Netflix Update No. 58: “Happy Accidents”

December 10, 2011

Vincent Donofrio and Marisa Tomei in "Happy Accidents"

I’ve been reading some articles about time travel; it’s a good way to make your head spin without the aid of alcohol.

The subject came up because we watched “Happy Accidents,” with Marisa Tomei and Vincent Donofrio. In this film, released in 2000, Tomei plays Ruby Weaver, a woman chronically unlucky in her relationships with men. She thinks her luck has changed when she becomes involved with Sam Deed (Donofrio), until he tells her that he is a traveler from the future – specifically from the year 2470.

VINCENT DONOFRIO

Sam claims that he saw Ruby’s picture when he was living in Dubuque, and that he traveled through time, to Brooklyn, in search of her – though he doesn’t say why. As any person would, Ruby initially thinks Sam is either joking or deranged, but Sam won’t budge off his story. Ruby is particularly disturbed by a notebook in which Sam has repeatedly sketched the face of a woman — he claims it’s Ruby’s face — and written the words Chrystie Delancey — he claims she’s his “contact,” another time traveler who was assigned to give him his orientation when he arrived in the past — that is, the present.

This tale grows quite intense; in fact, I was surprised to see it listed on IMDb as a comedy, because there’s nothing funny about it.  It keeps us guessing whether we’re watching a fantasy in which Sam is telling the truth, or a tragedy in which Sam is either playing mind games with Ruby or is insane.

Underlying the story itself is the paradox that the notion of time travel to the past always poses — the question of causality. Namely, if time travel to the past were possible, would the time travelers, either by their mere presence or by their overt actions, change the course of events, change the future.

Donofrio and Tomei

I don’t think this movie did very well at the box office, but it’s a worthwhile property. The story is compelling, Tomei and Donofrio are both magnetic, and there are strong supporting performances by Tovah Feldshuh as Ruby’s mother, Holland Taylor as Ruby’s therapist — a pivotal role, and Nadia Dajani as Ruby’s best friend.

Several years ago, I read a book entitled The Physics of the Impossible by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. In that book, Kaku explored some ideas that have been presented over the years in science fiction literature, films, and TV shows, and organized them according to how plausible they were. As I recall, he concluded that under the known laws of physics, time travel into the past was impossible and time travel into the future was possible, but not likely to become reality for many many years. If you’d like to see a somewhat comprehensible explanation of Albert Einstein’s view of time travel, click HERE.

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2 Responses to “Netflix Update No. 58: “Happy Accidents””

  1. shoreacres Says:

    I’m glad you added the qualifier “somewhat” to that comprehensible explanation of Einstein. Honestly, I think my brain is wired differently or that it short-circuited very, very early.

    But I enjoyed the side-trip, and did at least gain a slight understanding of why time-travel forward is more feasible than time-travel backward.

    Not only that, now I have a name for my favorite Law & Order actor. I suspect he was perfectly suited for his role in this film.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      When I had to take courses in physics in college, I couldn’t make heads or tails of them. Much later, when I read about physics out of curiosity, I experienced some kind of epiphany. A lot of it — maybe most of it — still goes sailing over my head, but I do get the general principles. I remember one college lecture in which the teacher, who was from Jordan, was talking about kinetic energy. He pronounced it as though it had no vowels — kntcnrgy — and it wasn’t until after class that I found out from another student what the guy had been saying. Needless to say, I didn’t get much out of that lecture.

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