Undefended: Time

Film Fisher Blog

Undefended: Time

This December, FilmFisher’s writers were given the following prompt:

In his autobiography, Sculpting in Time, Andrei Tarkovsky writes, “No other art can compare with cinema in the force, precision, and starkness with which it conveys awareness of facts and aesthetic structures existing and changing within time.” This month, as we reflect on the end of one year and the beginning of another, let us select five instances in which film prompts us to contemplate the passage of time, and perhaps even offers us a glimpse into eternity.

Share your own selections in the comments below.

Timothy Lawrence

  1. Dave Bowman grows old and is reborn in the space of fifteen onscreen minutes (2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968).
  2. The candle scene and subsequent vision of eternity in Nostalghia (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1983).
  3. Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side in Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 2005) is perhaps my favorite cinematic depiction of Kronos devouring his children.
  4. Montage: youth to old age, love to grief (Up, Pete Docter, 2009).
  5. Disjointed timelines coalesce at the end of Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017).

HONORABLE MENTION: “I’ve come to bargain.” (Doctor Strange, Scott Derrickson, 2016) – it’s pure comic book silliness, but I confess that I frequently think of this when considering the cycles of virtue and vice in my own life.


Jackson De Vight

  1. Shawshank Redemption – putting in perspective a man’s relationship to effort, time, and the notion of a just universe
  2. La La Land – say what you will regarding the film overall, but few films have used cinematography, costuming, and music to so firmly resist being placed in time.
  3. The Godfather – If it’s exciting to a sixteen year old in 2018 and still makes fashion in film lists, it’s genuinely timeless.
  4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy – cheating to do a trilogy perhaps, but my argument is about the production throughout; I’ve never seen another film that felt as if it was filmed in a rich and populated alternate world that had been around for thousands of years.
  5. Lawrence of Arabia – You feel time in this film, whether you like it or not.

Robert Heckert

  1. The Prestige (2006, Nolan)
  2. Arrival (2016, Villeneuve)
  3. About Time (2013, Curtis)
  4. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Cuaron)
  5. Manchester by the Sea (2016, Lonergan)

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Travis Kyker

  1. The Tree of Life – Spans the creation of the world to a heavenly eternity, yet never allows its massive scope to belittle its immensely personal intimacy.
  2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Melds the past and present together with a deceptive ease, perhaps even outshining Memento‘s reverse chronology timeline in terms of replicating that feeling of loss that accompanies the passage of time.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel – A heartbreaking portrayal of nostalgia for the past and the relentless progression of time itself.
  4. Birdman – Claustrophobic in the way it traps the viewer in Riggan Thomson’s unstable psyche, confined within the “single take, unfolding-in-real-time” gimmick that is actually much more effective than a mere gimmick.
  5. The Shining – “You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know, sir – I’ve always been here.” + the final shot = mind blown

Tom Upjohn

  1. The slow approach of death in Synecdoche, New York (Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
  2. Heavenly contemplation and the endless walk in Werckmeister Harmonies (Bela Tarr, 2000)
  3. Years of fruitless investigation in Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
  4. The Memory Dump in Inside Out (Pete Docter, 2015)
  5. The entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1947)


Joel Bourgeois

  1. Kanji Watanabe sits on the swing in the playground he created in Ikiru. (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)
  2. The Tanukis permanently shape-shift into humans at the end of Pom Poko. (Isao Takahata, 1994)
  3. The Ave Maria section of Fantasia. (Various, 1940)
  4. Woody deals with the fact that Andy will someday inevitably grow up in Toy Story 2. (John Lasseter, 1999)
  5. The Main Character realizes he is dreaming in Waking Life. (Richard Linklater, 2001)

Sean Johnson

1-5. Russian Ark (Alexander Sokurov, 2002)

Evan Stewart

I recently began rereading East of Eden because I find tremendous value in the way it depicts the entirety of several character’s lives.  It reminds me that life is both long and fleeting. In the uncertain stage of life I’m in right now, I have to remember that I should neither squander this time I have nor be in a hurry to move on to whatever is next.

  1. Birdman of Alcatraz (John Frankenheimer, 1962) – Over the course of one film, Burt Lancaster’s convict grows old, transforming from a young firebrand to someone gentle and wise, without losing any of his resilience.
  2. Thief (Michael Mann, 1981) – “I have run out of time. I have lost it all. So I can’t work fast enough to catch up. I can’t run fast enough to catch up. And the only thing that catches me up is doing my magic act.”
  3. Intervista (Federico Fellini, 1993) – Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg recreate their famous dance and watch as their younger selves are projected onto a makeshift movie screen.
  4. Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010) – “This is 2003. This is what the sun looks like, and the stars, nature. This is the President. And this is the sun in 1955, and the stars, and nature, and cars, and phones, and movies, and the President.”
  5. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016) – Home movies and previously unused footage from a host of documentaries tell a deeply affecting story in the abstract about the woman behind the camera. It’s a beautiful cinematic memoir that has made me think more about the direction of my life than any other recent film.

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Robert Brown

  1. In less than an hour and a half, a marriage begins and is severely tested, a career of public service ends in defiant bitterness, and the true character of an entire community is exposed in all its cowardice and pettiness in High Noon (1952, dir. Fred Zinnemann).
  2. A time-obsessed, proudly resourceful man is humbled by three years of isolation on an island in Cast Away (2000, dir. Robert Zemeckis).
  3. A man and his wife learn the secret to slowing down time, grow old together in a dream, and return to waking life as middle-aged adults, only to be haunted by the repercussions of tampering with time in Inception (2010, dir. Christopher Nolan).
  4. The audience witnesses the mundane yet beautiful moments of seven ordinary days in the life of a bus driver/poet and his artist wife in Paterson (2016, dir. Jim Jarmusch).
  5. Six parables on the shortness of life and the brutal and banal suddenness of death in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018, dir. Ethan and Joel Coen).

Bonus Round: In what could have been the seventh chapter of Buster Scruggs, with a similar concept as the one found in Inception, three brothers attempt to outwit Death with his own instruments in the animated montage of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (2010, dir. David Yates).

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