Time Travel Thursday: Chronological Order (2010)
Time travel tropes6
Matthew Turner | On 06, May 2021
Director: Cris Silvent
Cast: Brett Jacobsen, Vic Stagliano, Rick Seguso, Stephanie Pitts
Where to watch Chronological Order online in the UK: Amazon Prime
Has Palm Springs whetted your appetite for more time travel titillation? Transport yourself no further than Time Travel Thursday, our column devoted to time travel movies on Amazon Prime. It’s on Thursday.
Co-written and directed by Cris Silvent, Chronological Order stars Brett Jacobsen (The History of the American Sleepover) as Guy, an independently wealthy slacker who always seems to be planning an extensive trip abroad, but never actually leaves. One day he finds a door floating in the ocean and takes it home. He thinks nothing more of it, until he catches sight of a man who looks exactly like him and gives chase, only for the man to disappear through a familiar-looking door, which promptly vanishes.
Figuring that the door must be some sort of time machine, Guy puts it in a frame and walks through it. He then realises that he’s being followed by himself, and that this future version of himself must be the person who’s been leaving him lots of mysterious Post-It notes. However, the notes don’t seem to mean all that much, so Guy decides to find himself and ask himself some questions.
In terms of time travel tropes, Chronological Order has two big ones going for it. First, it has an actual time machine, following the Primer model of what can be achieved on a very low budget, time travel movie-wise. The time machine also has rules and restrictions, in that it can only go backwards, or as Guy explains it: “I think it only goes where I can make it go – I have to be specific and I can’t be specific about the future.”
Secondly, the film puts a nice spin on the established trope whereby events are seen from one perspective and then replayed later from a different perspective. In this case, the audience is fully expecting First Guy to eventually become Second Guy (the one he sees spying on him), but that’s not exactly what happens and the film’s explanation for that is nicely handled.
Given the intriguing set-up, though, it’s fair to say that the plot itself is ultimately rather disappointing, in that very little actually happens. In fairness, that’s sort of the point, as the film is essentially using time travel as a metaphor for going around in circles, continually obsessing over the little details instead of going out into the world and actually doing something. On that level, it’s rather clever in its concept, but the execution lacks dramatic impact.
One of the problems is that the time periods aren’t clearly established, so that the audience doesn’t even know how many days are supposed to have passed. Guy does at least occasionally wear different shirts to distinguish the different Guys, not that it helps all that much.
There’s also the issue of why First Guy never becomes the Guy who’s leaving all the notes. The film does eventually answer that question, but the answer only raises more questions in the process. Without giving too much away, the film half closes the loop and half leaves it open, which is simultaneously satisfying and annoying.
For his part, Jacobsen is entirely convincing as a guy who’s so laid-back that he can’t even think of anything he might need a time machine for. The supporting cast (including Vic Stagliano as Guy’s best friend Murray and Rick Seguso as his father) are less compelling and in some cases not particularly good actors, but Jacobsen has enough charisma for that not to really be an issue.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the film is the relative lack of humour. The script does have a couple of great lines – such as Guy saying “That’s not the me we’re looking for”, or Murray’s secretary saying “I thought you were at your 3 o’clock” and Murray replying, “I am” – but they only highlight how much better the film could have been if it had that sort of wit and invention all the way through.
Ultimately, Chronological Order is more satisfying as a metaphor-laden indie slacker drama than a time travel mystery. Either way, it’s hard to shake the feeling that a judicious rewrite could have made this something really special. Still, it’s worth seeing and does at least gain points for its micro-budget time machine.
Chronological Order is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.