The Motifs of Time

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“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”

Orson Scott Card

The Image System

An Image System is essentially a strategy of symbols and images, physical or metaphorical which are used to explore themes, create aesthetic emotional responses and increase intellectual awareness. An Image System can incorporate physical objects, but equally it can include use of language and names. And another term that is often used in this area is motif, where the motif is a recurring element within the story where the ultimate aim and purpose of the storyteller is to create a certain atmosphere or get across sometimes subliminally a particular thematic idea or even moral. Another term is Symbol Web.

Caroline Sturgeon’s book SHAKESPEARE’S IMAGERY: AND WHAT IT TELLS US, first published in 1936 explores the underlying image strategy in various Shakespeare play. In summing up her study she quotes Polonius who advices “By indirections find directions out.” Shakespeare, she points out, creates mood through what you might call ‘indirection, that is the subtle layering of images on a theme. For example, Shakespeare uses images of rottenness and decay to describe the political corrupt court in HAMLET, whereas ravenous and devouring animal imagery is sued to depict the savagely cruel world of KING LEAR. The audience may not consciously be aware of it but through repetition such imagery does eventually seep into the mind. Sometimes a writer does this sort of thing unconsciously but when they do, they often then go back over the manuscript and then consciously enhance what they unconsciously put it place.

“The simile has to match the tone of its surroundings and has to be like a little joke. Wring a simile that isn’t funny on some level is quite hard.”

Ned Beauman

“Time, Space, and Causality are only metaphors of knowledge, with which we explain things to ourselves.”

Friedrich Nietzche

Time Motifs

In the Time Tale one obvious recurring motif is the clock or watch. The opening shot of HAPPY DEATH DAY is of a university’s clock tower, the striking clock appears early in TIMESCAPE, a ticking watch is there at the opening of NEXT, the gift the elderly lady gives Richard Collier in SOMEWHERE IN TIME is an antique pocket watch, the drifter in The Guests episode of THE OUTER LIMITS finds an old man with a pocket watch nearby a mansion where Time has been suspended by a alien, and the alarm clock in Bill Murray’s bed and breakfast room in GROUNDHOG DAY becomes a repeating nightmarish image as it turns from 05:59 TO 06:00.

Time is not what you think

In BACK TO THE FUTURE, Doc Brown is usually seen wearing two watches and Marty staring at his watch from the movie poster became one of the iconic images of 1985. In fact, timepieces prove to be important plot points throughout BACK TO THE FUTURE. Hitting his head after falling when trying to hang a clock in his toilet back in November 1955 was the pivotal moment the Doc first came up with the idea of the flux capacitor. Then of course there’s the Hill Valley Courthouse clock being struck by lightning and its importance in getting Marty home. For the eagle-eyed movie viewer, there among the dozens of timepieces that feature in the opening credits is one with the figure of the silent movie actor Harold Lloyd hanging off the big hand pointing towards the eleven on the clock face, offering a hint of what will happen to Doc himself on the clock tower. A bit of foreshadowing seems appropriate enough in a movie about past, present and future.

IMPOSSIBLE (or THE IMPOSSIBLE US, as it was published in America) is a Time Romance novel by Sarah Lotz where love somehow stretches across Time itself. And a clock features heavily in the story. The paths of paths of Nick and Bee cross as a result of a misdirected email. Even though this is merely an email, the attraction between the pair is instant and they agree to meet under the clock at Euston station. However, it becomes apparent that though they are both under the clock, they are there at different periods in times.

Clocks and turning cogs are there too in HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and an old pocket watch is a recurring image in LOOPER, though mechanisms of a slightly different sort could be said to the Image System in TERMINATOR where technology such as answering machines and public phone booths repeatedly let Sarah Connors down. It’s as if all machines have simply turned against her.

The Image System of DARK certainly includes clocks but the dominant image symbols come from religious and theological iconography, for example, the paintings of Adam and Eve, and the term The Watchmaker is an analogous expression for God, The Creator, and this originates from the teleological argument for His existence, known as Intelligent Design. Our complex world, this reasoning goes, is like a watch that has been carefully constructed and therefore, as with the watch, the world requires a Watchmaker or Designer/Creator. And The Watchmaker in DARK, by his actions on building a Time Machine, is the Creator of the two very nightmarish Time Loops.

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In YOUR NAME Time is seen as a ‘thread’: “The threads twist, tangle, unravel and connect again. That’s Time.” The boy wears braided cords round his wrists, but to think that it is these that are making the time connection possible is too literal, it is rather an image representing the complex ebb and flow of Time itself. And when the lovers do meet it is at twilight – ‘Kataware-doki’ – where day and night come together too.

“Time is a created thing. To say, ‘I don’t have time’ is to say ‘I don’t want to.”

Lao Tzu

“Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”

George Orwell

Mythical Infra-Narrative

A variation on the Image System is what academics sometimes call ‘Mythical Infra-Narrative’. This is where there is, as it were, a mythical subtext to the story. ET, THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL story has the Christian mythical narrative running underneath. The visual references range from E.T. being found in a stable beneath a starry sky to his later Resurrection and even Ascension. DARK is at times pure Mythical Infra-Narrative and the myth it is exploring, as has already been hinted at, is the Biblical Creation Story of Adam and Eve (or, as they are called in DARK, Adam and Eva). The difference is that in DARK, The Watchmaker (or God as suggested earlier) makes a right mess of things and it is up to our contemporary Adam and Eva to create a ‘Paradise’ by their own self-sacrifice. In DARK, Paradise is the world that was there before The Watchmaker (God) interfered. DARK may have religious imagery and iconography running all the way through it, but it is, ironically, a distinctly secular fable. And one in which God/The Watchmaker doesn’t exactly come out smelling of roses.

A word here as well about the name of The Watchmaker, Heinrich Gustav Tannhauser. The H.G. initials are an obvious reference to H.G. Wells. Tann is a poetic German term for forest (woods feature heavily in DARK), and hauser simply means house. A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME is the name of the book written by the Tannhauser character in DARK and it features this blurb on the front cover: ‘We trust in the linear, forever the same shape of the past, until eternity. But the differences between the past, presence and future are nothing but an illusion.’ The concept of Time as an illusion was, of course, made famous by Albert Einstein when he said: “For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Albert Einstein said these words a few weeks before his death in 1955. In DARK, Words, names and references to other stories and traditions have all been carefully chosen to add depth and emotional resonance with layer upon layer of thought and meaning.

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‘Mythical Infra-Narrative’ can sometimes be more of a ‘Narrative Infra-Narrative’, or put another way, a plot that resembles another well-know plot, especially one from the classics. THE LION KING is well-known for its Narrative Infra-Narrative being based on Shakespeare’s most famous prince, for THE LION KING is essentially Hamlet-with-fur. In Requiem for Methuselah, an episode from the original STAR TREK series, Kirk and his party encounter a lonely man who calls himself Flint who claims that he has lived across time and in his ‘lifetimes’ he has been Methuselah, Solomon, Merlin and many more. He has built a beautiful young woman, a humanoid robot, but it cannot love as he wants it to, for it had been deprived of true human contact. A magician, alone with a young woman who needs to find love beyond that of her father? Sound familiar? It’s THE TEMPEST, with Prospero, the old magician, tiring of life, alone with his young daughter Miranda.

THE LAKE HOUSE, a remake of the South Korean film IL MARE starring Keanu Reeves as Alex Wyler and Sandra Bullock as Kate Forster. It is a romance where two characters are separated across Time. And yet, ‘There could have never been two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison, no countenances so beloved. Now they were as strangers; nay, worse than strangers, for they could never become acquainted. It was a perpetual estrangement.’ Not a speech written for the film, but rather words from Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, also about two characters who eventually overcome their own barrier with the help of Time. Well, Time in the sense of waiting and patience than a magical lake house.

“Time ripens all things; no man is born wise.”

Miguel De Cervantes

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“I did know a fella once who invented a clock that could do an hour in fifty minutes. But it never caught on. Shame, really.”


Time and Story Motifs in SWIDGERS

SWIDGERS is a fantasy Time Tale that centres on the relationship between William and his ‘Mentor’ Granny. There are even a couple of classical references therefore to THE ODYSSEY and Telemachus and Athena. Athena in the Homer’s story actually disguises herself as a man called Mentor, and it’s from that name that we get the term itself. SWIDGERS is also a fantasy and so there are references to various fairy tales such as Rapunzel and the Man in the Moon and comparisons to giants and pixies. It’s an obvious thing to say but Image Systems in everyday language are dependent on the world the character lives in or was brought up on. Granny, for example, in SWIDGERS, tells William that her only education was Sunday School. Inevitable then many of her similes and metaphors come from Bible stories such as Moses and the Burning Bush and Daniel in the Lion’s Den.

The world of the Old Coach Inn is foreshadowed by the gravestones in the embankment on William’s arrival at the other side of the tunnel. In fact there are several references to theme of Deadliness, for example, Granny singing of Nearer My God to Thee, a hymn often associated with the dying, and one which was said to have been heard as the Titanic sank. Again, without giving too much of the story away, this suggests a world that in many ways is already dead inside. Notably all the actual images and metaphors used in the Old Coach Inn have a child-like perspective, which, in their own way, reflects another truth concerning the nature and history of the Old Coach Inn.

But this is also a Time Tale and so there is also a reference to the work of H.G. Wells. For example, the first words William hears from Nurse Molly when he recovers in hospital are “The sleeper awakes”, the title of a Wells novel where the protagonist sleeps for two hundred and three years and so finds himself in an unknown future. And of course a clock features in the tale, thought to say too much would be to give away the plot,

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“Metaphors are much more tenacious than facts.”

Paul de Man

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