing up – an existential embodiment of playfully writing a letter to your future self, and then getting a reply.

While the retro-fluffy variety of pop-culture sci-fi (Back to the FutureET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) has long pivoted on the ‘adventurous’ offshoots of alien/future-altering powers, its contemporary descendants take a more realistic and reactionary stance within the same space.

So instead of scrambling to manipulate time in an accessible action-romance-comedy rollercoaster, we come down to the emotional ramifications of these events (as observed with Denis Villeneuve’s recent mind-bender, Arrival): The ‘chosen ones,’ also the films’ under-the-pump protagonists – a regular science nerd named Ketan (Siddharth Menon) in The Time Machine – must first grapple with the choice between modifying a flexible future and revising a preordained destiny, both of which at times go hand in hand.

More often than not though, there’s always something bigger at stake, like the character’s unerring importance to the universe s/he occupies, which adds to the poignancy of their decisions. By placing the fate of mankind on their unprepared shoulders, this fairly temperamental process of their ‘sacrifice’ becomes the film.

Just like Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams, in Arrival) chooses to live the life she has already envisioned, Ketan, too, as a 15-year-old prodigy, is faced with the same dilemma. Just as he is transitioning into young adulthood, nurturing the vivid dizziness of first love and rebellion towards parents, reality-check arrives in the form of his famous older self (screenwriter Anjum Rajabali flexing his genie-like presence).

It takes a while to reach this moment in the 40-minute film, but it’s a lovely wistful phase: older Chetan nostalgically feeling his room, asking for his mother’s food and recognizing the innocence (photographs, whacky prototypes) of a life gone by. It is here that the pressure of greatness dawns upon the boy; he simply can’t be any other school kid, just like superheroes can’t afford to stop for a quick drink.

I’ve often wondered about what it is in the composition of extraordinary minds that enables them to fulfill their talent; surely, they must feel weak and crippled by their own gifts. Or perhaps, as Ms. Kadav’s magic-tinted glasses tell us, before spiraling into ordinariness, they experience this absurd, inexplicable moment of humbling clarity, which prepares them for the arduous road ahead. In this case: a simplistic reminder from the future.

Ms. Kadav, of course, presents these rather complex loops of time-space symmetry in a sort of low-contrast storybook manner that belies its (unintended?) depth.

The future, in a way, isn’t an untouchable or definite entity. By being equipped with the luxury and curse of foresight, one already begins to treat life and its hues with an air of inevitability. The path resulting from this altered perspective is in fact the premeditated future that may not have otherwise materialized – as demonstrated by Chetan’s mellowing after this visit, his sudden vulnerability towards his mother (a thoroughly perceptive Lovleen Misra) and his inner turmoil about impending companionship. These changes will make him who he eventually becomes.

Ms. Kadav, of course, presents these rather complex loops of time-space symmetry in a sort of low-contrast storybook manner that belies its (unintended?) depth. And that’s a good thing, because there’s plenty of inventiveness on display, enough to suck you into a world before confronting its implications.

This is also the mark of good, humane sci-fi cinema; it appeals to your senses without overwhelming or patronizing them. Being dazzled by complicated plots isn’t the same as being thoughtful about elementary ideas. 

This is also the mark of good, humane sci-fi cinema; it appeals to your senses without overwhelming or patronizing them. Being dazzled by complicated plots isn’t the same as being thoughtful about elementary ideas.

And I suspect this film – as is evident by its basic, sweet title – is only the baby-step in a vision that should most definitely be encouraged. We need a little more of these time machines, if only to embrace the adult-future of a genre struggling to leave behind its juvenile past.