Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The time-travel rom-com About Time and time-travel family movie Free Birds have us revisiting older, better time-travel movies.
Déjà Vu (2006)
Snow White, the technology at the center of Tony Scott’s sci-fi romance Déjà Vu, is not, strictly speaking, a time machine. Rather, it’s a one-way “time window,” a sort of peephole into the past—four days, six hours, three minutes, and 45 seconds ago, to be precise.
Because sending back matter is difficult and dangerous, Snow White’s primary function is surveillance—a major theme in Scott’s work, and one that was well suited to his cross-cutting, space-warping style. While there’s an emotional undercurrent to Scott’s other surveillance narratives (most noticeable in Spy Game and Taking Of Pelham 1 2 3, both of which are one kiss shy of being overtly homoerotic), only Déjà Vu foregrounds it, as ATF agent (Denzel Washington) falls in love with the image of a woman (Paula Patton) who died in a bombing he’s investigating.
Stories of viewers falling in love with images—paintings, photos, movies—recur throughout film history. They’re a big part of how the medium views itself. Déjà Vu plays off of this. Snow White, after all, looks more like a piece of filmmaking technology than a traditional time machine. The multiple screens and jog dials bring to mind an editing suite. Its central mechanic—investigator-viewers trying to make sense of “footage” days after an event—resembles the shooting-printing-dailies process of celluloid-based filmmaking. (Scott never switched to shooting digitally.) Even if the movie wasn’t intended as a filmmaking metaphor, it sure feels like one.
Scott’s fixation on bridge imagery and leaps into the unknown (both of which now uncomfortably seem to presage his suicide) further contribute to the film’s self-destructive, romantic vibe. It’s a story about a man whose love for an image is so strong that it transcends the laws of physics, not to mention narrative logic.
All of this probably makes Déjà Vu sound like a heady downer, which it isn’t. Rather, what distinguishes the movie is the way it’s able to integrate these themes into an expertly-crafted Hollywood thriller, marked by strong supporting performances from Val Kilmer and Adam Goldberg, big set pieces, and applause-ready crowd-pleasing moments such as the climactic “leap into the unknown.” Scott’s best movie, it achieves a rare thematic heft without skimping on the entertainment.
Availability: Déjà Vu is available on Blu-ray and DVD, the latter of which can be obtained through Netflix, and for rental or purchase through the major digital services.