The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – digging deeper into “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!
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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” begins with a glimpse into a dark and dystopian future.
Mutants are persecuted and targeted for destruction by the Sentinels, an army of robots capable of evolving to counterattack the mutants’ powers.
The mutants’ only hope is to send someone back in time and alter history, stopping the Sentinel program from developing. Wolverine volunteers, and finds himself back in 1973. As you can probably guess, preventing events from playing out the same way they did the first time is not an easy task.
As any Doctor Who fan knows, trying to change past timelines is incredibly messy business. There aren’t really any basic rules controlling time travel, because (at least for now!) it’s a completely fictional concept. Every franchise involving time travel can decide for itself how the process works and how changes in the past impact the future.
As a fan of science fiction, a genre where time travel pops up a lot, I’ve always been fascinated by the ethics of interacting with, and potentially changing, the past. By nature, Doctor Who deals with this frequently, although the Doctor does sometimes state there are “fixed points” in history that cannot and should not be messed with.
***Spoiler alert for recent Marvel Cinematic Universe movies*** Even the Avengers delve into some time travel in “Endgame,” and it seems to work out for the most part. Although perhaps future installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may reveal some wrinkles caused by their time traveling. And sadly, their plan does cost the lives of several Avengers.
Some might say there’s no point in arguing over whether it would be ethical to alter events in the past, because it’s technically not even possible. But still, it’s an interesting thought experiment, and while it’s fascinating to ponder, I don’t know that I have an answer.
Wolverine goes back in time to stop the Sentinel program, and when he travels back to the future, he learns his actions have indeed saved lives. Mystique is convinced not to assassinate military scientist Bolivar Trask, an event that, in the past, led to Mystique’s capture and use in controversial experiments.
In this instance, I think the X-Men made the right call to alter the past and save lives (and also give Mystique a shot at redemption). Yet overall, I’m glad people don’t have the ability to travel back in time because this ability could be abused in multiple ways. Changing the past would likely result in infinite complications.
Our lives are a tapestry of events and decisions, woven together to create the person we are at this moment in time. If you change one past event and decision, how different would your life look right now? Maybe you’d never meet your best friend. Or maybe you would miss out on your dream job. It’s impossible to know. If people had the ability to time travel, we’d definitely have to be very careful about how it was used.
There are a number of altruistic people (like Professor X and Captain America), who would use time travel to save lives. But there are also bad people who would use time travel to wreck all kinds of havoc. It’s probably for the best that time travel remains science fiction.
Now that we’ve covered time travel, I want to circle back around to a different aspect of “Days of Future Past”: Mystique’s second chance.
In the original course of events, she kills Bolivar Trask, but in the new timeline created by Wolverine, she chooses to spare him. It’s a powerful moment, one where Mystique chooses the path of redemption and forgiveness, rejecting Magneto’s quest for revenge.
That’s probably one of the most intriguing ideas about time travel: the ability to go back in time and alter your past mistakes. To be a better person than you were the first time.
There are definitely moments in my own life where, if I could travel back in time, I would do things differently. There are things I wish I hadn’t said. Decisions I wish I hadn’t made.
While we aren’t given the power to change our past, it’s important to remember the potential we have right now, in this moment. Sometimes we let our past baggage weigh us down to the point where it paralyzes us, and we get caught in the trap of making the same mistakes over and over again. Yet we do have the power to change, and we can choose to be better. We can’t rewrite our history, but we can alter the course of our future.
Magneto makes a lot of mistakes in the X-Men franchise. And yet, in the very end, in the closing scenes of “Dark Phoenix,” we do find him in a better place, and I think it’s safe to say he’s on the road to redemption. It’s a path Wolverine also walks, sacrificing his life at the end of “Logan.”
Overall, the reason I love the X-Men films so much is that they’re allowed to be messy; people aren’t always the best versions of themselves. Even Professor X makes some questionable decisions. But as Mystique, Magneto, Wolverine, and others demonstrate, the path to redemption is always open…just as it’s open for us. No time travel necessary.