Time travel movies are a tricky wicket. Use consistent rules and a clear narrative, you end up with Looper (2012). Explain things in in too wide manner which allows for numerous interpretations, you get Avengers: Endgame (2019). Create a rule where the rules are continually in flux, you get the Back to the Future series. Thankfully, writer/director Seth Larney has had 10 years to conceive, develop, and create 2067 so that the elements of time travel are fairly airtight, enabling his film to focus more fully on the emotional moments rather than over explain the science fiction. The end result is a film which, at first, seems like a rehash of time travel stories, but, with patience, reveals itself to be much more intelligent. In fact, Larney’s 2067 has more in common with fellow 2020 release Synchronic wherein the time travel is not the part that matters, instead, it’s the opportunity for personal exploration that time travel creates.
In the year 2067, rampant deforestation has led to an ecological nightmare where no plant life exists and humanity is holding on by a sliver of a thread. Currently, all that keeps humanity from slipping off into that good night is a synthetic oxygen source, but it’s proved toxic to its users, killing those who use it for prolonged periods. In a last ditch effort to save humanity, Dr. Richard Whyte (Aaron Glenane) leads a project overseen by Chronicorp CEO Regina Jackson (Deborah Mailman) to research time travel in the hopes that future descendants would have a cure for the illness or a solution to the eco-disaster which may save them now. A test run of the machine, dubbed “Chronricom,” resulted in a message sent from the future reading only, “Send Ethan Whyte,” the name of his son. Years later, with the machine fully functional and time running out, Jackson recruits adult Ethan (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to attempt this risky mission whose rewards may be more than worth the peril.
Because 2067 deals in time travel, I offer a word of caution: don’t try to solve the mystery of the story because it’ll distract from the true intent of Larney’s tale. All stories possess some kind of narrative surprise, whether it’s large (he was dead the whole time) or small (interpersonal realization), and trying to work that out as the characters follow the path set forth by the author will only lead to a false sense of superiority and nothing more. It’s not that 2067 is super intelligent, it’s that the time travel isn’t the important part of the story, it’s the journey Smit-McPhee’s Ethan goes on. When the story begins, the audience meets Ethan as a fairly solitary tunnel worker working alongside his friend Jude (Ryan Kwanten) and who later goes home to his sick wife Xanthe (Sana’a Shaik). He has no parents, no other friends, no other connections to humanity. To a degree, this makes sense when Larney’s Earth is one of incredible dystopia where people will kill you for even a single breath of synthetic air. As the narrative continues and the story of Ethan and his father plays out for the audience, the script reveals itself to be more interested in the examination of collectivism vs. elitism and reductive fear vs. hope. Time travel is merely a method by which to examination these concepts, as well as create the internal tensions for our protagonist.
This is where we get into one of the more troubling areas of 2067. Ethan’s estrangement from humanity is due to psychological trauma as a child, so the narrative must untangle that while also addressing his current state of being. This would be simpler without Xanthe, except the setup for Ethan’s internal journey requires a tether to the past. This works against the film in two ways: (1) it sets up a fridged trope used in storytelling wherein a love interest or loved one is killed to propel the protagonist forward (in this case, Xanthe as the terminally ill wife) and (2) even though the narrative barely side-steps that, the narrative must spend time with Ethan coming to terms with his internal pain as it relates to his placing victimhood on Xanthe. I applaud Larney for the latter as it reframes Ethan-as-hero. He’s not Snake Plisskin (Escape from L.A.), a highly trained operative sent into a dangerous land, nor is he Old Joe (Looper), a hitman desperately trying to save someone he loves by changing his past. Ethan is frozen stiff, reluctant to take any step too far from either Jude or Xanthe, even if those steps might save them both. If so interesting, why is it also troubling? So much of the dialogue focuses on the time travel, unraveling mystery after mystery, until both Ethan and the audience have a full picture of what 2067 is really all about, that the audience is easily pushed to think that 2067 *is* about time travel. It’s not. It’s about the repercussions of choice. All the time travel does is physically isolate Ethan so that he must face his fears without any kind of support system. *This* is where 2067 gets interesting, but it’s also so focused on the spectacle of it all that it runs the risk of the audience losing the forest for the trees.
For those who are swept up in the world of 2067, the home release includes over 50 minutes of featurettes that explore nearly every facet of the film from the story to the music. While it’s fairly obvious where the VFX are utilized (no flying cars just yet), the featurettes expose how Larney and crew transformed Adelaide, Australia, to look like the horror show Ethan tries to survive. This doesn’t mean just painting with a digital brush, but the work of carpenters, designers, make-up artists, clothing designers, and more to build, from the ground up, a world that only existed in Larney’s imagination. Most bonus features are interested in expanding the world the audience sees by explaining mythologies or digging through the minutiae of lofty themes, but these are far more technical and create an opportunity for the crew to shine. For instance, via multiple featurettes, we learn from production designer Jacinta Leong (art director for Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)) how she learned about the film, got involved, and how she created the various elements which make up the world of 2067. A personal favorite comes in the featurette “The Time Machine” wherein we learn how a single line from Larney’s script describing the Chronicom as something even Zeus couldn’t lift informed the scope, style, and overall design of the room the machine was placed in as well as the machine itself. Details matter to create a believable world and the eight featurettes are like a mini-film school that walks you through just how Larney and company created it.
By and large 2067 delivers a thoughtful, lingering experience. It’s by no means perfect, as the timelines of events are questionable and the Chronicom being both an incredibly sensitive machine and also able to work with parts missing (somehow?), but it sticks the landing in a powerful and poignant way, making the rest fade away. Ethan’s journey into the future took 10 years in our lifetime to bring to fruition. With 2067 as proof of Larney’s capability, maybe we won’t have to wait so long for another story.
2067 Special Features
- Director Commentary (1:54:20)
- Behind-the-Scenes of 2067
- The Story (3:40)
- The Cast (7:39)
- The Director (6:20)
- The Look (6:33)
- The Costumes & Make-Up (3:31)
- The Time Machine (4:10)
- The Editing & VFX: contains plot spoilers (4:25)
- The Music: contains plot spoilers (14:33)
In theaters, on VOD, and digital October 2nd, 2020.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD November 17th, 2020.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.