We first released a short summary hitting the major temporal problems, and then with the video release we presented a more complete analysis. Since the complete analysis assumed some familiarity with the brief one, we have combined them here, presenting the original separate first article as the first section, and then running the series beginning with the second section.
In conclusion, well, we didn't expect it to work, and we observed that it doesn't, but it has given us a lot more unworkable nonsense for our dollar and proved to be a fun film. Kudos particularly to Brolin's portrayal of the young K.
The third feature film in the Men in Black franchise has done well since its May 25th release. Although we were awaiting a video copy before doing a formal and complete analysis of the film, a quick look was certainly appropriate.
The story, from our perspective, begins in 1969 when a young K arrests an alien named Boris the Animal and imprisons him on a specially built prison on the moon, setting up a protective shield around the earth that prevents an alien invasion. It is now 2012 and Boris escapes, comes to Earth, and gets one of apparently only two time travel devices from the son of a fellow prisoner. He travels back to 1969 intent on killing K--and he succeeds.
Followers of this site will recognize immediately that this will cause an infinity loop: there is no Boris in prison to escape and travel to the past, and no reason for the Boris who is alive to think he needs to do so, and thus the older Animal will not arrive in the past, and will not kill K, and so will not interfere with his own arrest, putting us back into the original history. If we stretch Niven's Law we might get there, as dubious as that theory is.
That, though, is only part of the problem. The next day J is the only person alive who remembers that K was alive the day before. It is not as if no one remembers J, whom K recruited and trained and partnered for all these years, but as if they all remember some alternate history in which K died in 1969 but J was recruited anyway--and like Evan Treborn remembers only the history that has been erased. Why he can remember this is a complete mystery, but he persuades O, who sends him to get the other time travel device. J remembers a bit of Boris' killing spree prior to reaching K, and so travels to the day before Boris arrives, intending to kill Boris before Boris reaches K.
Fortunately things do not go as planned, Boris escapes, and the younger K arrests J and gets enough of the truth from him to work together on catching Boris. J manages to kill the older Boris, so saving K; then Boris kills a security officer (who is J's father), and offers to surrender to arrest. However, knowing what he knows about the future, K kills Boris.
This gives us three more problems. First is the same problem in a different form, that if Boris is killed in 1969 he does not escape from prison in 2012 and so does not travel back to kill K and we have that original infinity loop for a different reason. The second is that if Boris does not escape from prison and make that trip, then K never died and J never noticed anything and did not travel to the past to fix it, which means everything he changed is restored to the original state in which K dies, and we have another infinity loop (one which we cannot ever have because the first one prevents the second). Third, without the knowledge of the future J brings to the past, K won't kill a surrendering alien but will arrest him, and we return to the original history in which Boris is in prison on the moon--yet another infinity loop based on J's trip to the past.
There are many other temporal quirks, connected to such things as the abilities of the alien Griffin, which we will look at in detail.
That quick temporal survey was accurate as far as it went but was by necessity brief. This series was then promised, to delve into it in more detail. It will repeat some of what was already covered, but will also address additional issues including Griffin's relationship to time.
To begin at the beginning, we know that on July 15th, 1969, Boris the Animal, a Boglodite from Boglodotia, killed several aliens, including Roman the Fabulist at Coney Island, probably another not named at a bowling alley, and one not identified, possibly Cindy, at a club known as The Factory. The next day K shot Boris at Cape Canaveral, destroying the alien's left arm and taking him into custody, and arranged for the LunarMax prison to be built in which to contain this extremely dangerous alien prisoner. Boglodites are a plague that devours planets, and Earth is their next target.
Griffin the Archanan was not killed on the 15th, but met K at The Factory and arranged to meet him later; since J was not there to solve the puzzle of the amazing game that had not yet been played, some other clue for some other meeting place must have been used. In any case, K received the Arc Net Defense System from Griffin, and on the 16th placed it on the tip of the rocket for the Apollo moon landing mission so that it would protect Earth from the invading Boglodites. Griffin may have helped with this, but in a different way than he does in the film. It is also certain that J's father, the Colonel, was killed protecting K, and thus that K met James, who will become J; he does not know that this is his future partner.
One of the problems with time travel in a series is that the events of the trip to the past might well impact events in previous movies. In this case we have the fact that K ultimately recruits J to work for the Men in Black organization (presumably in 1997, the year Men in Black was released). J gradually learns what he needs to know and becomes a senior agent as K's partner. Most of the details of this are in the first film, the second (Men in Black II, 2002) giving us an account of J restoring K to the agency after he had retired and been neuralized (that is, had his memory erased). It is also of some significance that in each of those films the partners save the earth from alien attack.
All this matters because it is about to be undone.
At the end of this history, Boris the Animal escapes from LunarMax (presumably in 2012), kills time travel inventor Obadiah Price, and steals a ship which takes him to earth. Once there he finds Jeffrey Price, and arranges to travel to July 16th, 1969, with the intention of killing K before K can shoot his arm and arrest him, which will make possible a Boglodite invasion of Earth and the preservation of their predatory species. Before he leaves, however, he tries to kill K in 2012, apparently in the hope that he will have the pleasure of killing the same person twice. He fails to do so, thanks in part to J's intervention, but leaves the scene alive.
Later that night, K calls J, makes some cryptic comments about regret, J hangs up, K arms himself to await Boris. Boris, however, is not coming in 2012. He is leaping off a building to make a time jump (yes, they make that pun explicitly) and as he does so, K ceases to have existed in 2012. It is at this point that our problems arise.
We can surmise what Boris did upon reaching July 16th, 1969 based on what we are told in 2012; we will begin with that rewritten history and then address the problems of how we know it.
Old Boris does not arrive until July 16th, and therefore has no impact on the events of July 15th. Thus Young Boris still kills Roman, probably the bowling alley manager, and probably Cindy, but Griffin survives and passes the Arc Net to K. K travels to Cape Canaveral, where Young Boris has gone to prevent implementation of the Arc Net system (he apparently knows that it must be launched atop that rocket, and not (gaping plot hole) aboard one of the alien vessels constantly moving in and out of the Men in Black terminal in New York). Old Boris, though, has already contacted Young Boris, and planned to double-team K. Between them, they kill K and either take or destroy the defense system so that it is never implemented. However, something K does chases Boris from Earth, back to Boglodotia.
We are told that Boglodotia is twenty light years away, and that this was forty years ago. Those are both approximations--in his eulogy, K says that he worked with Zed for forty years, but in 1969 there is no sign of a younger Zed, and X is in charge of the operation. Thus it must have taken Boris about twenty years to return to Boglodotia, and about twenty years to return to Earth with the invasion fleet.
Meanwhile, K has died; someone else is their best agent. When the galaxy on Orion's belt is threatened in Men in Black, some other agent takes the lead. It is not impossible that the world would be saved by someone else, and the fact that it exists in 2012 tells us it was.
More problematic, though, is the recruitment of Agent J. We know (from the end of this movie) that K has been watching J since he was the preschool son of the man who saved his life. When MiB was looking for a new agent, K pushed for J (in the first film), insisting to Zed that he should be recruited. None of that can happen in this history, and we are faced with the issue of how J was recruited if not by K.
That is not impossible to resolve, however. We also know that J met K because J was chasing an alien; probably J would have been noticed by whatever agent was involved in that case, and since in the first movie we readily accept that J was recruited for merits displayed (not for a preexisting relationship with K), it is not difficult to imagine that some other agent, unknown to us, pushed for J. That agent might since have retired or been killed, explaining why J is the senior to a junior partner, AA.
Similarly, J and some other agent save the princess and return her home to save her world in Men in Black II. K's involvement in the unseen backstory is not a factor.
This brings us to 2012 and the events of the film. Boris is not in LunarMax. Since LunarMax was built to house Boris, and the other prisoners held there were added subsequently to this already existing maximum security prison, it may be that it does not exist, and those prisoners are incarcerated elsewhere. It is clear, however, that Boris does not learn about Obadiah Price's time travel gear, and does not escape from Lunar Max. He does not travel to the past--and because he does not depart from the future, he cannot arrive in the past, which means he cannot help his younger self kill K. We have an infinity loop, history trapped in two alternate versions and unable to continue.
The scriptwriters being oblivious to this continue the story anyway, introducing more problems.
Help me understand this. In 1969 everything hinges on getting the Arc Net in place, to repel the Boglodotian invasion. Griffin makes the point that if they are stopped here, at earth, they will starve before they can reach the next planet. In the original history, K activates the shield, and by 2012 all records say that the Boglodites are extinct, and thus Griffin apparently was right. So far, so good.
Now we hit the second history, in which Boris kills K but flees from Earth back to Boglodotia. Because it is twenty light years away, it takes about twenty years for him to get there; it then takes another twenty years for the Boglodotian fleet to reach earth, so we're looking at roughly forty years round trip. Since there is no Arc Net defense, the Boglodotian attack is not impeded.
Wait--why were the Boglodotians extinct? The answer seems to be that they could not survive long enough to reach any planet other than Earth; but it took forty years for them to reach Earth, so they obviously could survive those forty years without conquering Earth. So perhaps they were destroyed by the Arc Net--but the Arc Net defends the planet, and they would have to have made the trip across twenty light years after being notified that Earth was ripe for destruction. Thus there seems no simple way for the Boglodites to be extinct at this point.
We might suppose, in search of a solution, that Boris has some means of contacting Boglodotia via a faster-than-light communicator to let them know to launch the attack, but that in the second history, although K is killed by Old Boris, the communications system is destroyed and Young Boris must make the trip back to Boglodotia. Following this line, in the original history Boris must have sent the call for the Boglodotian fleet to begin, and twenty years later, around 1990, it encountered the Arc Net and was destroyed, causing the extinction of the race; they would have lived another twenty or thirty years apart from that, so had plenty of time to make the trip still when Boris carried the message to them in the second history. They would not live long enough to make it to the next nearest suitable victims.
The problem with this supposition is that Boris knows, in the original history, that K has activated the Arc Net, so he knows the fleet will be destroyed. The only solution is that he must be arrogant enough to have ordered the attack before he obtained or destroyed the Arc Net, and then could not recall the attackers. This then hits the snag that if he was so arrogant in the first history, why was he not so arrogant in subsequent histories? The only obvious answer is that the arrival of Old Boris persuades Young Boris that he had better not call for the fleet until he knows he has succeeded; that means he did not call for the fleet in the original history until early on the morning of the 16th, because it has to have been after Old Boris arrived in subsequent histories.
So we have an original history in which Boris, on the morning of the 16th, summons the fleet, and then attempts to get the Arc Net, failing and being jailed; the fleet arrives twenty years later and is destroyed by the activated Arc Net. In our second history, Old Boris arrives before Young Boris sends the signal, but together they succeed in killing K and preventing the activation of the Arc Net; however, the communication device is destroyed, so Young Boris must travel to Boglodotia to bring the fleet, and it takes forty years for the invasion fleet to arrive, at which point there is no defense. In the third history, it does not much matter, but we conclude that Young Boris does not send the signal and does not make the trip, and therefore the fleet never comes, and the Boglodotians become extinct by starvation when they have no signal calling them to attack. When they become extinct is more problematic, but we aren't there yet.
"Where there is death there will always be death."
These words from Griffin the Arcanan explain to us why the Colonel dies when K lives; but they give us a lot of questions, and particularly about that incident.
What Griffin appears to be saying, or at least what J ultimately understands him to mean, is that if someone dies in a particular event in time, someone must die at that event, although you can change who dies. There are a couple of problems with this, though.
The first is rather obvious. We have in the original history that J barely knew his father, because his father was the Colonel, killed protecting K in 1969; in the third history, we again have the Colonel protecting K and dying so K would live. In the second history, though, K dies; does that mean that J's father lived? It seems an inescapable conclusion, that if K's survival means the Colonel's death, then K's death means the Colonel's survival. Yet J never indicates any memory of his father having been alive in those years. We might excuse this, though, since one of the symptoms of J's "temporal fracture" appears to be that he remembers the history that has been erased, not the history that replaced it. It does complicate the matter of how J became an agent, because his life was very different.
There is another problem. In the original history, only the Colonel died. In the final history, the Colonel died and so did Boris--twice, as both Old Boris and Young Boris died. Thus we have at least two deaths, arguably three, in the final history, but only one in the original history. Further, if the principle holds, then someone had to die at Coney Island, at the bowling alley, and at The Factory; it was just a matter of who died.
It is even more complicated by the extinction of the Boglodite race, who in at least one version of history must have been killed by the Arc Net, but in another version survived to attack Earth considerably later. Who died when the Boglodites lived? Twenty years later, who lived when the humans died?
Thus the rule is applied very inconsistently. Besides, it is inconsistent with Griffin's ability to see an infinite number of possible futures, as there must be better futures and worse ones, futures in which millions die in tragedies and other futures in which they live many years as the tragedy is averted. The threat of meteorite impact at the end of the film is exactly this sort of disaster: people will die if it hits, but who will die instead if it misses? It would be an interesting concept for an alternate realities or time travel movie, but it is not really a rule in this one, it's only an idea that is used for a plot point and ignored outside of that one incident. There is no such rule in the reality portrayed.
There are a few points that catch the attention as potentially problematic that ought to be addressed before we continue with the analysis.
The first is one familiar to those who follow these columns: we have a genetic issue, as we discussed in some detail in connection with Timeline. It is not as complicated this time, though. We have a girl who is arguably attractive, who is smitten with Boris the Animal, apparently communicating with him. He uses her to escape, and allows her to die with his jailers. However, it is evident that in this, the original, history she is rejecting other suitors, some of whom will persist instead of turning their attention elsewhere; and probably some who have focused on her as the desired girl will miss opportunities with other girls who would have been interested had the men noticed them. Since in the second and final timelines Boris is not in jail, he does not woo her (or anyone else), and she does not become fixated on him. That creates an entirely different dynamic, as we do not know whether she finds someone else or remains a wild card. It means that there is a shift in the singles world, and people will pair up differently. Different children will be born.
Our beauty, though, is still relatively young; none of the changes to the population will be terribly significant, and it is unlikely to interfere with any of the events or major players in the story.
The second problem is a seeming gap in the records. When J researches Boris the Animal, he is told that Boris was responsible for a series of murders on July 15th, and in giving him the details it first mentions Roman the Fabulist and then jumps to a murder at The Factory; J interrupts it and so does not hear who was murdered at The Factory. However, it is clear that Boris also murdered the manager of the bowling alley. Quite apart from Griffin's notion that where there is death there will always be death, it is clear that Old Boris did not arrive until the 16th and therefore did not interfere with anything on the 15th, and that K's only clue takes him to the bowling alley with or without J, which is also the only clue Boris has. Thus in the original history Boris must have killed the bowling alley manager, and must have done so before going to The Factory, and K must have discovered it, and thus the bowling alley killing ought to have been in the report between the slaying of Roman and the attack at The Factory. It isn't.
It is possible that the report puts the attacks in a non-chronological order. It may be that of the three slayings that day, Roman the Fabulist was the most important alien, whoever was killed at The Factory (probably Cindy) was next, and the bowling alley manager was considered least important. That would mean that the report included that murder, but J cut the information short before reaching it.
The time jump is also strangely challenging. It appears that our travelers leap far into prehistory, into ages before the dawn of man, and then are pulled forward to their target time. It also appears that during this transition they are visible to the world in the times through which they pass--J is joined by jumpers from the 1929 Wall Street crash. That suggests that each jump pulls history back eons, to be rewritten from the earliest moment in the past forward. However, even given this as the reality, the experience would not be different for anyone, as no one would be aware of time repeating and in a sense that time has already passed when the traveler reaches his destination.
The other complication it raises, though, is why the time jumper does not see every other time jumper, and indeed given that they all jump from the same building, why do they not all collide with each other? The millions of years that they have to cover in less than a thousand feet mean that they would be in roughly the same positions at some point in their movement. This kind of problem frequently arises when time travel must occur in a particular place and the traveler appears to pass through every minute--an issue examined in discussing The Time Machine. It's not good for the story, but there is no logical reason why time travelers would not see each other, and particularly if they are leaping from the same building and traveling from and to times quite near each other.
With those points addressed, we will continue the analysis.
It should be impossible for us to reach the second anomaly of this film. As we noted, Boris has created an infinity loop, and at the moment he either departs or fails to depart for the past, time screeches to a halt, unable to advance beyond that moment. However, whether they were applying some version of Niven's Law or didn't know better or simply didn't care, the scriptwriters assumed that time could continue, and that J could remember events from the other history.
This is peculiar, and suggests some sort of multiple dimension theory, that somehow J got moved to a world he does not know--something like seemed to have happened to Evan in Butterfly Effect, and as with that film, if it is parallel dimensions, where is the version of himself whom he displaced? The fact that J returns to a future in which K knows the events of the past makes it doubly complicated. We could imagine that Boris leaps to a parallel past and kills K, but why would J be moved from his own dimension (in which K was not killed) to the one Boris changed, and where is the version of J that always lived in that dimension?
That ultimately becomes the problem for nearly any theory of time here: Agents AA, O, and several others all conversed with J yesterday in a world in which K died in 1969, but this J never conversed with any of them and has no recollection of those conversations. Where is the J who lived through that history? And if somehow his leap to the past put him in a different dimension, then either he would have returned to a future in which he never arrived in the past and so never saved K, or he would have returned to a future in which there is a J who never traveled to the past.
On the other hand, if there is only one universe, ultimately one history of the world, how can J remember the history that now has never happened? Jeffrey Price says that J remembers the other timeline because he was there, by which presumably he means J was present for critical events in 1969. This might mean what it means in fixed time theory, typified by the suggestion in Kate and Leopold that Kate was already in the past and married Leopold then, that J is going to succeed in visiting the past because he was already in the past; that, though, is unworkable here, because we know that history changed when Boris killed K, and again when J saved him, and in at least one other instance. There then must have been an original history in which J was not there in that sense, and of course this is confirmed by the fact that history changes--if Jeffrey meant that J was in the past as his older time traveling self, then whatever J was going to do in the past would have been done, and the Boglodites would have been destroyed.
Thus it seems that Jeffrey means J remembers because his younger self is involved in the events. Indeed, the younger J, James, is just out of view when the Colonel gets killed and K kills Boris, and within a few miles of the climactic events of the story, and so in that sense he was in fact there. On the other hand, Agent O is also involved, meeting time traveling J and interacting with K along the way; why does she not remember those events as well? Thus Jeffrey cannot mean either that the older J remembers because he was there as the older J--he was not there as the older J in either the original history he remembered or the history Boris created--nor that the older J remembers because the younger J was there.
It was a fun idea, but not a plausible one.
Next we start looking at Griffin.
The most confusing part of the story, temporally, is the way Griffin interacts with time. There are several problems with this.
To begin our approach, we will quote a statement he makes about his knowledge of futures:
So many futures, and they're all real, just don't know which one will coalesce, Until then, they're all happening.
Similarly, Agent W describes him as
A fifth-dimensional being...[who] can live in and visualize an infinite set of time-space probabilities simultaneously.
The first quote seems to tell us that there is only one actual history, that when you are looking at the future there might be an infinite set of possible futures based on the combination of free choices and random events, but once it happens it has narrowed to one single history. When he says that "negative possibilities are multiplying as we speak" he does not mean that the number of possible negative futures is increasing, but that the probability of a positive one is decreasing. If we take it thus, then Griffin has more in common with Frank Cadillac of Next or Agatha of Minority Report than with Frank Sullivan of Frequency--that is, he does not know the future, but like Maud'Dib he can see all possible futures and perhaps by his own choices and actions help determine which one will become the sole reality.
The problem is that this does not fit well against the vision of the Mets game. Griffin calls it his favorite moment in human history, because of how everything happened just right for the Mets, perpetual losers, to win the World Series. At the moment Griffin is watching the game, it has not yet happened, and he even comments that the version he is watching is almost over, "unless this is the one where Robinson bad-hops it past third....", suggesting that there are still multiple possible futures of that game, and presumably that the Mets don't win them all. The problem is that J, also watching this game, is from a future in which that game was played forty years before, in which Robinson did not bad-hop it past third. If the Mets don't win that game, and the way history records it, then J cannot be present in that past. That means that once J arrives in the past, the probabilities of different futures narrow drastically--or, if they don't, then it makes no sense for Griffin to speak of the miracle game, because from his perspective it's only one possible future: the Mets could lose; they could fail to make it to the playoffs. We might analogize it to a girl sitting in her eighth grade classroom thinking about what life would be like if she married this boy, or that boy, or the other boy, for each of her male classmates, and then saying what a wonderful life she will have married to that particular one, ignoring the fact that she could marry any of them, or none of them. Griffin cannot know that the Mets are going to win if all futures are possible. He can only know whether it is a possible future, and perhaps how probable it is. He could as easily be watching his favorite future history, in which the Cubs win in 1969.
There is another problem with Griffin's ability, and that is the inconsistencies of connections of unrelated events--whether J drank chocolate milk this morning impacts how Boris enters the room, or whether K leaves a tip is important for whether a meteor becomes a meteorite. That, though, will require a bit more discussion.
At the end of the film, K and J leave a diner, and the camera pans to Griffin the Arcanan sitting a short distance from them, commenting that this is his new favorite moment in human history--unless it is the one where K forgot to leave a tip. A quick look shows there is no tip, and Griffin looks up, taking our view out to orbital space where we see a large meteor approaching Earth. We return to the diner to see K run back to the counter to leave a tip, where he says, "Almost forgot", and then back to space to see the asteroid collide with a satellite, shattering into harmless fragments. "That was a close one," Griffin says, a line he has used before when he could see a potentially bad future which did not happen. Thus it seems that whether or not K left a tip was connected to whether or not a meteorite would hit the planet.
In a similar example, Griffin announces that Boris is about to enter The Factory through the door, and begins a countdown, then interrupts it to ask J whether he had chocolate milk that morning (which in one sense he did, and in another not, because he had chocolate milk before he left from 2012). This being affirmed, Griffin realizes Boris will enter through the window and kill Cindy.
Yet we are told that Griffin can experience an infinite number of possible futures, so we are faced with the question of why the futures are limited in these odd ways.
Taking the first example, the trajectory of the meteor has been determined by the moment it broke from whatever origin it had combined with its orbit and the interaction of that orbit with the gravity of other objects. The trajectory of the satellite similarly is dependent on when it was launched and what orbit it assumed. There is no problem with the possibility that a very slight difference in the history of either object would make a difference between their improbable collision with each other and the more probable collision with us. Whether K leaves a tip is dependent on how distracted and rushed he is. His memory has no impact on the satellite or the meteor.
Looked at from the other end, if there is a possibility that the meteorite would hit the planet, and a possibility that the satellite would collide with it; and based on entirely unrelated factors there is a possibility that K would leave a tip and a possibility that he would forget, then we ought to have all four combinations: tip, meteor; tip, meteorite; no tip, meteor; no tip, meteorite. Unless there is some causal link between K's tip and the path of one of those two objects, neither should be predictable based on the other.
We might hazard the idea that K's distraction was based on some event that also affected the launching of the satellite (not that far a stretch, if we assume that the Men in Black traffic control system interfaces with NASA launches, and accept that K thinks a lot about the movement of aliens on and off planet). It is improbable but not impossible. The second example, though, is considerably more difficult. The chocolate milk J drank will not exist for forty years, so any change in Boris' entrance based on that would have to be based on the fact that he saw J at Coney Island (we don't know that he did), and that J having had chocolate milk made him look different--or perhaps having had the chocolate milk he was not suffering from a temporal fracture headache and his actions were different. Yet the way Griffin tells it, these seemingly unrelated events are connected to each other in ways that make only specific sets possible. If given everything else we have established J drank chocolate milk forty years in the future before coming to this time earlier today, then Boris cannot possibly enter through the door, and instead will come through the window; if given everything else K fails to leave a tip then the meteorite will hit the earth, but if he remembers something will prevent it. What seem to us to be possible combinations of unrelated events are somehow connected.
That is, it would be as if were I to go to the movies tomorrow night, you, whoever you are who only knows me through my writing, would dine at an upscale restaurant, but if I were to rent a video and watch it at home, you would eat at a fast food joint. There is no logical reason why my entertainment choice and your dining arrangements should affect each other, but in Griffin's world they seem to do so, and that is not rational.
Before J makes his trip to the past, he outlines his intention to Jeffrey. He knows that Old Boris leapt to July 16th, 1969, and he knows that on July 15th, 1969, Young Boris killed Roman the Fabulist at Coney Island and then committed at least one other murder. He intends to travel to July 15th, hopefully prevent Roman's death, and certainly kill Young Boris. His expectation is that if he kills Young Boris, Young Boris will never be arrested and imprisoned, and so will never become Old Boris and escape from prison, and so will never travel to the past, and so will never kill K, so K will be alive in the future. (This denies the common understanding of Niven's Law.)
It is difficult to argue against the logic of that. The problem is that J does not think it through beyond the outcome he wants. That is, since K will be alive in the future, J will not suffer from temporal fracture, will not figure out that Old Boris is going to travel to the past, will not himself travel to the past, and so will not kill Young Boris and not prevent all the events that lead to K's death. It would be an infinity loop.
We could say that it is fortunate that this does not happen. Unfortunately, even though J does not kill Young Boris, K does; worse, there is no reason to think that K has any motivation to do so other than his interactions with travelers from the future. J told him to kill Boris; J also told him that there would be two Borises at Cape Canaveral, and K faced both of them. Thus whether K kills Young Boris because J told him to, or because having faced Old Boris he concluded that arresting Young Boris would be a mistake, when he pulls that trigger he kills his basis for doing so. Thus the infinity loop we avoid when J fails to kill Young Boris at Coney Island catches us when K does so at Canaveral.
This is the major anomaly in the story, that is, we spend most of the film creating the events of this history. As already noted, we can't get here because of the previous anomaly; but the events of this history undo themselves just as surely as the events of the previous history.
Of course, we expected absurdities as soon as we saw the Men in Black name; and they have been delivered.
In the original history the Boglodites are extinct; in the final history, K confirms they are extinct. In the intervening history, they attack in 2012. When and why do they become extinct?
As we previously suggested, in the original history they must have been destroyed by the Arc Net defense, and it must have taken their fleet twenty years to make the trip, from the moment Boris arrogantly summoned them prior to his failed attempt to prevent Arc Net implementation. Hitting the Arc Net, they were destroyed, in or about 1990.
In the second history, Boris does not send the summons, but travels to get the fleet. It takes about twenty years each direction, so the attack arrives in 2012. We thus know that the Boglodites can survive until 2012 without attacking anyone before that; if, as Griffin asserts, they will starve before they can reach another planet, it will take longer than forty years to happen.
To get this result, we had to assume
On those assumptions, we know that in the final history Boris never summons the fleet, so they never come, so they are not destroyed by the Arc Net. We also know that they will not starve before 2012, so they have not yet starved to death. We are left with two possible scenarios.
First, it might be that when they were stationary all that time and facing starvation some other galactic power finished them. It would have to have been after 1990; in the altered history after Boris brings the message in 1990 they are already moving toward Earth at near light speed and so escape this destruction.
Alternatively, they are not yet extinct, but for practical purposes they are nearly so, such that the fleet cannot reach food before it collapses and no one will help. It stretches the concept of "extinct", but not unreasonably so.
This all feeds back to Griffin's notion that where there is death there will always be death, but it is unavoidably the case that the Boglovites die at different times in different histories. In the original history, they arrived around 1990 and were destroyed by the Arc Net defense system. In the second history, Boris reached them around 1990, and they began the journey which brought them to Earth in 2012. In the final history, they remained where they were, either to be attacked and destroyed sometime between 1990 and 2012, or to be on the verge of starvation by 2012 dying sometime not long thereafter.
There are several loops in the film, but the clearest of them pertains to a quote.
We first encounter it when K, in 2012, applies it to himself: "I don't ask questions I don't want to know the answer to." He is stating it by way of advice to J, who is asking questions K does not want to answer. J finds this stonewalling completely unreasonable.
The quote morphs when it is repeated by O, who makes it direct advice to J, "Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to." J acknowledges it as the same thing K told him, and O says that K is very wise.
It then recurs in the mouth of J, in the form, "A wise man once told me don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to," to K in 1969. K somehow realizes that he is the one who said it, although he asks in a way that suggests he is not certain: "I said that, didn't I?"
It thus appears that J gave K the quote that K subsequently gave J, K incidentally giving it to O along the way. It is what we call a predestination paradox, in which some event is its own cause. It is a popular trope in fixed time theory stories, but since history changes in this film it is not fixed time, and we must look for a different solution.
The way to resolve these in replacement theory (the theory under which a time traveler can alter his own history) is to find a way for the loop to have started. There are indeed several ways it could have started here, although the simplest might be that the quote was originally O's. Whether she ever told K is irrelevant; she told J. J then could have told K, as "a wise woman once told me", and K then adopted it, told J in the future, and then J's version becomes "a wise man", which K recognizes as something he might say in the future. It requires a simple and brief sawtooth snap that easily resolves to an N-jump. Of course, it is possible that K heard it elsewhere, or thought of it himself at some point; the possible explanations are numerous and varied enough that we have no problem with the paradox, as the statement could easily arise in the original history independently of a future cause, and then have its original source replaced by J.
Other such paradoxes in the film are similarly resolvable; there are none that are more challenging than this.
There is one more temporal anomaly in the film, but it presents us with several problems.
J is fighting Old Boris on the scaffolding by the Apollo rocket. He takes several hits from Boris' body missiles, then tackles the alien and carries him down toward the ground below. Before hitting, he activates the time travel device, which takes him back one minute, returning them both to where they were on the scaffolding. He then replays the events of that minute, this time anticipating the trajectories of Boris' darts because he has already seen them, reaching Boris without being injured, and knocking the alien off the scaffolding to the ground below.
The first peculiarity arises in this: if Boris and J travel back one minute to where they were one minute before, where are they? That is, we presume that if you travel to a time in the past when you are already present, you encounter yourself--and indeed, our presumption is confirmed first because Old Boris meets Young Boris, and second because J sees James, his younger self. In both other time travel incidents the travelers duplicate themselves; why do they not do so this time? It might be argued that it is because the time leap is so short, but there's no sense in that; if they leap into prehistory and forward again, the relative difference between forty years and one minute is negligible. It might be argued that it is because they land where their former selves were, but it is improbable to the millionth place that they would be in exactly the same position after the jump that they were a minute before. There should be two of each of them after the jump.
The second peculiarity is that J is no longer injured. If you are shot just before you leap to the past, you arrive in the past having just been shot. What happens to J is more consistent with winding back time than with traveling through it--that is, he seems to have undone everything that was done in that minute, including all that happened to himself, to replay the minute as he was when it began. Yet if that was how the device worked, there would not be an Old Boris and a Young Boris, but only the Young Boris repeating events that had been played before; and J would have become James, a preschooler of little use in the task of saving K.
The third peculiarity is that J remembers this minute but Boris does not. J is able to dodge Boris' missiles because he already knows where they are going, but Boris is not able to change his attack in response to J's anticipations. Both of them fell from the scaffolding, both were carried back in the same temporal event, and yet they are affected differently. Further, Boris seems to have been affected in a manner consistent with rolling back the clock, while J seems to have been affected (in his knowledge) in a manner consistent with time travel.
Thus while this was a clever device to tease the audience, there is no logical reason for it to have worked that way. What is more, J, who has already traveled to the past once before, would have no reason to expect it to work that way. He should instead have leapt off the scaffolding alone, setting it to take him back one minute, and then assisted himself in defeating Boris once he had duplicated himself.
As we said, we knew up front that this would not be a serious time travel movie, but it would be a fun and funny adventure that poked fun at time travel. It works in that sense; you will probably enjoy the movie if you take the foolishness about time travel as farce. They make it seem to work, even though nothing in it related to the temporal aspect is logical.