Time travel is one of the most fascinating and widely explored themes in science fiction. But more to the point, it’s one of the most theorized subjects in the scientific field. For years the likelihood, rules, and shortcomings of time travel have instigated numerous debates, and while many agree that trekking forward seems reasonable, theories on backward time travel are mere conjecture at best. And yet speculation – and interest – continues to grow at a substantial rate.
There are more theories than can possibly be discussed in one short blog, so I’m going to focus on one I find particularly interesting: the Grandfather Paradox.
The Grandfather Paradox (which Rene Barjavel first described in his 1943 novel, Le Voyageur Imprudent), is based on one of the most debated hypothetical situations of backward time travel – what would happen if a traveler went back in time and attempted to kill their grandfather, preventing the traveler’s parent from ever being born, and by extension, the time traveler themselves? Some argue that the very possibility of this occurring means that going backward simply isn’t possible. Others state that it is possible to go back, but the past cannot be changed (unless, of course, there are “alternate/parallel universes”, but that’s a subject for another day). It is this second theory that science fiction writers often put to good use . . . like James Cameron's The Terminator.
Let me begin my saying that The Terminator is my all time favorite movie. Some of you might have noticed that I’ve been somewhat liberal with the term “favorite” over the course of this A-Z Challenge – possibly because I have many, many favorite books and movies. However, The Terminator ranks at the very top of the list. It has absolutely no equal.
But back to my original point. For those of you who’ve never seen it – first off, go watch it. Immediately. Secondly, the premise of the film revolves around an impending future where terminators (aka. machines) have become self aware and declared war on mankind. Their totally annihilation of the human race is prevented by one man, John Connor, who leads the resistance against them. The machines decide to send a terminator back in time to kill his mother, Sarah Connor, and prevent his from ever being conceived. In response, John sends back his own soldier – Kyle Reese – to protect her.
Major spoilers ahead: Now, if the terminator had managed to kill Sarah, it would fly directly in the face of the Grandfather Paradox. Instead, she survives and conceives her son with Kyle, following in the footsteps that the future already set in motion (as Barjavel stipulated). Furthermore, this acts as a Predestination Paradox – where a time traveler becomes caught in a loop that predestines them to travel back in time in order to fulfill their role in history (like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry saves himself from the Dementors with the use of the time-turner).
Continued spoilers: For the record, it's the addition of the photograph that makes this my favorite film. I find it incredibly lovely – and tragic – that Kyle stares at the picture of Sarah, wondering why she looks so sad, only for the viewer to later realize that it's capturing her grief at his death. It's such an elegant catalyst for the movie's plot. And though I think Terminator 2: Judgment Day is one of the best action films ever made (and perhaps my second favorite sci-fi movie), I love its predecessor more for its devotion to these small, but rich, details, and perfect demonstration of time-travel paradoxes.
This post is part of the Blogging A through Z Challenge 2012. My theme is (in case you didn’t already guess) science fiction. Stay tuned for the rest of the alphabet, and if you’d like to check in on the rest of the participants, simply click here.