I was recently reading the famous “Days of Future Past” storyline from X-Men,1 which deals with time travel and alternate futures. It’s a very good storyline, although suffers from some of the superficial, one-dimensional writing that most older comics contain. That is why this one snippet of dialogue I found rather fascinating. Moira MacTaggert has just found out time travel is possible and starts talking to Professor X.
Miora: Charles, if you’re right – if time travel is possible, if as a result history is… mutable – we’ll have to redefine our concept of reality itself. We’ll never be completely sure what … is… from moment to the next, that’s… frightening!
Professor X: Perhaps.
It’s a rather profound insight she is giving about humanity’s relationship with time and history, and how changing that could have immense impact on how we view reality. Unfortunately Professor X basically dismisses her idea and it is never mentioned again the rest of the issue. Yet, I was impressed it was even mentioned in the first place, as stories with these elements that challenge our conception of reality, such as time travel, never seem to really examine their actual consequences. They are merely used as plot devices and characters seem to accept things immediately without question.
I wish there were more stories that would dig deep into these issues and show characters questioning what is happening and what it means. Why don’t we have time travel movies where the characters actually discuss the nature of time and the broad consequences of what changing history could mean, apart from specific plot points. I have the same pet peeve about movies with supernatural elements. When characters witness these supernatural things occurring, such as ghosts, none seem to question them. No one discusses that if ghosts exist, that definitively proves the fact there is an afterlife. That is a hugely profound insight that never is explored in these stories.
I don’t mind some movies using these elements as merely plot devices, but you’d think it wouldn’t be so universal. Even putting in a line showing the characters at least acknowledge something bigger is occurring, like in X-Men, would satisfy me to some degree. These are deep issues about the nature of existence, and people confronted with these things would have questions and thoughts about what is happening. It’s incredibly fertile ground to explore in fiction, yet writers are dropping the ball and skipping over the interesting parts. If you are going to introduce these profound elements into a story, explore it all the way, it will only make your story better.
1. The Uncanny X-Men #141-142.↩