Screengrab of MinutePhysics' video on time travel in fiction

Come Learn How the Time-Turner Robbed Harry and Hermione of Free Will

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YouTuber MinutePhysics (Henry Reich), whose work we’ve covered previously, has posted an analysis of how time travel works in fiction, including in movies like Back to the Future, Planet of the Apes, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, as well as in books like Ender’s Game and Harry Potter.

As Reich explains in his video summary, “This video is an explanation of how time travel functions in different popular movies, books, & shows – not how it works ‘under the hood,’ but how it causally affects the perspective of characters’ timelines (who has free will? can you change things by going back to the past or forwards into the future?).”

For films like Looper and Primer, the explanation can often get complicated, but my favorite part of the video concerns time travel in Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. As Reich points out, time travel doesn’t cause alternate timelines in the Harry Potter universe. Instead, “while you’re experiencing your initial pre-time-travel passage through a particular point in history, your time-traveling clone is also already there, doing everything you’ll eventually do when you time travel yourself…This also means that during the period of overlap, the time-traveling you has no actual free will, since everything you do has in some sense already been done – which Harry comprehends.”

No wonder Harry got so angsty in The Order of the Phoenix! Free will doesn’t exist! Life is a meaningless slog you have no control over!

In all seriousness, I like the way that this video breaks down time travel in a narrative/storytelling sense, rather than a scientific one. While I appreciate some hard science in my science fiction, drama’s ultimately all about choices, and it’s fun to look at how time travel design effects the meaning and impact of a character’s choices… unless, you know, those choices don’t exist because free will is a lie in your universe!

(Via /Film; image via screengrab)

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