Time Is on My Side (and My Other Side)
Wrap your head around wibbly-wobbly time-travel features like 'The Infinite Man'
If you could do it all over again, would you? Or would you just try to undo the bits you broke? That's the core dilemma of Australian time-travel rom-com The Infinite Man. So while scientist Dean (Josh McConville) thinks he can light the lost spark with his girlfriend Lana (Hannah Marshall) with a little bit of trans-temporal tampering, his past and future selves have very different plans. Director Hugh Sullivan called time travel "the best metaphor for the central character. Dean is always turned to the past, and has a very difficult relationship with himself, so this film allowed us to approach those themes explicitly."
With only one location and three cast members – McConville, Marshall, and Alex Dimitriades as Lana's narcissistic, javelin-throwing ex, Terry – Sullivan got to sit back and watch them bounce off each other and themselves as each character switchbacks misguided attempts to overwrite their own history. "I really enjoy watching those three performances, or nine performances in total," he said. "When you're working with time travel, a small cast becomes a lot larger, and the film takes on a greater density."
Producer Kate Croser – who has worked with Sullivan since his debut short, "Man Janson" – praised the writer/director for presenting "a very frank way of looking at the male mind." However, she also praised how he wrote Lana as more than just a chew toy for Dean and Terry to fight over. "Necessarily, this is the sort of film that has to be told from one perspective, because it's already challenging enough to follow Dean's journey inside of himself. But we wanted to make Lana's journey as interesting as Dean's."
It helped that the location looks like something that fell out of a time warp. The producers were looking for a remote caravan park or hotel, but, Croser said, "Everywhere was just way too nice. Lawns and pools and beautiful landscaping." That's when they found Woomera: a Cold War-era missile test range in South Australia, with a semi-abandoned trailer park/motel that served as both the location for Dean and Lana's multiple parallel dates, and the crew's sleeping quarters. Croser said, "It's so weatherbeaten and faded. It speaks of time when you look at it, and you think of the damage time can do." The shoot was set for the high summer off-season, so the crew could have complete access without random tourists popping up in the background. Unfortunately, the Australian weather had other, unseasonable plans for ruining the day. Croser said, "We were prepared for extreme heat, but the Outback gave us another kind of beating. It gave us rain; it gave us wind; it gave us storms. It was out of control."
Not that it was all mud and misery. Sullivan added: "There was a bar on location, which helped morale quite a bit."
2014 is the year of the time-travel movie at SXSW, with Jack Plotnick (Wrong) directing Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson in retrosci-fi comedy Space Station 76, the Spierig brothers reuniting with their Daybreakers star Ethan Hawke in temporal crime tale Predestination, and raunchy coming-of-age comedy Premature, best described as Groundhog Day meets American Pie. Normally, the Festival doesn't double down on too many films with a similar motif, but this year, SXSW Film Director Janet Pierson said, "It became interesting to see how all these different people were doing something having that in common."
While they may all be tonally different, there are two parallel realities for any time-travel story. As Rian Johnson put it when debuting temporal headscratcher Looper, you can either follow the Primer model and wrap the audience in logical knots or you can go Back to the Future with nonsense science, but the audience instinctively gets that it's a timey-wimey thing. If Sullivan had his own time machine, he may well nip back and convince himself that writing something more Marty McFly-ish would have been a lot less troublesome than avoiding paradoxes. "If I'd known how difficult it would be, perhaps I would have done otherwise," he laughed. "We started with a tortuous one-page document, and developed that into a tortuous screenplay. As the scripting went along, I became more interested in the characters and the emotional journey, while still respecting the logic of the time-travel mechanisms."
That didn't make it much easier on the cast, who had to keep track of multiple iterations of the same part. "I really feel for Josh," said Sullivan. "A lot of rehearsals were spent drawing diagrams, but then he'd play one side and then leap across and play another of these wildly variant selves."
The Infinite Man
Visions, World Premiere
Friday, March 7, 9:30pm, Stateside
Saturday, March 8, 7pm, Alamo Village
Tuesday, March 11, 6pm, Alamo Ritz
Saturday, March 15, 2pm, Alamo Ritz