What of the marvelous qualities a human being can display is the ability to overcome deep regret or sorrow. Everyone lives through a dark chapter in their lives, but the key is to take the time necessary to overcome the emotional turmoil resulting from it. It does not mean one forgets, but rather that they learn to accept and live on. Time travel, theoretically, would allow humans to rectify aspects of their lives or even other people’s lives in order to better them, but at what cost? Moral dilemmas ensue of course, a they do in Richie Mehta’s I’ll Follow You Down, which has its world premier at the 2013 Fantasia festival.
Erol (Haley Joel Osment) is a brilliant science student at university. He lives with his childhood sweetheart (Susanna Fournier) and looks to have a bright future. His past is anything but however. Many years ago when Erol was but a child his father (Rufus Sewell) left on a business trip, never to return again, leaving the boy and his mother (Gillian Anderson) in a traumatic state. Now, his grandfather (Victor Garber), also a professor at the same university, may have arrived at the conclusion that his son, Erol’s father, discovered a way to time travel in order to make an important date. Erol is flabbergasted to say the least, although the temptation to recreate what it appears his father made in order to change his past proves too tempting.
The most immediate comparison with I’ll Follow You Down which springs to mind is Primer, only with a lot of heart. Shane Caruth’s debut picture was unconcerned with dramatic narrative in the traditional sense of the term, building a story in which absolutely everything, including character decisions, evolved around scientific, philosophical theories. Much of the same can be argued about Richie Mehta’s film. That said, the handful of scenes in which Erol and his grandfather theorize about the possibility of time travel and what it implies if feasible are rooted as much in fancy formulas as they are in the emotional anchor with which the film begins, that is, everyone’s sadness and confusion regarding the disappearance of a loved one. The point is not to argue which storytelling technique is ‘better.’ Some will prefer Primer for its unashamed love of nothing but scientific jargon, eschewing dramatic weight in favour of a high concept generated by scientific theory.
I’ll Follow You Down is, on the one hand, nowhere near as complex as Caruth’s film, but what it does do well is set up the necessity for Erol and his grandfather to engage in crazy mathematical and physics calculations, spairing the audience the bulk of their work and splitting the difference between the complex preparations and the emotional reasoning behind it. The two geniuses are not committing themselves to a ludicrous project because they are smart and think they can pull it off. They do it because they are convinced their lives, as well as the lives of their loved ones like Erol’s girlfriend and mother (particularly affected by her husband’s vanishing). As is expected, very important questions arise. Is it worth it? By traveling into the past and altering history, even in minute way, what would the ramifications be? What alterations will change which aspects of the present and how greatly? What of Erol and his girlfriend, do they stay together in the new timeline? The movie is really effective at inserting such queries into the story so as to have both the characters and the audience ponder the potential ramifications and question if going ahead with the plan really is worth it.
I’ll Follow You Down is not perfect however. Some scenes are a bit too overt in their manipulation of what they want the viewer to feel at a given moment. One specific plot point seems to only serve the purpose of setting in stone Erol’s determination to travel in time as well as the viewer’s desire to see him do so. Victor Garber’s character feels a bit too much like a plot device as well. Of all the characters in the movie, his is the one whose main purpose it seems is to push Erol into making the time machine. It is not as though he has not suffered either, yet I’ll Follow You Down never allows him to feel three dimensional. On the flip side, Osment and Anderson, two big name actors who seem to have vanished off the cinematic landscape for some time, are both very good.
Time travel movies always carry the potential for great thrills or great drama. In the case of I’ll Follow You Down, the goal is very much the latter. In many respects, it actually succeeds, setting up the story and character beats well enough to eventually make the protagonist’s desire to take the leap into time all the more understandable, thus pleasing both the sci-fi and drama crowds.