Time travel and romance do not seem to go together naturally. H.G. Wells’ protagonist in The Time Machine found love at the end of time, but then the small wrinkle of a race of underground cannibals interrupted his courtship of Weena.
The titular time traveller of Doctor Who, played by twelve actors over 51 years, only discovered girls in 2006.
Time travel is mostly concerned with running about and trying not to step on a particularly significant fish dragging itself on shore — there is no ‘time’ for romantic walks along the beach when your every action can have catastrophic results.
Sadly no one told the protagonist of Hugh Sullivan’s excellent Australian debut The Infinite Man.
Dean (Josh McConville) and Lana (Hannah Marshall, Packed to the Rafters) go on holiday for the perfect romantic getaway. At least, that is what Dean intended. Instead they discover an old hotel standing abandoned, and shortly after they arrive Lana’s ex-boyfriend Terry (Alex Dimitriades, recently seen in ABC’s The Slap) shows up.
Dean responds to his meticulously planned schedule being thrown out by first spitting the dummy and then, after Lana leaves, spending a year in the hotel building a time machine. Naturally, he then travels back in time to the same weekend and tries to correct his mistakes.
It does not go well.
Where The Infinite Man succeeds is in its effective use of the sparse setting to conjure up a sense of a much larger story.
Soon, different versions of the same three actors are converging on the abandoned hotel. The meaning of conversations we have already witnessed change when the characters are revealed to be different versions of Dean, Lana or Terry. This leads to a layering effect, with Dean’s attempts to fix what he did wrong, creating even more complicated situations and paradoxes.
What Sullivan’s screenplay suggests is that Dean’s problems stem solely from his inability to have faith in his relationship with Lana. Instead of honesty and openness, he resorts to extremely controlling behaviour – the invention of a time machine signifies how little perspective he has on his own actions – at all times seeing himself as a victim of the other two individuals.
In actual fact he has trapped them with him in this abandoned hotel, forced to relive the same weekend over and over.
There is a parallel storyline running through The Infinite Man concerning Lana and how her feelings towards Dean are ignored throughout. At one point, while they watch in hiding as an earlier version of Dean rants and raves in the South Australian desert, she asks him why he hates himself so much. He interprets her comment as referring to the broken-hearted past version of himself down in the dirt, failing to understand her meaning, even though it is plain.
Sullivan’s subtle screenplay uses time travel to draw out this theme of personal insecurity and self-loathing brilliantly.
If this all sounds a bit too philosophical, be assured that The Infinite Man is also very funny, with sly deadpan humour throughout.
McConville is excellent as the awkward Dean, running-walking throughout the set with an exaggerated intensity. Marshall’s performance captures Lana’s tolerance of her boyfriend’s quirks, but a simmering resentment is clearly bubbling away which leads to some snarky one-liners. It is Dimitriades though, the comically self-absorbed former Olympian, off-handedly dropping references to Ancient Greek thinkers in between boasting of his athletic prowess, who delivers the most laughs.
The Infinite Man is an intelligent piece of genre film-making that tackles the typical depiction of romance on film with wit and insight.