The Intersection of Romance and Time Travel

Posted by Nick Beard

[Photo by Moritz Kindler on Unsplash]

The course of true love never did run smooth. For some couples, it seems to take longer than others to get it quite right. These four particular couples needed a great deal of time – and decades apart, a time loop, or time travel in order to connect. In one memorable case, they required a magic groundhog. Perhaps they can provide some inspiration for any singles hoping to meet someone in Elizabethan times or the twenty fourth century or even Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.


[Movie still from Groundhog Day, Columbia Pictures]

Phil Connors and Rita, Groundhog Day

It may seem like the achievement of being the number one local weatherman in a Pittsburgh television affiliate is a slightly hollow crown, but for Phil Connors, it is proof that he is far too important and talented for his annual Groundhog Day weather report. The broadcast is aired from the small town groundhog’s home in Punxsutawney. On the way back to Pittsburgh, Phil is stuck in a blizzard – and then wakes up the next day, forced to relive Groundhog Day repeatedly.

Trapped in Punxsutawney with him is his producer Rita, sweet to the point of naïve obliviousness, who finds Phil’s self-importance to be incredibly obnoxious. She tries not to allow it to affect her cheerfulness (and to her credit, spending time with an adorable groundhog in a small town is hardly a horrible fate). Phil is certainly not initially able to open up about his vulnerability and loneliness, but when he realises that he’s in a time loop, he passes from anger to despair to an attempt at self-improvement. Being forced to remain in the same place sands off some of Phil’s rough edges and he eventually begins to get to know the residents of the small town, take piano lessons, and even find meaning in his soliloquy on Punxsutawney Phil’s symbolic relevance. Estimates vary as to how long Phil remains in his cycle of time – anywhere from ten years to forty years of repeatedly reliving the exact same day. While it is not time-travel in a traditional sense, Phil needs a change in time to evolve to become a far more tolerable (if not great) partner – and weatherman. As for Punxsutawney Phil, he gets to live longer than any groundhog in history: not a bad deal all around.



[TV still from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Paramount Television]

Will Riker and Deanna Troi, Star Trek: The Next Generation

Very few people would perceive Star Trek as particularly romantic. Original captain James T. Kirk had plentiful liaisons, but few lasted beyond the closing notes of an episode. When ship’s counsellor Deanna Troi and first officer Will Riker are introduced, it is made clear that they had a doomed relationship. Over the seven year run of the show, it is eventually understood that the two had dated when Riker had been posted to Deanna’s home planet of Betazed and the romance had ended when he was transferred onto the USS Potemkin. While the two never expressly discuss their relationship, it is clear that they had an incredibly close bond, which survived despite Riker’s inability to balance his transfer and career responsibilities with their romance.

Regardless of the end of their romantic relationship, the two remain extremely close.  Both come from difficult families: Deanna’s overbearing mother and Riker’s absentee father rarely provided emotional support for their children. While Deanna, as ship’s counsellor, clearly has worked to sort through painful childhood patterns, Riker remains wary and uncomfortable with disclosing his strong emotions or admitting to vulnerability, particularly when dealing with buried feelings from his father’s return. During the Enterprise-D’s seven year mission, there were numerous times when the two toyed with the idea of re-starting their relationship.  It seemed inevitable that when both were transformed to a youthful state by the Ba’ku planet, their romance would be rekindled.  The final Next Generation film sees the two marrying and leaving the Enterprise to begin their life on the USS Titan. The happy ending is perhaps not far from what Riker had first imagined when he told Deanna that she should follow him onto the Potemkin, but 20 years later, the two are finally in a more mature place to balance their careers and marriage.



[Movie still from The Terminator, Hemdale Film Corporation]

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, The Terminator

The relationship of Sarah and Kyle would not have been chronologically possible without time travel. Kyle was born years after the couple’s son, John Connor.  Yet after volunteering to travel through time to ensure that Sarah is not murdered by a robotic assassin, the Terminator, Reese lands in 1980s Los Angeles. Reese was unknowingly sent by his own son to ensure that Sarah was not murdered before becoming pregnant with John. Time travel meant that years before his birth in 2003, he was able to father John before his own brutal murder by the terminator.

The odd timeline of the family’s relationship has a slightly tragic effect.  As a child in Terminator 2, John mournfully tells his protective terminator how much he wishes that he had known his father. The terminator reminds him that one day, he will. Unlike other children who lost a father they can never remember, John has the constant awareness that he will eventually mentor his dad. It is incredibly melancholy that while Kyle will inevitably enter John’s life, John will be the older, more experienced friend in the relationship. Rather than a whimsical story of time travel, it’s presented as a tragedy – part of the larger heartbreak and catastrophe which affects the world on Judgement Day.



[TV still from Outlander, Starz!]

Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, Outlander

The robotic tragedy of the Connor-Reese family is in direct opposition to the pure melodrama of the Frasers. Bound to no particular time period – mother Claire and daughter Brianna were born in the early twentieth century, while father Jamie hails from rugged eighteenth century Scotland.  Time travel is hardly a one-way trip for the Frasers. Both Claire and Brianna have travelled back-and-forth several times, choosing between modern comforts and the excitement of the Jacobite Rebellion and the American Revolution.

Time travel is a Fraser tool which is often taken advantage of. Jamie certainly benefits from advanced knowledge of famine, wars, and Claire’s twentieth century medical degree. Yet in a series with a strong political background, often exploring the repercussions of British colonialism, the family hardly touches on incompatible views of social justice and prejudices, issues which would seem that even the most loving, time mismatched couples would find to be an obstacle. Rather than a tragedy or a path to maturity, time travel is a source of adventure for the Frasers, a whirlwind of excitement.