In a quiet residential complex, caretaker manager Finn (Matt O’Leary) together with his girlfriend Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and best friend Jasper (George Finn) investigate the apartment of a dead scientist, only to discover a mysterious camera pointed directly at their living room window capable of taking photos 24 hours into the future.
Rather than calling the police, the housemates use the device to make their wildest dreams come true, but after exploiting the camera for personal gain they soon find themselves blindly recreating whatever future the photos show them, or else risk the perils of messing with time, in this paradox-filled sci-fi thriller.
Time Lapse movie plot
As part of his research, the dead scientist (Mr Bezzerides) set his strange device to take a photo of the housemates’ lounge at 8 pm each night, but one day when apparently tinkering with his camera and viewing events even further forward he is horrified to see a Polaroid taken 2 weeks into the future appearing to depict his own death. The photo shows a blood-stained window, the scientist’s hat on the sofa, and a painting of a thorium canister, and whilst investigating his basement lock-up where the thorium is kept he accidentally causes the accident which leads to his own demise. The whole story we subsequently see in Time Lapse is the series of events that ultimately lead up to that photo depicting the scientist’s apparent murder.
Meanwhile, we get to see the trio of friends use the camera for their own selfish purposes, including Finn using the photos to overcome artist’s block and reveal his next future painting, Jasper making bundles of cash betting on the following day’s racing results, and Callie earning enough money to give up her waiting job and focus on becoming an author. We later find out Callie had discovered the device also takes another photo at 8 am and after removing all the photos on the scientist’s wall showing her secret affair with Jasper months earlier, she then starts using the 8 am morning photo shoot to communicate with herself, and send/messages in order to shape events and rekindle her relationship with Finn.
Temporal paradoxes in Time Lapse
In any story involving backward time travel, we can expect a number of bizarre temporal paradoxes to occur. In the case of Time Lapse, these involve a series of daily bootstrap or ontological paradoxes in which information, rather than a person, is sent back in time to create a circular loop in which the information does not appear to have a discernible point of origin.
Examples in the movie include Finn’s paintings, which he create only after seeing them in a future photo showing them already painted, raising the question where did the inspiration for the paintings come from in the first place? Other bootstrap paradoxes include Callie’s messages to herself, such as reminding herself to knock over the coat rack for the photo because she saw a future photo with the coat rack lying on the floor, an idea that has no discernible point of origin. Jasper’s gambling results are a further example of a bootstrap paradox as in true chicken-and-egg fashion the camera provides all the results, and Jasper then simply stands in front of the camera with the results written on a board before writing them down and sending the information back to himself 24 hours earlier.
Is there an element of Self-fulfilling Prophecy?
There also appear to be strong elements of self-fulfilling prophecy in the story, with the characters receiving a photo from 24 hours in the future (prophecy) before setting about fulfilling the scene in the exact same way as shown.
Perhaps, Mr. Bezzerides provides the most extreme example of a self-fulfilling prophecy as he thinks he sees his own death two weeks into the future before mailing the photo to his colleague Dr. Heidecker and setting off to inadvertently cause the very accident which kills him. In fact, Time Lapse appears replete with numerous examples of predestination paradoxes as at no point in the movie do the characters ever seem to deviate from the future events which are shown to them.
Furthermore, when Callie does try to stick a ‘DON’T GET CAUGHT IN THE WINDOW’ (by Finn at 8 am) note on the window at the end of the story, the message falls off thus ensuring the future depicted in the photo of the scientist’s apparent murder remains exactly the same.
Can they change the future?
Early on in the movie, Callie explains to Finn and Jasper her belief that failing to obey the events shown in the photos would ultimately lead to their ending up like Mr. Bezzerides. As she describes whilst sketching her timeline drawing:
“The camera spits out a photo of us in the future. Then we go about our day making a series of decisions that lead up to that moment. But, if we deviate from those decisions, then this photo never happens, which means us, the people who saw the original photo can’t go forward because our futures don’t exist anymore [glancing over at Mr. Bezzerides hat on the stand].”
As a result, the trio of friends use the device to receive photos from themselves 24 hours into the future before passing on the same message to their past selves 24 hours in the past to keep the timeline from being altered. In other words, Callie promotes the idea that they cannot change the future and if they don’t perform the actions seen in the photo then they will either end up incinerated like Mr. Bezzerides, or simply cease to exist on their own timeline.
However, we later discover Callie believes no such thing and had been using the 8 am photo shoot to pass messages to herself in order to manipulate events and salvage her relationship with Finn. She’d also switched around some of the 8 pm photos shown to Finn and Casper, and at the end of the movie after the Jasper/Finn fight, sends a photo message to herself with the instruction to now swap the affair photo with one showing the charades night (SWAP PHOTO TO CHARADE NIGHT). As a result, while the evening 8 pm timeline appears to follow a predetermined and inevitable pattern, the morning 8 am timeline appears flexible, full of possibilities and subject to manipulation by Callie, the real manipulator of events in the movie.
Can Callie actually change the past?
Throughout the movie, Callie had been using the device to receive and send photos to herself at 8 am so as to manipulate the timeline and fix her relationship with Finn. Examples include messages such as KISS JASPER TOO LONG, GO WITH FINN TO CAR, DON’T FORGIVE FINN, etc.
Near the end of the movie Finn catches Callie at the window at 8 am sending a message to herself saying SWAP PHOTO TO CHARADE NIGHT, KILL JASPER TO SAVE FINN, resulting in Finn feeling betrayed and wanting to destroy the machine and end his relationship with her. However, Callie continues to believe she can change her present by changing the past, and after killing Finn to stop him walking out on her subsequently tries to change the ‘8 pm’ police marked crime scene’ photo by sticking a note on the window saying DON’T GET CAUGHT IN THE WINDOW.
In other words, she tries to prevent Finn from finding out about her 8 am photo shoot as she believes this will prevent the argument which resulted in Finn trying to walk out on her. Callie’s assumption is that by causing the past to change, the present will adjust accordingly, and presumably the day she had just experienced would turn out differently.
Is it a revised or predetermined timeline?
On the face of it, Callie’s belief she can change the past seems to be a misconception because as far as we witness none of the events in Time Lapse were ever altered from those shown in the photos, and if her plan of sticking the note on the window had worked it clearly would have resulted in the photo showing Mr. Bezzerides’ apparent death being changed to one slightly different from the one seen by his colleague, Dr. Heidecker. Nevertheless, Callie seems convinced that changing events is possible, for instance when she swapped the ‘police tape’ photo for the one of Jasper and her having sex, or when she tells Finn “It’s gonna be OK. We won’t remember any of this tomorrow”.
On the one hand, Callie’s belief that she can alter her own timeline doesn’t seem to be borne out by anything that is shown in the movie, and it is just as likely that had she succeeded in changing events she would probably have created an alternate timeline where she was not caught at the window, and Finn and her did escape together. In her own timeline, however, Finn would still be dead and there would still be an extremely messy crime scene for the police to investigate.
At the same time, it’s equally possible the version of events we see in Time Lapse are only the ones showing Callie’s successful changes and, unlike many other time travel movies, Callie’s repeats and alterations that she successfully managed to make are not shown. In other words, we are not shown Callie’s alterations which cause a ripple effect and reset the preset. As to whether events were predetermined in Time Lapse, or if the photos could be changed, director Bradley D. King in a revealing interview with Taylor Holmes said:
“In spite of Heidecker’s explanation, Jasper obviously believes there is no way to alter the photos. Finn seems to have come around to the possibility that things can be altered, but only out of desperation, and it seems to me that when he packs that suitcase he’s still not 100% sure what might happen. And then of course Callie obviously is convinced that things can be changed, which probably came out of her experience of doing things behind the scenes and feeling a sense of empowerment from that. But who’s right? I think the question is definitely more interesting than any answer I could give. In my own imagination I have definitely explored both ways, and both are interesting.”
Timeline of events in Time Lapse
1: Callie discovers Mr Bezzerides dead inside his apartment and an unusual camera which takes photos 24 hours into the future at 8 pm everyday.
2: After Jasper suggests that the trio (Callie, Finn, Jasper) use the camera to win money gambling, the first photo produced shows the next day’s racing results, as well as a new painting by Finn. Wary of the fate which befell Mr. Bezzerides, they then assume they must now enact all the events depicted in the photo or else risk annihilation.
3: The trio hide Mr Bezzerides’s death from the complex’s security guard, Big Joe.
4: One week later they receive a photograph of Callie kissing Jasper.
5: Jasper’s gangster bookie Ivan discovers the camera and forces the trio to pose for photos showing him which races and runners to gamble upon. After seeing a photo of a skull and crossbones painted onto one of Finn’s works, Jasper interprets this as a warning and while the trio are being threatened by Ivan, subsequently manages to kill him and his henchman Marcus before dumping their bodies off in Mr. Bezzerides’s storage unit.
6: Dr. Heidecker shows up after receiving a photograph of her colleague, Mr. Bezzerides, and his hat placed on a sofa near the bloodstained window of the trio’s apartment. The photo depicts the events scheduled for the following day, but Jasper deals with the situation by killing Dr. Heidecker.
7: Finn discovers a photograph showing Callie and Jasper having sex which he assumes will take place the following night, and then tries to argue and stop the event from happening.
8: Jasper attacks and locks Finn inside Mr. Bezzerides’s storage unit, after which Finn manages to escape and threatens to destroy the camera. Jasper almost kills Finn, but Callie rescues him by bashing Jasper’s head in.
9: Finn catches Callie sending an 8 am photo to herself with the messages SWAP PHOTO TO CHARADE NIGHT, and KILL JASPER TO SAVE FINN. Callie then comes clean and admits that she had been using the hitherto secret 8 am photo shot to shape events and rescue her relationship with Finn.
10: Finn determines to destroy the camera, but Callie subsequently shoots him resulting in the blood splatter seen in the original photo Mr. Bezzerides sent to Dr. Heidecker (taken sometime between 8 am and 8 pm but not at those specific times). Having already taken an 8 am photo, Callie then tries to change the 8 pm photo which should show a police-taped crime scene, with one of her holding a sign stating DON’T GET CAUGHT IN THE WINDOW.
11: Big Joe shows up and discovers the murdered bodies of Jasper and Finn, and so arrests Callie. While she is led away her message falls off the window indicating the camera will not record the note, events will not be altered, and she will go to jail for multiple murders. The movie ends with the initial scene depicted in the photo sent to Dr. Heidecker unchanged.