By Pete Barell
Arts and Entertainment Editor
Let’s face it: the time travel film genre has been exhausted. From indie flicks like the super-low budget “Primer” to good ole “Back to the Future” to the neo-noir “Looper” it seems like viewers have seen every variation imaginable. What could impress them? Every once in a while somebody comes along to give a jolt to the metaphorically weakening heart of niche cinema.
That person is Hugh Sullivan, an Aussie director and writer whose debut film “The Infinite Man” (yes, it’s about time travel, among other things) impressed many at the SXSW Festival in March and comes to New York City’s Rooftop Films on May 23rd. The impression is easy to understand, despite the innate complexities of time travel films.
Dean (Josh McConville) and Lana (Hannah Marshall) try to experience their perfect anniversary getaway for a second time, but end up experiencing it again and again and again. The former is a bookish but somewhat naive scientist, who invents a way incapsulate experiences into data to be re-used later on like some sort of memory whiskey. The two lovers seem to be having communication problems as they arrive at their seemingly abandoned beach-side vacation resort; Dean is caught up in trying to calculate and plan every moment of their anniversary, just so it’s as supposedly “good” as he remembered last time. Hell, he even has Lana wear the same clothes. This is where it gets sticky.
Lana’s obsessive ex-boyfriend Terry (Alex Dimitriades) shows up, brandishing his muscles, a javelin (he’s got an impressive arm) and the idea that he can win her back. Somehow he does, pulling out a taser and shocking a babbling Dean into submission. The hapless and broken man confronts them again, only to receive further rejection. Retreating into himself and his uncontrolled intellect, Dean converts his memory collector into a time machine and calls Lana a year later. She’s willing to give their relationship another go. He convinces her, somewhat easily, to use his new device to correct their past and have a start fresh. This is where it gets sticky, again.
Of course, there must be something that goes wrong with the time traveling discovery. For “The Infinite Man” that problem is that through his impulsive nature and accidental carelessness, Dean has trapped Lana in what seems like an infinite loop, doomed to repeat that anniversary day forever. It’s fun to watch him try to sort out the mess, which escalates into a complex-but-easy-to-follow web of time travel logic: he must compete with various versions of himself from different points of time, for the love of one woman.
Sullivan’s film evolves from a straight comedy into something with much more heart, as Dean begins to better understand his notion of love, and what it means to be loved. The story never falls on it’s tangled shoe-laces of a chronology, easing up room for fun on our part. It contains the fashionable satisfaction of a humorous short film, with a small cast that carries that engagement with ease despite being feature length. The stylish camera-work, making use of goofy pans and fast insert shots, never feels overindulgent.
While the idiosyncratic tone of “The Infinite Man” is understandable, the characters underwhelmed by the reality of time travel — as if their emotions cast aside logic and achievement. The focus is placed on the characters and their conflict of love, rather than the sci-fi intricacies. One can can only wonder what other amazing devices Dean has created, if Lana is fairly unimpressed and surprised at the invention of time travel.
We can also wonder what Mr. Sullivan may come up with in the future. We’ll just have to see.