I don’t care if a half-naked Milla Jovovich will land on my flying taxicab or if reality TV will become as engaging as The Running Man; you’re not getting me in a time machine. Ever. It’s not that I’m riding with China in its recent attempt to ban time travel in pop culture because it’s “historically irreverent” or “bad for the kids.” And I’m cool with viral videos of Doc Brown’s DeLorean crash-landing in Argentinean electronics stores (despite the advertising bent). But science, as it stands, says time travel can go in only one direction—forward, into the future—and that’s something I simply can’t handle.
Hadron colliders, hurtling through space juuust shy of c, magical telephone booths—however you shuttle into the forth dimension, I cannot imagine anything more terrifying. It’s not the goose-stepping dystopian drudgery I’m afraid of; I have no beef with jumpsuits, retina scans, or engineered food pellets that keep us prolific and placid. And pitting wits against a skinjob I need to dispatch despite its “feelings” is something I welcome—screw those things. It’s the fact that tomorrow is indifferent to whenever you’re from, and it’s just too crushing a prospect to get everything wrong at once.
For all the smarty-pants pontificating, there’s a reason why nerd culture infrequently makes movies or TV shows in which our celluloid selves buy one-way tickets to the future. Sure, we’re hospitable to people from the past who travel into their future and arrive on our temporal doorstep like helpless, naked dumpster babies. That’s easy; Comedy 101. We grin as they bungle through Times Square. We admonish them for retrograde racism and sexism, scoff at their powdered-wig prissiness, and blow their minds with the Internet and Go-Gurt. But step into their britches; to be smartphone-era dunces careening into the singularity must be excruciating. There is no brick of sublingual melatonin big enough to cure a jet lag that scrambles every biorhythm and shorts every cognitive scheme. Do time travelers dream of extinct sheep? What a nightmare.
Disorientation aside, the sheer inevitability of it all is reason enough to pass. This January’s Coriolanus, Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, sets Shakespeare’s 17th-century version of the 5th century BC in the 21st-century now, and in the process shows us how grim the future really is. Caius Martius Coriolanus—a scary-ass soldier hell-bent on destroying Rome—is unburdened of iambic pentameter, girded with guns, and anointed with rich, moody lighting courtesy of the cinematographer from The Hurt Locker. It’s a dazzling display of then-as-now and gives us a bitter taste of how the future only intensifies anguish. Sure, the auteur’s party line is that radically restaging a classic serves to highlight its timelessness, but all it really does is turn the march of progress into a funeral dirge. Technology evolves; our bloodlust doesn’t. Darwinism of conflict, and the arsenal we use to settle it, just means we’ll be seeing The End of Species on eshelves well before the water runs out.
I’m clearly not the only one angsting like this. The easiest way to protect yourself from a frontal assault is to run backward—take a look at the holiday entertainment schedule and you’ll see a glut of vintage settings in TV and film: Pan Am; J. Edgar; My Week With Marilyn; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Hugo; and even a movie that explores the silent era, The Artist. It seems we’re just in time to realize that the future holds no succor for current problems. Why fast-forward? Beyond playing the fool for slapstick tropes, there’s little entertainment in never being able to return home. Frames of reference would crumble, jokes would miss the mark, and any psychic compass would be in permanent spin cycle. The iPhone 1200 may as well be a paperweight—but, bless your heart, WTF is “paper”?