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Temporal Anomalies

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Discussing Time Travel Theory
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See also entries under the
Temporal Anomalies/Time Travel
category of the
mark Joseph "young"
web log
elsewhere on this site.

Quick Jumps

A Romantic Fantasy
How It Begins
The Bitch is Magic
An Accidental Meeting
They Got a Dog
The Flag Trick
Before You Ask
Instant Grafitti
A Tree Grows
Happy Birthdays
No Call No Show
Real Estate
Persuaded By a Book
The Other Book
Visionary Coincidence
This Changes Everything
A Reader Objection:
  The Fixed Time Solution

A Reader Question:
  Is It Really About the Dog?

Movies Analyzed
in order examined

    Addendum to Terminator
    Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines
    Terminator Recap
    Terminator Salvation
    Terminator Genisys
Back To The Future
Back To The Future II
Back To The Future III
Star Trek Introduction
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
    Star Trek: Generations
    Star Trek: First Contact
    Star Trek (2009)
12 Monkeys
    Addendum to 12 Monkeys
Flight Of The Navigator
  Flight Of The Navigator Addendum
Army of Darkness
Lost In Space
Peggy Sue Got Married
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey
Planet of the Apes
Kate and Leopold
Somewhere In Time
The Time Machine
Minority Report
Happy Accidents
The Final Countdown
Donnie Darko
  S. Darko
Harry Potter and
    the Prisoner of Azkaban

Deja Vu
    Primer Questions
Bender's Big Score
Popular Christmas Movies
The Butterfly Effect
  The Butterfly Effect 2
  The Butterfly Effect 3:  Revelations
The Last Mimzy
The Lake House
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Hot Tub Time Machine
Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes
A Sound of Thundrer
Frequently Asked Questions
    About Time Travel

Source Code
Blackadder Back & Forth
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
11 Minutes Ago
Men in Black III
La Jetée
Midnight in Paris
Meet the Robinsons
H. G. Wells' The Time Machine
The Jacket
Safety Not Guaranteed
The Philadelphia Experiment
  The Philadelphia Experiment II
Time After Time
About Time
Free Birds
X-Men:  Days of Future Past
Edge of Tomorrow
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
Project Almanac
Time Lapse

Copyright Information

The temporal anomaly terminology used here is drawn from Appendix 11:  Temporal Anomalies of Multiverser from Valdron Inc, and is illustrated on the home page of this web site.  This site is part of M. J. Young Net.

Books by the Author.

Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies
The Lake House

Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves have been romantically involved on screen before, and this time they attempt to make the sparks fly by correspondence.  Like that other Kate who fell in love with Leopold, this Kate is in the future and her Alex in the past, but in this case both of them lived at The Lake House at different times.  The time travel is entirely via letters sent from one to the other, although there are a few other quirks to it and some serious temporal problems with the resolution.  It is said to be based on an original foreign film from 2000 entitled Il Mare (original title Siworae) which we have not seen but which reportedly has a very similar plot.

The film has some of the problems of Frequency, but only to the degree that information traveling to the past creates temporal problems.  This is a much simpler connection, and gets its problems from other aspects.

Bullock also appears in a more serious time travel story, Premonition, the analysis of which will follow.

Our copy was a gift from Jim Denaxas, with our thanks.  When the series ran there were some questions from readers that are addressed at the end of this edition of the analysis.

A Romantic Fantasy

Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves are easy to look at and capable actors who previously persuaded us that they were a promising couple in Speed, and in the film The Lake House they succeed in creating a credible relationship entirely by correspondence.  The oddity is, somehow their correspondence is traveling through time.  There is also a dog, a bitch whom she names "Jackie" but calls "Jack", who appears and disappears in not-quite-magical ways at moments that help bring the couple together.

It is a magical fantasy, and as with many fantasies the magic is never explained.  What we know is that when she is leaving the house by the lake she rented for a brief time, Dr. Kate Forster (Bullock) places a letter in the mailbox which is then received by a previous tenant, architect Alex Wyler (Reeves).  Wyler writes back, because some of the things she said about the property do not match what he sees, and his letter mysteriously travels to the future to be received by her.  Not surprisingly, it takes several interactions before they recognize and accept that they are communicating across time.

Time travel fans should be reminded immediately of Frequency, in which father and son communicate across thirty years by ham radio.  This film has many of the same problems which plagued that one, although because the messages traveling through time are using a mailbox rather than a radio the problems are to some degree simplified.  However, the stylistic telling of the story at times blurs the problems, as their correspondence begins to look like conversation and it becomes unclear exactly what happens when, in terms of how the receipt of the letters interacts with the events of their lives.

Romantic fantasies being what they are, you will already have guessed that they eventually manage to meet in person.  It has that concept that not even time can keep the lovers apart, a popular theme covered in Somewhere in Time (the cult favorite), Kate and Leopold (the box office favorite), Happy Accidents (the most interesting in time travel terms), and to a lesser degree Millennium and Deja Vu (action films with a love story element).  Making it more interesting, they encounter each other several times before her end of the correspondence begins, and for one reason and another he is unable to tell her so except by his letters which reach her two years later.  It is definitely a tear-jerker with the sort of happy ending that leaves damp eyes in the audience.

Even when the time travel is magical it still must follow rules of some form, and there are several rules that this does follow.  The link created by the mailbox is always the same length of time, two years, and time moves at the same rate at both ends (overlooking the fact that 2004 is leap year, so it apparently skips a day at his end).  Thus if she puts a note in the mailbox, it appears at his end "immediately", and if he takes five minutes to read and reply, his response reaches her in the future five minutes after she sent her note.  This makes more plausible some of the seeming conversational parts, in which it is as if they are text-messaging each other, but with pen and paper.  They are also able to send other objects--she sends him a scarf and a book--as long as they are placed in the mailbox with an accompanying letter.  It also appears that the letters do not leave their point of origin until they are removed at their destination point, that is, if either puts a letter in the box it will be in the box both in the future and the past until one of them removes it from the box.  At one point, Alex has placed several letters in the box, and they have simply accumulated there because Kate has not collected them.

There remain many problematic aspects of the story to address, places where the rules don't seem to work quite right or the interaction of events with letters seems wrong.  Those will be part of our series, as we attempt to unravel the anomalies in the film The Lake House.

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How It Begins

In one sense, everything in Lake House begins on Valentines Day 2006, when Dr. Kate Forster fails to save a dying stranger at an accident scene at Daley Plaza in Chicago.  She just began her first post-residency job at Chicago City Hospital and was lunching with her mother when the accident occurs, and Alex Wyler, whom she did not recognize and whose name she apparently did not hear at that time, died in her arms.

The significance of this moment emerges through the film.  We do not know that it is Alex; we know only that she saw a man crossing the street hit by a bus and could not save him, and that it shook her terribly.  She much later writes to him about it.  At that moment, she says, she thought "It can't end just like that on Valentines Day," and she wondered about the people who loved him waiting at home who would never see him again, and then, "What if there is no one?"  She wondered "What if you live your whole life and no one is waiting?"

We would like to think that this moment triggers the magic.  She had already left her note for the "next tenant", but it is a few days after this that she runs up to the lake house, to be somewhere peaceful, to look for answers.  She checks the mailbox, perhaps to see if her note is there, and instead finds his reply; and from there the magic connects them.

It is significant, too, because Kate has become very much the sort of person who just might spend her life disconnected.  She has broken ties with boyfriend Morgan and moved into the hectic life of doctor in hospital practice.  If she has a future, it will return her to Morgan, who is more controlling than caring, more practical than romantic.  He will marry her because a successful lawyer such as himself would do well to have a successful doctor for a wife, not because they have all that much in common or any real feelings for each other.  She will marry him as the default, the man who happens to be there and is willing to do so.

Thus there is sense to this connection to a stranger triggering the magic, starting the story.  She cares enough about a dying man to wonder whether he has anyone significant in his life, and almost he does not; she becomes that significant person by reaching into his past and contacting him.  And thus the magical "beautiful fantasy where time stood still" would begin.

For that to be so, we have a very narrow window for our initial events.  We surmise that Kate leaves the lake house not more than two days before Valentine's Day, with just enough time to move into her apartment but not to do any shopping and yet not have the dog starve for lack of dog food before meeting her mother for lunch at Daley Plaza on Valentines Day, 2006.  We know that on her next day off after Valentines Day she travels to the lake house and finds his reply.  We also know that the first time he stopped at the lake house in February 2004 the flag was already raised but he did not check it until his second arrival.  That would mean that he arrived on or after Valentines Day 2004, goes to work perhaps the next day, and then picks up her letter that night and responds the next morning, which in turn means that she could not reach the lake house to receive his response until February fifteenth at the earliest.  This is plausible, and launches our timelines for us.

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The Bitch is Magic

The dog who connects the story seems to be more than a dog.  She, whom Kate names Jackie but calls Jack, never does anything not normal for a dog, but manages to do those things in ways and at times that all work toward bringing Alex and Kate together.  Yet either Jackie is a separate magical event in the fantasy, or time is more convoluted than first appears.

The problem arises because in her first letter--the letter Kate wrote to the next tenant before any magic occurred, before Alex died in her arms and the connection between them began--she mentions the pawprints outside the front door, a set of prints which began in the middle of the walkway and ended at the door.  Alex is confused because when he first reads the letter there are no pawprints, but he then watches Jackie walk through his pan of paint and track those prints up to the door.  Since at this point no one suspects time travel, he thinks it nothing more than a remarkable coincidence; yet for us it is problematic.

Jackie's part in all this is very much to bring Alex and Kate together.  She provides the pawprints that stimulate the conversation; she responds to the name Kate gave her when Alex uses it.  She bolts from the construction site to lead Alex to Morgan's house in time to get him invited to Kate's 2004 birthday party, where he dances with her, kisses her, and perhaps derails her relationship with Morgan.

Here is the problem:  if Jackie is the result of a magic initiated when Kate connected with Alex at the accident in 2006, then in the original history there was no Jackie in 2004; but then there also were no pawprints for Kate to mention in the letter which she had by that time already written and left in the mailbox.  Thus either Jackie was already part of the original history and already left those prints on the walkway, or Kate's original letter did not mention any such prints.  If the letter does not mention the prints, Alex does not wonder about them, and it will take an extra run through history to fix that.

The question then becomes whether the dog is part of the magic initiated at the accident, or the accident part of the magic initiated by the dog, or whether we have two independent magical events leading to the same result.  It is always simpler, in magical terms, to assume that events are connected; and it is better magic to assume that Kate's invocation at the accident initiated everything than to suppose that a magical dog caused the accident to induce her to have those thoughts and feelings.  We will thus have to assume that the dog is not part of the original history, but comes into being in 2004 because of Kate's response to the accident in 2006.  That gives us an original history without the dog, which we will attempt to reconstruct next time.

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It is evident that The Lake House is not a fixed time theory story.  Things change; it is the point of the film that they do.  Thus there must be an original history of the world, whether an erased history under replacement theory or a prime universe under divergent dimension theory, in which nothing reaches the past from the as yet unformed future.  We determined that there is no dog in that history.

It is clear that Alex Wyler purchases the all-glass lake house built by his father when he was a boy, in the late winter of 2004, probably shortly before Valentines Day.  He puts a fair amount of effort into repairing it, struggles with his relationship with girlfriend Mona, reconnects with his brother Henry, and tries to work through his feelings against his father Simon.  However, without the dog Jackie he never meets Morgan and Kate, nor collects Kate's lost book.

The death of his father seems to have been the motivation for his move out of the lake house and into the partnership with Henry, and so we have reason for him to vacate in time for Kate to occupy the property.  What we do not have in this is reason for Kate to find that house and occupy it, or for her to leave Morgan to do so.  However, that might arise separately, from two details.

The first detail is that Kate several times mentions having done her residency in a hospital in Madison.  This is almost certainly Madison, Wisconsin, which is about three hours from Chicago, Illinois.  (Madison, Illinois is over five hours from Chicago, too far for a lake house near there to be close enough for a weekend visit and clearly in the wrong direction.)  However, the lake house in question must be on the shore of Lake Michigan (the only place they would call "The Lake" in Chicago), and the nearest point on that lake to Madison is Milwaukee, rather a large city already ninety minutes away, too far to be a useful local address for a hospital "resident" and over ninety minutes from Chicago as well.  But if we assume that her residency was significantly east and south of Madison and the lake house somewhat south of Milwaukee we can stretch the concept and allow that Kate moved to the lake house when Alex vacated it so she would be near her residency, probably in the winter or spring of 2005.  Alex was her landlord, but she would not have known that, having rented the house through a real estate agent.

It happened to become available at the right time, because following the death of Simon Wyler Alex reconnected with his brother to start their long-dreamed architectural firm in 2005, and the lake house is just a bit too far to commute to work in downtown Chicago, so he moved.

Meanwhile, residency means that Kate has moved away from Morgan and does not have time for that relationship anyway; and it appears that in that time Morgan was offered a job far enough away that his later visits to Chicago are presented as business trips.  Thus the Morgan/Kate relationship was always doomed.  It is not clear what happens to the Alex/Mona relationship, but she did not move to the lake house and he did not move in with her, so perhaps they drifted apart as he focused on his career and not his girlfriend.

Thus on Valentines Day 2006 we have Alex single and in partnership with his brother, and a single Kate at Daley Plaza lunching with her mother; but we have no reason for Alex to be there.  This becomes the biggest complication in the entire film, and will have to be given its own examination.

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An Accidental Meeting

In the events of The Lake House as portrayed, on Valentines Day 2006 Alex Wyler is headed out with his brother Henry and has no particular plans for the day, but his brother declines an invitation to go out later because he is taking a girl out to celebrate the holiday.  That reminds Alex of something he read in a letter from Kate, about having seen a man killed on that date at Daley Plaza.  He rushes to the lake house to find his letters in the attic, and then rushes back to Chicago to attempt to catch her at lunch, and in doing so is hit by the bus and becomes the patient she could not save.

The problem is, that information is in the very last letter she sent him, from her in the fall of 2006 to him in the fall of 2004.  In order for him to know she is there, he must already have received that letter; but for her to have sent that letter, he must already have been killed at that location.  We have a very complicated predestination paradox, in which he can only be killed if he got that letter and he can only get that letter if he was killed.

There are very few ways to resolve a predestination paradox.  One is to assume fixed time and accept the uncaused cause, that what happens in time does not have to occur in temporal sequence as long as all causes and effects are incorporated in one history, and nothing can be changed.  Happy Accidents attempted to avoid this by proposing Cheeseman's Emotional Energy Theory, by which the focus of sufficient emotional energy on a moment in time could change history; but this in essence changes fixed time to some other theory, possibly divergent dimension theory or more plausibly replacement theory.  The former simply means that the history of the world is different in this new universe, that a change launched from the original universe created a different version of time in this one.  The latter is more complicated.

The resolution under replacement theory requires that there be an original cause in history for one of the critical events.  In this case, either a different person was killed at that accident or Alex was there for a completely different reason.  There are good reasons to think it was someone else; but this disrupts the magic of that moment.  It is much more difficult to find a reason for Alex to be killed there, but if he is not that creates problems for several later events in the film.

If Alex did not die at Daley Plaza, then he probably did call her on July 10th, 2006, at 9:05 p.m., as she suggested.  There are other complications with this, though--for example, by the time she mailed the letter she already knew that he had not called.  More significantly, if he were alive he would have met her at the restaurant Il Mare; and had he met her there, she would not have broken contact, and he would not have sought her at Daley Plaza, and would not have become the accident victim.

The other option does not play well, either, though.  Could she genuinely not have recognized in February 2006 the man who kissed her at her birthday party in the fall of 2004, less than eighteen months before?  Further, why is a distracted Alex Wilder crossing Daley Plaza in her direction at that moment if not to see her?

That becomes more complicated as the story unfolds, and we will return to it; for the moment, we must conclude that around lunchtime Alex Wilder was at Daley Plaza and attempted to cross, and was hit by the bus.  In the original history, Kate would not recognize him, because he has not yet done any of the other things in the story.  With this, we can launch the magic, as her attendance on him creates the connection between them.

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They Got a Dog

When the magic starts, two things happen.  One is, Kate and Alex are enabled to send things to each other through the mailbox at the lake house, beginning with the letter she sent to the next tenant arriving instead in the past.  The other is, a dog shows up at the lake house and adopts Alex.

The dog will lead them toward each other; but his arrival at this moment has a significant impact on our interpretation.  In the original history there was no dog, and thus no paw prints leading to the front door.  That means that in the original letter Kate sent to Alex there is no mention of those paw prints.

This is not a major difficulty, though.  Kate's reason for writing is to give the "next" tenant her forwarding address, and the mention of the paw prints and the box in the attic are incidental.  Alex might or might not write back, based on his belief that she has the wrong address, there being no paw prints on the walkway and no box in the attic.  The paw prints are created in this revised (CD) history.

Because Kate's time is dependent on Alex's, she cannot receive his response until all of the events from the moment it is sent until the moment it is received are recreated.  Thus Alex cannot receive a reply from Kate.  It seems most likely that the letter will never leave the mailbox; the magic simply stops working.  At this point, Alex has no reason to suspect that there is magic at work, and he might take the letter into town later when he visits his father, only to discover that her apartment complex is a construction site.  It becomes an unresolved mystery.

The dog will do one other thing.  On the day that Alex finishes building Unit 381 of the Riviera Estates condominiums she will leap from the truck and lead him and Mona on a merry chase to the house where Kate lives with Morgan.  Morgan will invite them to Kate's birthday party.  Alex knows nothing about Kate at this point, so he won't respond as he does; but since Mona wants to do something they will probably accept the invitation, and Alex will meet Kate.  They might talk briefly outside, but at this point he knows nothing about the book and nothing about her, and certainly won't connect her with the tenant who sent the letter.  He will, however, keep them in mind when he is preparing to leave the lake house, and this will confirm the connection that causes her to take the house when she goes to Madison for her residency.

Late in 2004 the dog runs away.  It makes a brief appearance in the city when Alex gives Morgan the keys to the lake house.  Kate moves to the lake house in the late winter or early spring of 2005, on schedule, and the dog shows up then for her.

Now the dog's paw prints are on the walkway, and she mentions them in the letter.  This gives us a brief sawtooth snap, because the content of the letter changes slightly.  It also means that the content of Alex' reply changes, because having seen the paw prints created he is now curious how a previous tenant mentioned them.  This changes nothing, though, because she never got the original answer from him; that history ended on Valentine's Day when the magic begins, before she would have received it.  He still never gets an answer from her.  The rest of this (EF) history plays out as it did, including his appearance at her birthday party and his death at Daley Plaza.  The one significant difference is that the letter he put in the mailbox definitely vanished a day or two later, being transported to Kate in the future; since he still never gets a reply, he probably never visits her apartment site.

It is not noteworthy that she does not recognize him at Daley Plaza in these timelines, as their meeting at her birthday party was entirely unmemorable.  She is upset at the death of a stranger, and initiates the magic on schedule.

Taking her mentor's advice, she visits the lake house.  The flag is up on the mailbox, and it contains the reply from Alex.  The letter moving from the past to the future does not create a problem; but he apparently dated it "2004", and she responds to tell him it is 2006, and that she did not get the wrong house.

As that letter reaches him in the past, this timeline ends shortly after Valentine's Day 2006, and a new one begins shortly after Valentine's Day 2004.

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The Flag Trick

It appears that Alex and Kate both date their letters, but don't read the dates aloud as part of the script.  However, they begin to argue about the date.  This gives the dog an opportunity to explain it to them.  Again, though, because Kate's universe is dependent on the history that arises from Alex', it takes several revisions of history to resolve a relatively simple conversation.

It begins shortly after Valentine's Day 2004.  Alex received the letter from Kate mentioning the paw prints, and wrote back.  Shortly after Valentines Day 2006 Kate received that letter and replied, changing the past as the letter reaches Alex and so ending the history she knows.  He is confused as to why she thinks it's 2006, and decides to hand-deliver a letter to her when he is in town.  This leads to his confusion about the address, and he returns to the lake house and writes a new letter.

That letter will vanish from the mailbox a few days later when, two years in the future, Kate again visits the empty property and looks in the box.  However, again he never gets a reply, and this history will not be significantly different from the last.  When she sends her reply, this history ends, and the arrival of her response in the past marks the beginning of the next.

In that letter, she predicts the snow storm that hits that night.  That's twice now that she has known something that was going to happen (the pawprints were the first), and he starts to wonder whether indeed she is writing to him from the future.  He writes, "Can this be happening?" and puts it in the mailbox.

This might be the strangest moment of all for him.  While he is headed into the house, the dog Jack calls his attention to the mailbox, and he sees the flag drop.  The letter is now gone.  However, all of history must be rewritten before Kate can send her answer to that letter, so the flag will never in this history be raised.

There is a new wrinkle, though.  He was communicating with Kate Forster in the future, and perhaps half a year later he will be invited to her birthday party.  We already know that he accepts the invitation; this time, though, he might recognize the name, because that correspondence is likely to stay with him.  He might ask her about it--but of course, if it's a joke she probably won't own up to it, if it's real she doesn't know anything about it, and if it's a different Kate Forster he'll only look a fool, so he doesn't say much about it.  Their relationship is beginning to form, however, and there will be nuances of change as he wonders if this is the girl who sent those strange letters which seemed to come from the future.

Her history ends in April 2004 when she receives that message and responds, "Why not?"  She does this standing at the mailbox, and the dog who alerted Alex to the fact that the flag dropped now alerts him to the fact that it rose again, and a confused Alex returns to the mailbox to find Kate's answer.

He immediately responds to say that it seems to be happening, and Jack delays Kate long enough that she, too, will see the flag drop and rise at her end, and will find his answer.  But again Alex will not get her reply in this history, because time has to be rewritten to the point that she answers before she can answer.

We go through this once more, as she rips off a quick question in reply, creating the new history from that moment two years before, and he answers it, and both of them in this history have now seen the flag fall and rise twice.  She, though, still thinks it a conjuring trick of some sort, and leaves to ponder the matter, delaying the end of this history and the start of the next.

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Before You Ask

We have several times stated that when Alex writes to Kate, all of the history between his sending and her receiving that letter must pass.  Someone will ask why Alex' letters cannot simply leap across time to reach Kate in the future the way Kate's do when she sends them to Alex in the past.  In a sense they do.  The issue is, what future?

Let us focus on the scarf as an example.  Sometime early in April (2006) Kate sends a letter to Alex warning him of the imminent snow storm, and including a scarf.  He undoubtedly keeps the scarf, which would come to have importance to him as he learns more about his correspondent.  For our purposes, though, the issue is whether and when he has the scarf.

In one sense, it is foolish to suggest that he has the scarf before she sends it.  That is, if on March 31st 2006 you were able to look at April 30th 2004, you would find that Alex did not receive the scarf because Kate had not yet sent it.  The day before Kate sends it, Alex has not received it, because it has not been sent.

Yet the day after Kate sends it, Alex receives it in the past; and thus if on April 30th 2006 you looked at April 30th 2004, the scarf would have been there.  That means, too, that Alex (if he were alive) would already and still have the scarf the day before Kate sent it in 2006; yet we just observed that he did not have it on that day.

This is the sort of problem replacement theory attempts to resolve.  It does so by postulating that there is an original history of the universe in which nothing can arrive from the as yet undefined future.  In that original history, there is no scarf.  Any time travel from the future to the past alters the past at the moment of arrival, and so redefines history beginning from that moment forward.

There is a sense in which that redefinition can occur instantaneously, that the moment the scarf arrives in the past, all of history between its departure and its arrival has been altered to include the scarf.  Yet it also must be redefined sequentially, which for us means temporally:  the people involved must experience the changes as if in time, and thus from a certain point of view all of that history replays to form the new version.

We could make guesses concerning the impact the scarf has.  Does Mona see the scarf?  Does she ask about it?  What does Alex tell her?  Does this weaken their relationship, or strengthen it?  Little changes can have major consequences--but they do not always do so.  Not every flap of an Amazonian butterfly's wings creates a hurricane, but some do.

The problem for Alex, though, is that his letter has to reach the Kate who sent the scarf, and that means that whatever consequences will arise from his receipt of the scarf must have played out in history by the time his letter reaches her.  His letter can leap across time to reach her, but the time across which it leaps must exist in that form which flows from the point of departure to the point of arrival, and that form must be determined by the outworking of events in time.

This is why Alex replies and never gets his answer:  the answer cannot be sent until he has lived through all the events arising from the arrival of the last "time traveler", the letter he received to which he is responding.  Those events include the moment at which he will ultimately receive the next letter, but just as there had to be a history in which the scarf had not arrived replaced by a history in which it did, so too there must be a history in which the next letter does not arrive replaced by one in which it does.

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Although it takes Kate a little longer, she and Alex now have concluded that they are communicating across time.  This begins their serious correspondence as they try to get to know each other.  Over the next several weeks she sends him a letter, he receives it and replies, and she receives his answer.  Each such exchange rewrites two years' worth of history, because before she can answer her history of those two years must expand.  Thus each time he answers the newest addition to the string of letters, he never hears from her again.

The connection at the birthday party gradually morphs during this time, because he knows more and more about her and is coming to like what he learns.  He does not yet know of the book, though, which is his key to unlocking her attention that night, so it does not play quite as seen.

The other event that gradually morphs is the Daley Plaza accident.  In the original history, Alex happened to be at Daley Plaza crossing the street.  By the second revision they have met at her birthday party, and eventually he knows who she is when he meets her.  Thus it becomes plausible that being at Daley Plaza and seeing her lunching with her mother, he might be crossing the street to meet her.  Something of the confusion over the break in communications might be a factor, because the more letters she answers the more surprising it will be when an answer inevitably does not come, and so he has an extra motivation to be crossing that street in time to be hit by the bus.

The one oddity in this period of their initial interaction is the passing of the name of the dog.  Alex suggests that they have the same dog, and Kate says she calls hers "Jackie" or "Jack" but she doesn't know why.  Alex calls the dog "Jack" and it immediately reacts.

So maybe the dog's name is Jackie, and somehow it let Kate know this (it is, after all, a magic dog).  On the other hand, Alex does change his voice when he tries the name, and ordinary dogs don't really know their names--they know the sound which their humans use in addressing them, and thus a significant change in tone of voice is likely to get a dog to react as if it were responding to its name.  So it happens that Kate named the dog Jackie and then told Alex the name, and Alex named the dog Jack because it was the name Kate used, confirming the name in the dog's mind.

This is all rather straightforward until we get to the summer walking tour, at which point their interaction by letter becomes a bit fuzzy.  That will be our next discussion.

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Instant Grafitti

Alex decides to take Kate on a walking tour of Chicago, and it is at this point that the correspondence becomes conversational and confusing.

The problem is not insurmountable, in the main.  We know that he sends her a letter which includes a map marked with a tour route and a long letter describing the architectural landmarks she will encounter along the way.  She responds, her responses laced into his letter as if they were conversation; but it is evident that they are not.  In order for Kate to respond to anything Alex writes, she must write back, and she must drive to the lake house and put her answer in the mailbox.  She is not going to read part of his letter, look at the building downtown that he mentions, write her answer, drive to the lake house, put it in the mailbox, wait for his reply, and then drive back to Chicago to continue the tour--not even once, let alone several times.

We can excuse the interaction on stylistic grounds.  In the main, there is no reason why he could not have written her the one long letter saying everything he says, and she after completing the tour could compose her responses in detail for her reply.  As long as he does not specifically answer anything she specifically says in her letter, the interlacing is not problematic.  A serious problem would arise if we allowed that he could answer her questions, because if he answered them she would not ask.  They do not make that mistake.  Instead, it appears they make another.

In the end of her letter to him, she says she wishes they could have taken the walk together.  He does not answer this in a letter; instead, he gets a can of spray paint, drives to Chicago, and paints on the wall,

Kate, I'm here with you.  Thanks for the lovely Saturday together.

Because of the conversational nature of the style here, and the fact that they are using the text of the letters as the audio backdrop for the images of her tour, in essence overlaying the letter he wrote before the tour with her walk through the tour itself and the interlaced responses of the letter she wrote subsequently, she reads this as she is completing her walking tour.

It certainly seems that he painted that in response to what she wrote; she has not yet written it when she reads this.  Yet she smiles as if she takes it as the answer to the statement she has not yet made.  If so, though, she won't make that statement; it's been settled that at least in spirit he was there.  If she doesn't make the statement, though, he won't answer it.

It also sets up another problem, but it does so by being correct where later events are incorrect.  For the moment, it is sufficient to notice that he will have received her letter less than two years ago, and at some point thereafter written his answer, which has been there for the past two years and looks as if it has.  Thus it makes sense that he could have written it after she sent her response, and as she finished her tour she would have seen it.  This, though, means she has to have seen it before she sent the message to which it is the response, and underscores the problem--an infinity loop created because if she gets the answer she won't make the statement, but if she doesn't make the statement she won't get the answer.

The alternative is that he wrote the message somewhere else that she would see later, perhaps on her way to work another day.  The problem here is, if he wrote it two years ago it's either somewhere she has already seen or she isn't likely to notice it now.  This can be resolved with the odd solution to be considered next, but it's not a very good solution overall and it doesn't really fit here.  If she saw the grafitti while on her walking tour, it was already there and she received the assurance of his companionship on her tour before she requested it, and yet requested it anyway.  The stylized telling obscures the anomaly.

Or we have a different solution to consider in connection with a different problem.

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A Tree Grows

One of the most difficult events to resolve in the film concerns the appearance of a tree.

In one of their otherwise unchallenging letters (unchallenging in the sense that they communicate nothing that will so drastically change history as to be noticed) Kate mentions that she misses the trees at the lake house.  It happens, though, that Alex was that day planting those trees, a reminder that they are so compatible that he selected trees to plant that she would love when she got there.  The trees are in the back of his pickup truck, and he proceeds to plant them, but for one.  This one he takes with him into Chicago, to the address where her apartments are currently being constructed, and taking advantage of a hole in the sidewalk (the plan called for trees which were never planted) he plants his tree late in the evening just to the side of where the front door will be.

Arguably once he has planted it there, it is there, and it has been there since before she took the apartment; but if it were, she would have seen it and would not have commented about missing the other trees nor notice that this one suddenly appeared.  However, we see the tree appear.  It is at night, pouring rain, and Kate is rushing toward the door.  She stops for a moment, and the lightning flashes, and she is under the tree Alex planted two years before that has not been there in all that time.

At this point, it is reminiscent of several of the events in Frequency--the burned table, the broken radio, the destroyed hand, all events that when they happened in the past they suddenly had results in the future.  We might cite Butterfly Effect as similarly handling time, as Evan Treborn seems to jump from one version of history to another, completely unaware of the events of the new history with full memories of the one now erased.  Those movies, though, are temporal disasters, stories that do not work coherently under any theory of time.  The question is whether there is any way that the events of The Lake House can be reconciled to a theory of time--and there might be a way.

We have to this point been assuming that the magic is in the mailbox; but we already recognized first that the magic was introduced by invocation at Daley Plaza and that it also includes the appearance of the dog.  It might be that the magic is not that the mailbox carries messages between Kate and Alex, but that whenever either of them intends to send something to the other, it reaches the other when the other is in a position to receive it two years away.  If this is correct, the tree is not in front of the apartment because Alex planted it there two years ago, but because when he planted it there two years ago he was sending it to Kate in the future, and when she arrived at that place two years later, it left the past and arrived for her to receive it.

This might also explain the grafitti considered last time, provided we put it somewhere after the walking tour.  It could appear in a place she would have seen many times, two years after he wrote it.

The problem in connection with the tree, though, is that it has not leapt across two years of time.  It has grown for two years, and spread into a good-sized city tree.  It makes our magic much more complicated if the tree is to leap across two years of time into the future and age two years in the process.  We feel that it either had to be growing somewhere, logically here, for two years, or it has to arrive the same size and age it was when it was planted.  Certainly Alex' letters are not yellowed with age when Kate receives them; why should only the tree have aged?

It's the sort of complication that can't really be resolved.  We can suggest that the filmmakers didn't think of that, and it really should have been the younger tree that Kate got; or we can argue that since Alex intended to give Kate an older tree when he sent a younger one it arrived older as part of the magic; or we can imagine that when he moved the one tree that had originally been planted at the lake house, two years later that move caught up with Kate and the older tree vanished from the lake house and appeared in the city.  None of those are particularly appealing solutions, but in time travel movies sometimes mistakes are made, and this is a relatively small one .

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Happy Birthdays

It has already been noted that once Alex has the dog, he attends Kate's 2004 birthday party.  It was also said that that first time he probably does not know who she is, and he certainly does not try to strike up a conversation.  Her name was included in the one letter he got from her, but since he never heard from her again it has no meaning to him.

The first letter is replaced by the one which mentions the pawprints, and then with each letter from Kate to Alex a new history is written, and in each of those histories he attends that birthday party (in what is for him the first time), a bit more knowledgeable about the birthday girl.  A significant shift occurs the day he realizes that there is a temporal anomaly involved.  Now he knows that this person, whose name is Kate Forster, is writing to him from the future; but he knows very little else about her.

She decides to introduce herself, and gives him the first critical bit of information:  she is a doctor, and two years before was a medical student.  This time when Alex meets Morgan and hears Kate's name, and that she is a medical student interested in a lake house, he makes the connection:  This is that same person who was writing to him from the future.  Now he wants to meet her.  He does so, but it is unlikely that they make the kind of connection we see in the film.  He does not yet know enough about her.

With each repeat of history, he learns a bit more.  The significant shift occurs, though, when he recovers the book.  That night he tells her in his letter that he saw her and that he will get the book back to her somehow, but he never hears from her again and does not know why, as history plays through to the moment when she receives his letter.  Still, he reads part of the book, and it becomes the basis for the conversation that connects them.  Probably they kiss in this history, and in each subsequent one.

It is now certain that Alex can recognize Kate on sight, and so beginning probably with this history we can assume that whatever brought him to Daley Plaza on Valentines Day 2006, he was crossing the street specifically to reach her.  He knows she knows nothing about their correspondence, but he can say that they met at her birthday party two years before, so he has a connection.

We might wonder whether at that moment time is protecting itself.  After all, if Alex connects with Kate in 2006, she will never write the letters he received in 2004, and he will never recognize her.  Thus, reminiscent of The Time Machine, he is fatally prevented from meeting her because were he to do so he never would.  That answer fails, though, as surely here as it does there.  It requires deifying history such that it can know what is supposed to happen and prevent an anomaly, while allowing history to change within the permissible.  We can almost understand time travel within an immutable timeline, but if we allow that changes can be made, we must either incorporate an omnimpotent omniscient temporal protector or abandon hope that disastrous anomalies would be prevented by outside forces.

He receives the letter in which she identifies him as the stranger at the birthday party, but he will never pass through that part of the history again.  He had a chance to make an impression, and he succeeded.  It will take a while before he can take advantage of that.

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No Call No Show

It is easy to get things out of sequence when dealing with time travel stories, and part of this article speaks of an event that happened before Alex attended Kate's birthday party.  Part of it comes after that, though.

Not surprisingly, Kate and Alex talk about meeting, and doing so in her time.  She can make plans for tomorrow, and he can make plans for two years and a day hence.

The first effort should not be taken too seriously; it contains a serious danger, in fact.  Kate suggests that Alex should call her on July 10, 2006, at 9:05 P.M.  She looks at her watch, and as she writes it, the phone rings--but it is Morgan, returned from long absence and wanting to see her.

What would have happened had it been Alex?

The first problem is that she is writing a letter she will not send at least until the next day--she must drive to the lake house to put it in the mailbox there.  Thus before she mails it she will know whether he called.  As she mails the letter, though, she puts an end to this timeline, and in this timeline Alex never got the letter so he could not have called her.  She thus already knows that he did not call her; does she still mail the letter to suggest he do so?  Supposing, though, that she does, and that he was not killed at Daley Plaza, it is likely that he will call her.  Thus before she mails the letter suggesting that he call, she receives that call.  But then, does she still mail the letter?

Does the magic end when they meet in her time?  This is a significant complication as well.  If they manage to meet because of the letter before she sends the letter, and if their meeting ends the magic the letter will never be sent.  However, if the magic is created to bring them together, it is unlikely to last beyond that moment--unless we believe that once they move into the lake house together they can continue to communicate across time as long as she puts letters in the mailbox for him and he pulls them out two years in the past.

In this regard, it is fortunate that Alex died at Daley Plaza.  Had he lived, this would have been very complicated.

Perhaps she realizes the problem; perhaps it was just that the fortuitous timing of Morgan's call prevented her from realizing that her call waiting would have alerted her to the other caller.  In any case, they decide to try again.  She picks the restaurant, and he makes the reservation.  However, he died at Daley Plaza that spring, so he is not there for dinner that autumn.  It shakes her, and she decides that she is living a dream, a fantasy, that cannot be real.

She ends the relationship, stops picking up his letters or sending any of her own, and when Morgan calls decides she will accept the mundane reality instead of the wonderful fantasy.  He moves into her apartment.

A year passes during which they have no contact.  It is easy to overlook this, but nothing in the film happens in 2005 or 2007.  In 2005, Alex is working with his brother; in 2007, Kate is returning to the mundane life with Morgan.  This is important in part because 2005 is the time during which Kate lives in the lake house, and it would be at best difficult for Alex to pick up letters she sent from 2007 during that year without being noticed at some point and disrupting everything; thus the breakup is necessary to their relationship.

It is more peculiar that she makes no effort to learn what happened to him.  She apparently assumed that his life took him elsewhere and he never looked back.  This is a reflection on her own self-image, perhaps; but then, we are usually surprised to learn that people we knew have died young, so she did not consider the possibility at the time.  Probably she did not want to know why he did not show; she expected it to be a negative reflection on her.

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Real Estate

Another complicating problem is that it is necessary in each iteration of history for certain major events to happen in much the same way for entirely different reasons.  The biggest of these is that Kate must move into the lake house itself early in 2005.  Alex thus must have left it.  Then when Kate leaves the lake house, she must move into the Riviera Estates condominiums.

We have discussed the first two problems already.  Alex left the lake house shortly after the death of his father; he reconciled to working with his brother, and moved closer to the office.  Kate needed a place closer to her residency and hoped to live on the lake, so the property caught her fancy.  Yet the final problem has its own problems.

Kate leaves the lake house shortly before Valentines Day 2006 to take a job in Chicago.  She sends her forwarding address to the next tenant; it is delivered to Alex in 2004.  From that moment Kate is tampering with history, and the tampering at times gets close to her own experience.  Alex' father dies in her hospital; Alex rubs shoulders with her supervisor at that time.  Alex plants a tree in front of the apartments which he would have planted at the house.  He hides her book in the apartment she ultimately takes, tampering with the construction site before the apartments opened.  He interacts with Morgan in ways that make the latter jealous and worried.

Perhaps none of this would prevent Kate from taking the lake house.  The initial cause of her choice lay in events outside our knowledge, in the real estate agent pointing her in that direction.  Nothing that Alex does necessarily prevents her from taking the house, and so we should allow the film the benefit of the doubt, that he leaves the house and she arrives, regardless of what other changes she makes to the past.

It is less clear that she would still get the job in Chicago, or that she would move to the Riviera Condominiums.  It is entirely possible that in the original history she took a job in Madison, but that something she said to Alex in connection with the death of his father changed conditions in Chicago opening the job there.  The original history could have had her elsewhere.

There are three ways this could have made a difference.

The biggest potential problem arises from the fact that she might not have been at Daley Square.  Even had she taken a job at a different Chicago hospital her lunch with her mother might have been somewhere else in the city, and so the magic never would have been launched--she never kneels over his body trying to keep him alive wondering whether there is anyone in his life who will miss him.  That would mean there was no time travel; the story never happened at all.  Still, Daley Square is a likely place to meet for lunch if you aren't meeting at a restaurant, and the conjunction of schedules and weather means she might have met her mother here as long as she worked somewhere in Chicago.

The second potential problem here is that her supervisor would not have sent her to the lake house where she received the first letter.  That could have happened if she'd had a different job, or if the supervisor had had a different job.  Someone else might not have made the suggestion; it was not something she recognized herself.

Had she lived somewhere else, it might have impacted the story in other ways.  Alex might not have found a construction site but an occupied residence; he would have planted the tree elsewhere.  He would not have left the book in the floor of her room.

Yet none of this is impossible.  Kate wanted to work in Chicago, and the job would have been open.  The only complication is that the first letter she wrote contained her address, and the address changed.  Even that is not a problem, as it simply means we have interlocking N-jumps:  in the first version of the letter she gave a different address, but when history moved her to Riviera it happened before that first letter was written, and that timeline is repeated with the new address, triggering a repeat of all intervening timelines.

That's not so crazy as it sounds.  Already with each new letter all previous anomalies repeat, as each letter is sent anew and each response is returned again as part of the history that already was.  Wherever Kate winds up on Valentines Day 2006, that's where her first letter will say she was, and if in subsequent versions of time she moves the first letter will change such that it always gave the correct address.

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Persuaded By a Book

We have to this point glossed over the complications created by the book, in large part because what is most interesting about it is not that he acquires it but how he returns it.

We noted that Alex begins to attend Kate's 2004 birthday party in that revision of history in which he has the dog, even though at that point he does not recognize Kate as the girl who sent him the letter.  With each letter his knowledge of her grows, and thus at some point he makes the connection, that the Kate whose birthday he is attending is the same girl who is writing to him from two years in the future.  However, when she asks him to recover her book, he gets the piece he needs to connect with her at the party by asking her about the story.  Thus the book shifts that event into what we see in the film.

Yet when he receives the book, he does not immediately return it to her.  Rather, he tells her that he will do so.  It may be that his plan was to hand it to her in person in the future which for him would never come; he never explains what his original intention was.  However, it seems to have been derailed when she terminates their correspondence and refuses to read his additional letters.

She eventually finds the book in the floor of the bedroom of her apartment.  This is a very odd scene.  Undoubtedly she has been in that room almost every day since she left the lake house, and it has by now been over a year.  (It must be the Riviera Condominiums apartment--there is no way Alex could have known where she would live after that.)  Yet on this particular day she steps on the rug and realizes that the floor is loose beneath it.

This again recalls Frequency, when John tells his father to hide the wallet behind a loose board in the house and immediately retrieves it in the future.  That makes sense, because if the wallet was put there in 1969 and never removed, it will still be there in 1999 for John to find.

The problem with the same trick in The Lake House is that the floor board has to have been loose.  That is, if Alex entered the construction site in 2004 and hid the book under the floor, leaving a floorboard loose, then the floorboard was loose the day Kate moved into the apartment, and she probably discovered it long even before she asked him to recover it for her.  Yet she finds it after most of a year there, simply because she stepped on the loose board.  It is inconceivable that she would never have stepped on that board before that day; how could it not have been loose then but be loose now?

The answer would appear to be similar to the question of why the tree appears in front of her apartment:  Kate didn't find the book which, like Frank's wallet, had been hidden in the floor for two years.  In putting it in the floor, Alex sent it to her, just as he sent all the letters and the tree and the grafitti.  It does not hide under a loose floorboard.  It leaps forward two years to be hidden under a suddenly loosened floorboard in Kate's time.

This is very peculiar.  It is one thing to say that the book, like the tree and the grafitti and the letters, leapt forward two years to appear in Kate's bedroom at that time.  The problem is not so much the book as the floorboard.  If Alex entered the nearly finished apartment, loosened a floorboard, and placed the book beneath it, one of two things would have happened:  either someone would have fixed it, or they would not have done so.  If they did fix it, they probably pulled it up and noticed the book beneath it, so the book would have been removed and the floor would never have been loose.  If they did not fix it, then it would always have been loose, and she would have come upon the loose board (whether or not the book was beneath it) long before this.

That it is a magical fantasy can only explain so much; but perhaps this has to be written off to the magic.  Whether Alex fixed the floor himself or left it undone, the magic delivered the loose floorboard along with the book two years after he hid it in her future apartment.  It doesn't exactly break the rules of the story, but it stretches them a bit further than before, and it seems unlikely that Alex could have predicted that result.

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The Other Book

This probably should have been said sooner; but the convoluted plotlines of The Lake House make it difficult to recognize what is important when, and this particular event might or might not be important.  At one point, Kate sends Alex a book that has not yet been published when Alex receives it.

It occurs upon the death of his father Simon Wyler.  The book in question is a retrospective of the apparently famous architect, his life and work, replete with pictures.  It helps Alex deal with his estrangement from his father by showing him how dear he was, how much a part of his father's life he had been from his father's perspective.  It may be what enables him to move beyond being chief architect and foreman of ticky-tacky development construction projects like Riviera Estates condominiums and finally reconnect with brother Henry to form their long-dreamt architectural firm.

And therein lies the problem.  If Alex does not resolve his feelings about his father, he does not reconnect with Henry and start the firm; if he does not start the firm he does not move out of the Lake House; if he does not move out, Kate cannot move in, and they cannot communicate by the mailbox.  Yet from the moment of Simon's death two years of history must be created before Kate has the book, and thus there is a timeline in which Alex never received it.  If the book is instrumental in enabling Alex to get past his problems with his father and return to the dream, Kate never moves into the lake house.

There are two plausible solutions to this, though.

The first is that Alex manages to work through his feelings anyway; the book was incidental.  It was a nice gesture which in the replacement history helped, but it was unnecessary.  Alex was on his way to getting over it anyway, and still would have gone to work with Henry about the same time.

The second is that Alex did not in the original history get past the death of his father without that book, but that he moved out of the lake house anyway.  His father built that house, but he as a child apparently helped and lived there with his parents for a time.  It might be that rather than moving out because he was reconciled with his father and moving forward with his life, he moved because the death of his father made the house the more oppressive, a reminder of a bad relationship that would now never be made good.  He missed his chance; his father is gone.  The house that reminds him of better times now more and more reminds him of worse.

For whatever reason, it is still plausible that Alex would move out of the house in time for Kate to move into it; thus although the book had the potential to change history significantly, it might not have done so, or it might have done so in ways that did not prevent the vital events from occurring.  Either way, we know that having received the book he did not thereafter decide to stay in the lake house.  In order for the book to arrive, the original history must have included Kate taking the lake house from Alex on time, and so it must have been thus.

The fact that the book has not yet been published would only matter if Alex showed it to someone else, and there doesn't seem to be any reason for him to have done so (save perhaps to his brother Henry, but he might not have done even that and Henry already knows about the supposed time traveling letters), so the danger is minimal.  The book has little impact on anything that matters.

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Visionary Coincidence

It just so happens; it happens just so.

In The Phantom it is said that every movie is permitted one incredible coincidence.  What is remarkable at this point, though, is not so much that Kate Forster drags her boyfriend Morgan to the very architectural firm founded by Alex Wyler and his brother Henry, but that after all the contact she had with Alex and her attention to the death of his father Simon and the delivery of the book about Simon Wyler's life it never occurred to her that the architect Henry Wyler might be related to the architect Alex Wyler with whom she had so intimately corresponded.

It would have worked better if Henry had been a sister, married and thus with a different name; but then, the relationship between Alex and his little brother is what gives rise to the creation of Visionary Vanguard Associates, their architectural firm founded about the time Kate moved into the lake house, late 2004 or early 2005.  So perhaps Kate never heard Henry's name until that meeting; that won't work, though, because at the meeting he specifically says that they spoke about the design approach previously, and so she must have been introduced to him then.  Maybe Wyler is so common a name that it did not occur to her they might be related, like Jones or Smith.  There might be plenty of Wylers--the people who make the lemonade, and...well, the people who make the lemonade, at least.  So it didn't occur to her that architect Henry Wyler might be related to those other two architects with that name.  My personal experience is that even with a name like Young people ask if you're related to someone they know, but not everyone does, so perhaps it just never occurred to this bright young doctor.

It does not compute.  The notion that it would never occur to Kate Forster that Henry Wyler might be related to Alex Wyler seems incomprehensible.  It ought to snap our disbelief suspenders.

Somehow, though, she does not make the connection until she sees Alex' sketches of the lake house.  This then sets up the final and fatal anomaly of the film, the one which changes everything.  Kate makes the connection, that the man who died almost in her arms at Daley Plaza two years ago to the day was the man with whom she had her correspondence, and she decides to save his life by sending him the last letter to warn him.

The problems of that letter are so major that--well, this changes everything, and hopefully we can see it all.

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This Changes Everything

It is Valentine's Day 2008, and Kate Forster has just discovered that the man she could not save at Daley Plaza was Alex Wyler.  Meanwhile, it is also Valentine's Day 2006, and Kate Forster plans to have lunch with her mother at Daley Plaza, and Alex Wyler has remembered her mention of the accident there.  He in 2006 is rushing to the lake house to check her old letters to confirm time and place so he can find her.  She in 2008 is rushing to the lake house to send him the letter that will warn him away from his fatal accident.

We already considered the problem that he has to be there for some other reason in the original history, even though the only reason we know for him to be there is that he got her letter.  Now she is undoing that.  Yet his death was the triggering event for the magic; if he does not die at Daley Plaza he never gets any of the letters and none of this happens; if none of it happens he dies at Daley Plaza and gets the letters.  It is an infinity loop; time is destroyed.

Yet that is only one of the complications.

If he was not killed at Daley Plaza, why did he not call her on July 10th, 2006, at 9:05 PM, as she suggested?  Her phone rang and it was Morgan, but even cheap cell phones alert the user to a second incoming call.  Yet if he called, that derails the rest of the letters, and again we are thrown into a major anomaly.

The same problem presents itself more boldly when he does not show at the restaurant.  If he was not killed at Daley Plaza, why would he not be there?  If he is there, the story ends, they have met, and she never sends the last letter to save his life.

So the big problems are that if he lives the entire story becomes impossible, in multiple ways.

There is also a little problem that has to do with the magic of the mailbox.  When Kate put a letter in the mailbox shortly before Valentine's Day 2006, she raised the flag.  The magic suggests that the flag would stay raised until Alex removed the letter shortly after Valentine's Day 2004, but that the letter was in both locations starting the moment he is killed at Daley Plaza on Valentine's Day.  When in 2006 Kate puts a letter in the mailbox, it is Valentine's Day, and the magic has not yet started.  That letter will cause the flag to rise as it arrives in 2006--but the flag is already up in 2006, because her letter to him is there waiting for the next resident.  So when he arrives the flag is up because her departing letter is in it which he received in 2004, and when he is leaving it is still up.  It is not logical that he would check the mailbox as he is leaving.  Either he saw the flag upon arrival and checked it then (when the letter was not yet there, since if it were he would not have checked the letters in the box) or he ignored the flag in his haste to reach Kate.  If he checked upon arrival, he saw the old letter and would not check again upon departure.  If he did not check upon arrival it would be because he did not think it important, and he would not be likely to think it more important upon departure.  The flag does not tell him there is a new letter, because it is already up for the old one.

That, though, is of small consequence--just one of those annoying details that seems to have been overlooked in trying to weave a good story with a time travel element.  The big disaster is that the entire story depends on Alex dying in that accident, and when Kate prevents that, she undoes it all, the story unravels, and we are left with seven impossible things before breakfast, any one of which should make the movie indigestible.

It is a pleasant love story, but a terrible time travel tale.

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A Reader Objection:  The Fixed Time Solution

In comments to Before You Ask, Fred says:

However, time travel does not require multiple universes or alternate ones where all the time must passs [sic] before the next reaction.  A common mistake I see here. It isn't predestination if it is time travel in the film, it is just that the future has happened already.  Remember Kate is sending letters into the past.  She did not travel in time herself, just her letters.  When Kate changes the past and Alex survives....ia [sic] a plot flaw.  See the Twelve Monkeys if you are still confused.

Let me start by saying that I have seen 12 Monkeys and that I am not at all confused.  Fred clearly is an advocate of fixed time theory; I have elsewhere given reasons why I find it and multiple dimension theory untenable.

Apart from my personal opinions, though, it is evident that in the movie as shown Kate does alter the past when she saves Alex' life.  Fred would dismiss this as a mistake, that since it does not work under fixed time the movie is wrong.  It may be that something in the movie is impossible under any theory of time; it is inappropriate to say that it is impossible simply because it does not work under the ones Fred or I happen to prefer.

Having concluded that it is impossible under fixed time theory, I am addressing what happens under replacement theory.  That theory has the advantage that generally characters can do what they choose, except if they manage to destroy time such that they no longer exist.

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A Reader Question:  Is It Really About the Dog?

In response to that same section, Korean Love Doctor says:

So now I have read article and commentary and the time travel involves the dog mainly? I had assumed before it was more about mailbox than the dog.

It's not really about the mailbox or the dog.  It is about the connection created between Kate and Alex when he dies in her arms at Daley Plaza.  The dog comes into the story to bring them together, and thus is probably part of the magic; the mailbox serves as a catalyst by which they express their intentions to send objects to each other, but he sends both the tree and the book by other means.

I would not expect a sequel, but I am not generally consulted nor informed about such matters.

Yesterday I saw Hot Tub Time Machine and I saw it was coming to dvd.  How soon can we expect review?

Someone promised me a review copy, but it has not yet materialized.  There is some interest in it, so I will probably prioritize it once I can get it.

Do you think they will ever make a time travel film where someone prevents Jesus from crucifiction?  I think this would be an interesting plot.  Will you film it?

I suspect that such a film would be too controversial in this generation, and so would not be made.  I am not a filmmaker, so I would not expect to have to decide the question.

Ghost Rider...was a time travel film but I have not yet seen your review.

I have not seen Ghost Rider, but you are the first person to suggest to me it might have time travel elements in it.  I won't predict when I will analyze a film; there are too many variables, including demand for recent releases like The Time Traveler's Wife (slated for our next series) and Hot Tub Time Machine (which you mentioned), along with what is available to me (which includes Premonition, Timeline, and Next all awaiting my attention).  If it has time travel elements and there is an interest in it, I will add it to the list of movies I am trying to find, but that's a rather long list of which S. Darko, La Jette, and Turtles in Time have all been requested.

As always, thank you for your questions.

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