Time [subtitled]


There’s an episode from All in the Family where Gloria tries to spice up her love life with Mike by wearing a brunette wig to bed. It works. Too well. She becomes upset that he gets into it as much as he does, and especially by the fact that he implores her to wear it again for their next lovemaking session. She angrily denounces him: “This is just your way of having sex with another woman without the guilt of cheating on your wife! You’re sick!”

He thinks for a moment and then comes back with “Wait a minute! I’m sick? You’re jealous of your own wig!”

The Korean movie Time is sort of along those same lines, just enormously longer, and arguably not as good as an All in the Family episode.

Evidently plastic surgery is very big in South Korea right now. (Which brings to mind the documentary Nose, Iranian Style, about the obsession prevalent amongst young Iranian women to “improve” their noses surgically.) This movie is a commentary on that kind of overemphasis on external appearance.

A young couple has been dating for two years. The woman is insanely jealous of any real, or mostly imagined, attention her boyfriend gives or receives from other women, to the point that she loses control in public and lambastes him if she sees a woman, say, smile at him. To make it worse, she also goes off on the woman in a situation like that, creating embarrassing scenes and getting into fights.

She’s sure her boyfriend is tired of her and not attracted to her. Not so much because she sees herself as unattractive, but because she recognizes that males crave variety and he’s probably just had his fill of her after two years.

She encourages him to fantasize that she’s someone else when the lights are out and they’re in bed together, and then if he does, she, predictably, is infuriated by it and sees it as further evidence that he’s a dog inclined to cheat on her.

The boyfriend puts up with all of it, assures her she’s still attractive to him, and tries to placate her in any way he can.

OK, let’s pause at this point of the story and ask a question. What is it about this woman that might give a guy second thoughts about staying with her? What’s the main thing she needs to work on?

If you said, “She’s probably not all that physically attractive, or he’s just bored with her looks,” then go to the back of the class.

If you said, “She’s an insane bitch who attacks her boyfriend and total strangers when they’re doing nothing wrong,” then you’re a winner!

Unfortunately she gets the question wrong, and instead of working on the massive problems inside her head, she goes to a plastic surgeon to change her looks.

She doesn’t tell her boyfriend, though, and just disappears without a trace. Months later, after she is fully healed and her face is no longer recognizable, she finds a way back into his life and they start dating.

It’s apparently all some sort of a weird test she’s putting him through, one that I’m convinced it’s impossible for him to pass.

Because in spite of all the landmines in his path, it seems to me he behaves in the way it would be hardest to find fault with. He treats her perfectly well as his new girlfriend. She gives him plenty of openings to trash his old girlfriend (you know, the old version of her), but he always speaks of her favorably. She tricks him by putting a note on his windshield from her old self, asking to meet him. Instead of doing anything behind his new girlfriend’s back, or just dumping her and not explaining why, he is totally honest with her about having been contacted by his old girlfriend, and he apologetically tells her he realizes he still has feelings for his old girlfriend and that he needs to pursue that, and he tries to let her down as easy as possible.

She reacts with another temper tantrum and public scene, evidently convinced that she’s cleverly gotten him to show his true colors as a scumbag. But like I say, what could he have done better? How was he being inconsiderate, or dishonest, or overrating physical appearance, or any of that?

I mean, again, if you want to find fault, obviously the most criticizable thing about him is that he hasn’t fled in terror from her long ago.

The movie is mildly interesting to that point, but the last third or quarter of it after that became more confusing to me and my interest faded.

He’s so flummoxed by the whole situation that he decides to give her a taste of her own medicine and disappear for a while to rebuild his own face with cosmetic surgery. Following that, there are a series of scenes where she interacts with different guys, which I couldn’t make much sense of. Sometimes she doesn’t know if they’re her boyfriend, sometimes they don’t know who she is, sometimes neither one knows the other.

I’m just not convinced it’s coherent. I could have sworn at least one of them is the boyfriend and doesn’t recognize her, which doesn’t make sense because only she should be in the dark. He knows what she looks like post-surgery; she doesn’t know what he looks like.

Maybe the idea is that she’s so insane now, or the world is so insane now, that even people who should recognize each other don’t, and everyone’s identity has disappeared behind a funhouse mirror of changing appearances.

Or probably I just wasn’t paying close enough attention to follow it toward the end.

By the way, I think the “sculpture park” where they meet several times in the movie is kind of cool. A lot of interesting and bizarre pieces.

But Time didn’t do a lot for me. I didn’t think it was all that effective a way of examining the issue of how we do or should react to physical beauty and judge people on their externals, because the more prominent, attention-getting fact about these folks is that she’s an utter loon, and he’s almost as nuts for putting up with her. So the issue of mental illness crowds out anything having to do with external appearance.

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