Digital Divination

I recently watched TiIMER, a movie I had never even heard of before, because it was up on Netflix streaming.  Had I been looking for something on my own, I would almost certainly have skipped right past it, but it caught my mom’s attention, and so it got added to my queue.  It looks like it was a relatively small independent film produced by Truckbeef Productions (love this name) and Present Pictures, which likely explains why it didn’t ring a bell.

It begins ostensibly as a romantic comedy with a techie gimmick, but with all the complicated character interactions and life lessons (hopefully) learned, that seems an overly simplistic description.  TiMER revolves around the relationships of two sisters (actually step-sisters/best friends) whose parents have so bought into the conceit of the soulmate-finding devices that they have pushed them on all three of their children.  The women in TiMER have an opportunity to break out of the madness-inducing self-destructive way in which they live their lives, and I haven’t quite made up my mind as to whether or not they succeed.

It’s sort of a shame that it’s billed as just a romantic comedy, because I think it’s more than that.  Moreover, it doesn’t really feel like a romantic comedy in the traditional sense, because in every romantic comedy I’ve seen, the relationship that grows and develops in the film is the one at the heart of the story; that norm doesn’t apply in this film.  Admittedly, one of the biggest reasons I ended up watching this movie was because of the presence of the actors who played Anya and Halfrek in Buffy.  I am a terrible geek.

The basic hook for the movie is that a dating service has perfected a data implant that allows them to not only cross reference compatibility, desires, wishes and preferences of the holder, but to use that information to determine the exact time when you will meet your soulmate.  The philospophy of the company is that there is only ever one person you can love in your lifetime, and so the timer will only begin counting down if he or she also has a timer installed.

We’ve discovered that all humans are on a path to true love.  Implanted just after puberty and powered by body heat…

The terrifying device is shot into your wrist and sits there, counting down until you “zero out” at midnight the day before you are supposed to meet your soulmate.  When you run into them them next day, both devices beep.  This is the weakest part of the movie for me, honestly.  Because it’s one of those movies where the technical conceit is so implausible as to be essentially magic.  While I’m willing to accept that algorithms that govern compatibility for dating services could be refined to the point that devices could link up two people, it simply doesn’t make sense that you could ever account for the randomized factors that dictate when you actually meet that other person (or that you ever would).  So I’m with the creators of the film up until they find a way to mathematically analyze destiny.  But even with this greater strain on suspending disbelief, I found I really did enjoy this movie.

[Spoilers and plot details to follow, so if you’re thinking about watching it, I advise not reading further.]

All the advertising centers on how happy “newly zeroed out couples” are with a 98% approval rating.  The film doesn’t address whether even those truly in love fall apart after enough time, nor does it talk about how many people have no prospects (blank timers) or how many have a lifetime of waiting before they believe they can expect love.  The mother insists that Oona and Steph should be grateful that things are so easy now, that their entire generation has been spared the heartache of divorce, unrequited love and dating hell.

And because they were young enough when they got their timers, they have bought into the premise wholeheartedly, not thinking that it’s odd that at 29, they have never yet been in love.  Oona remarks that “Do you think they used to think that?  That it only happens once, before the timer?”

The two sisters are inseparable, bound by their shared exasperation at Oona’s mother and waiting endlessly for their path to true love and for their lives to truly begin.  They both live their lives in a stunted limbo, where the only meaningful thing that will change their lives is finding their One.  Oona’s timer is totally blank, meaning that her soulmate doesn’t have a timer and she has no idea how long she’ll have to wait; Steph’s timer lists her encounter with true love as when she’s 43.

Oona is pushed relentlessly by her mother to “leave no stone unturned” to search for men without timers who are potentials while Steph is left to the sidelines and ignored. Steph’s father and Oona’s mother dismiss the likelihood of either daughter having children, expecting them to simply put their life plans on hold indefinitely.

TiMER very much is a movie about waiting to live your life instead of actually living it.  Steph tells Oona this, but doesn’t actually seem to understand what that would mean.  She is perhaps more caught up in waiting for her life than her sister, keeping all dating to endless one night stands with men who have timers counting down.  She later tells her first real boyfriend, Dan, that she spends her nights tending bar to get laid and spends her days working with the elderly because they don’t have timers.  Steph makes no plans for her future, no effort to accomplish goals, better herself or start a family because she feels there’s no point to her life until she’s 43.

During Oona’s search for the One (after a series of disappointments), she begins a relationship with Mickey, whose timer reads 4 months.  He tells her that she shouldn’t sweat her future, but should instead enjoy her life.  When discussing the shit situation Steph is in, he tells Oona that we need mystery in our lives.

It isn’t until both women break their own rules for dating that they find any fulfillment and joy.  Oona throws herself into her seemingly doomed relationship with four-months-to-go Mikey, finding that once she stops worrying about trying to hunt down the un-TiMERed Mr. Right that life is wholesome and worthwhile.  She clearly also has the best sex she’s had in her life, which undoubtedly helps in this regard.  Steph begins a relationship with an un-TiMERed widower she met at the nursing home, and for the first time in her life begins to hope that she may find some long-lasting companionship at last.

Steph is also able to help Dan realize that he can’t spend his whole life in mourning for his wife.  He endearingly describes her as “the most inappropriate person I’ve ever met.”  While Steph initially intended to set her sister up with Dan, she finds herself falling for him.  Steph seems amazed to discover how certain that Dan is that his late wife was his true love without at timer, and perhaps thinks about her own parents’ relationship as a mirror.  Her mother died, and her father was able to love both his late wife and his new TiMER soulmate.

In the meantime, Oona spends two months in a secret relationship with Mikey until one night, Steph comes home and discovers him there.  She’s furious, as she believes that Oona should have kept him a casual fleeting encounter so that Mikey doesn’t end up breaking her heart when he meets his soulmate.  But things aren’t that simple as he confesses his timer was a fake.  Oona throws him out, and as he’s leaving, he says she should come back to him when she figures out that it’s a good thing he has no timer.

Oona, while battling fears of abandonment from her parents’ divorce, decides that while she has no guarantees with Mikey, she misses him too much to end the relationship.  But things just aren’t as easy as they had been before, and she ends up having to reevaluate her feelings about love and destined soul mates.  She tells her mother:

If my father’s a mistake, then I’m a mistake, right? Look, I know you’d do it all over again for me, but you can’t talk about Paul being your soul mate and me being the daughter you were meant to have in the same breath.  Those are two different paths.

Oona decides she needs to see her father and figure out what went wrong, why he refused to get a timer when her mother asked, etc.  Their interactions are predictably awkward, and Oona is stunned to find out that her father was the one who got a timer as evidence that their marriage was falling apart. Oona looks poleaxed as she learns that her mother has been lying to her for years, and that she’s avoided any relationship with her father because of that.  He father tells her that his timer is still counting away, because he has “a few more lessons to learn.”  As Oona and Steph leave, they learn that his girlfriend has had her timer removed:

I’m not his One, but I love him.  Fuck it.

Whether it is because they just learned that people can have their TiMERs removed, or because they are both sick of governing their lives around waiting, year after year, Oona and Steph pop into the store to have theirs removed.  (Side note: I love that the locations for the TiMER company look so much like cell phone stores.)  Steph has hers removed first, and Oona, while hesitating more than her sister, tells them to pull hers out.  But right as they’re about to do it, her TiMER starts counting down with only six hours to go.  She chokes.

Oona waits for her TiMER to zero out at midnight, apprehensive, and excited and stunned.  But the reality of abandoning her new-found life satisfaction and relationship with Mikey leaves her in bed all day, paralyzed until she finally goes to her 30th birthday party.  She arrives late after everyone else has arrived, looking lost and little numb.  Predictably, disaster strikes, and Oona’s timer goes off when she makes eye contact with Steph’s date, Dan.

There are mountains of ugly, ugly fallout with Steph, Dan, Oona and Mikey.  But the most wrenching was the scene the next day in Mikey’s kitchen, where their relationship falls apart.  Oona doesn’t want to lose him and doesn’t want to live believing in the TiMER, but it is too late.  Despite getting the TiMER removed and trying to patch things up, Mikey tells Oona that it’s over because she can’t be committed to their relationship.

I don’t believe we should have them, but I know that it works.

When I first watched this film, I was incredibly pissed off with Oona at this point.  I saw the ending as a goddamned tragedy, where she wasn’t quite able to shake her need for life to have scripted guarantees, where she threw away love for some fantasy ideal of love that doesn’t exist.  After I had more time to think about it, though, I started to change my mind.  While I really did like Mikey, he probably wasn’t a good life-partner choice.  And while some of Oona’s reluctance in the relationship may have been influenced by her need for fairy-tale true love, I came to realize that she probably never did love Mikey as much as he loved her.  Looked at this way, the ending, while terribly sad for Steph, was less tragic.  (The last scene in the film also shows that the TiMER was right in that Oona has more opportunity to share intellectual connection with Dan than Mikey, so that helped too.)

I also came to realize that Oona probably (still not totally convinced) did decide to live without believing wholeheartedly in the TiMER.  From this perspective, the movie is one of complicated ideas about love, expectations and destiny, and I’m okay with that.

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