How Time Travel Works In Alice Through The Looking Glass

Time travel is tremendously tricky subject matter for a story. As we’ve seen countless times in cinema history, different filmmakers have different views on exactly how it would work, and each new attempted portrayal has both its interesting ideas and logical fallacies. Soon we will see a fresh form of time travel movie in the form of director James Bobin’s upcoming Alice Through The Looking Glass (featuring actor Sacha Baron Cohen as Time himself), and the filmmaker recently explained to us exactly how the sci-fi concept will work in his fantasy feature: characters will be able to observe the past, but they won’t be able to alter it.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of joining a small group of other film reporters for an early Alice Through The Looking Glass press day in Los Angeles, and it was during a roundtable interview with director James Bobin that he detailed his approach to how time travel works in his adventure blockbuster. Basically, he explained that the movie is avoiding all Back To The Future/Terminator issues by making the past static, and merely viewable with the help of Time’s special technology. Said Bobin,

So this one was different because I wanted to have an idea that she couldn’t change the past. The past is the past. It’s been and done, and that’s not normal. Normally in films, if you change the past, it affects the future - the fading photographs and stuff. That’s a normal trope, but I felt I liked the idea that she couldn’t change anything. She can’t change the past, but she could observe it, and then learn things that could help her solve the problems in the future. That I thought was a much more clever idea and that’s what I wanted to pursue with this. So Alice is kind of someone who goes back into the past to try and do something which is impossible.

If we’re going to label it, one might call this A Christmas Story time travel rules.

In Alice Through The Looking Glass, the titular heroine (once again played by actress Mia Wasikowska) travels back to Underland to discover that her friend, The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), has become darker and even more insane. In order to try and help him, she goes to Time (Cohen) so that she can use the device known as the Chromosphere to learn exactly what went wrong and how she can fix it.

In the making of the Alice In Wonderland sequel, James Bobin admitted that he somewhat avoiding all of the crazy rules that come with telling time travel stories but felt that he has an advantage just because of the movie’s purposefully-ridiculous setting. Still, he is ready to respond to all of the typical nerd complaints that arrive with films that employ time travel as a narrative tool:

It’s very hard. Time travel movies are very hard. We do avoid rules a little bit in this one, and luckily we have the license of it being Underland, which is kind of crazy, but helpful - because obviously, logic in films is always a nightmare anyway [laughs]. Logic in a time travel film is 100 times that. It’s a complete nightmare. I’m going to get letters from people going, ‘What about this?’ ‘Okay, fine. Just enjoy the story,’ but that will happen. I’m prepared to accept that.

Alice Through The Looking Glass will be in theaters on May 27th, and stay tuned to learn more about the film.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.