Time gets placed under house arrest

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Time gets placed under house arrest


Writing a good time-travel story has become one of the hardest feats in science fiction. Real science is hard to grasp and constantly in flux. And really, how many authors want to (or should have to) deal with the full implications of quantum mechanics and string theory every time they want to put a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s court?
But fiction need not always hew close to the cutting edge of real research. Where would be the fun in fantasy if reality was constantly second-guessing it? A time travel story can have any rules it wants ― for instance, the new film “Lakehouse,” starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, proposes a mailbox at the titular house that connects 2004 and 2006, so that letters Reeves puts in the mailbox in the former can be taken out by Bullock in the latter, and vice versa. It’s completely implausible from a scientific perspective, but who cares? It’s an interesting hook for a romance story, and it gives layers and dramatic drive to a tale of alienation and patience.
Keanu plays Alex Wyler, a builder and architect who buys the lake house because it was one of his father’s architectural masterworks. Sandra is Kate Forster, a doctor in a Chicago hospital. Kate is struggling with whether to proceed in a secure but unloving relationship, and with the shellshock of moving to a big-city hospital from a countryside clinic. Meanwhile, Alex re-enters the life of his estranged father. A dog named Jack is a living extension of the house, participating in both worlds and bringing the two closer.
The relationship is honest and intriguing, at turns whimsical and melancholy, heartfelt and tragic. Reeves, armed with natural-sounding dialogue, finally produces a well-rounded character, and he makes genuinely touching moments out of a few scenes that could have been hackneyed and artificial. Bullock is less memorable, but puts in a quietly sufficient performance.
Art direction is another highlight. The film is framed by Alex’s love for architecture, and Chicago is the perfect city for such a film. Alex takes Kate on a remote tour via a marked-up map, and the city is utilized lovingly and completely.
But the film’s ultimate downfall is in the time travel. Fiction can have its own rules, but it has to stick to them. If it doesn’t, the audience is going to suffer suspension of interest instead of disbelief.
In “Lake House,” the initial setup is unique and appealing, but as time passes, things get convoluted. Alex and Kate never establish quite how the time link works, and I get the feeling neither did the screenwriter, David Auburn. At one point, Alex plants a tree in 2004 in response to one of Kate’s letters, and it appears in 2006, suggesting that changes in the past do affect the future. But later in the film major changes take place that the 2006 Kate doesn’t seem to remember at all, and the disastrous ending, which depends on Kate not remembering changes to the past but remembering them at the same time, completely obliterates the last semblence of logic. Yet more evidence that in the city of science fiction, time travel stories are skyscrapers ― they require meticulous planning and end up beautiful and impressive when done right, but drab, confusing and forgettable when done wrong.

The Lake House
Romance / English
105 min.
Now playing

by Ben Applegate
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