Time Travel Movie Time Lapse Explained

Time Lapse is possibly one of the best time travel movies you have never seen. So many great twists and turns. So many fantastic details and mechanics. Time Lapse is hallowed ground in my opinion. Definitely a must see movie for pretty much everyone. IMDB
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I get asked daily about movies that I would recommend – other mindjobs – other movies worth thinking about. And to just shut you guys up a bit (I’m totally kidding, calm down Karen.) I figured I would start up a retro-recommendation (alliteration for the win) weekly post to bring back older, totally brilliant films, you might have missed when they originally came out. There are just so many movies that I’ve recommended here on this site there is literally no way that you could possibly keep up with them all. But with these flashʞƆ∀q weekly posts it should help you find more cool quarantine worth-while watches (triple alliteration anyone? Anyone?) Well, today is definitely a brilliant flick that is worth your time: Time Travel Movie Time Lapse Explained.

Time Lapse is literally a perfect movie. It’s perfectly thought out. It’s perfectly executed. It’s perfectly acted. Perfectly concluded with a right hook of a mind job ending. Bp Cooper & Bradley King are literally heroes of mine. Like, polished trophy type heroes. This website was built entirely as an homage to the likes of Messrs. Cooper and King. And after writing this piece, to have them stumble upon it and take me up on an interview offer was the stuff of dreams for me. I tried to explain it to my wife and kids… “Ok. That’s great Taylor. Could you please, um, sit down, you are starting to startle the dogs.” So why don’t we get to it shall we: Time Travel Movie Time Lapse Explained!!

Wait wait, this is my favorite bit. If you are wondering if this Time Lapse primer walk through is worth your time, Bradley Cooper (who co-wrote the script with Bradley King) read through this post and said this on Twitter about it:

wow @tayoflore ! One of our wishes was that someone loved it enough to break it down like you just did! Awesome! http://t.co/vApvhI77TQ

— bp cooper (@bpcooper) June 19, 2015

Anyway, first things first, this post is solely for those people who have already seen the movie. If you have not yet seen it, you are solely allowed to watch the trailer, read the overview section and then promptly leave.  No sneaking peeks further down the page.  No jumping ahead.  Because this post is NOT a general overview of the movie Time Lapse.  But a super super deep dive into the inner workings of the film.

So for all those of you who should not be here, you have been warned, just the general overview and the trailer.  So, let’s discuss the general overview so that we can get rid of everyone and finally get that alone time we (I) were (was) hoping for.  First the trailer:

Time Lapse Movie Trailer & Overview

The three characters in the movie become fascinated, intrigued, and then embroiled in the chaos that it brings. As the trio try to decide what they are going to do with this power, the power sort of implodes in on itself. It is a fantastic, slow boil of a movie with a marvelous surprise twist at the end that will make you reconsider everything you’ve seen up to that point. I cannot recommend the movie enough. If not for its simple, yet sophisticated script, then for its very tightly wound plot and interesting characters. It’s definitely going to be a must see for anyone that considers themselves a fan of time travel at all.


Time Lapse Movie Overview

A painter named Finn (Matt O’Leary) is in a bit of a creative slump.  He is sharing his Los Angeles apartment with his two roommates.  Callie (Danielle Panabaker) and Jasper (George Finn) are dating and apparently Jasper may have missed his opportunity to propose. Finn is currently supporting himself as the apartment complex’s manager and one day he goes to check up on a tenant and discovers a mysterious, fridge-sized camera pointed at his own living room window.  And it is this camera that is the crux of our Time Lapse emphasis of this movie.

So the tenant (who is now deceased as a result of his experiments apparently) has figured out a way to shoot Polaroids that show what will happen 24 hours in the future. Even though the inventor is dead the device has programmed to automatically take one picture every single night. And it is in this complicated soup of details that our play unfolds upon our three characters. Add chaos.  Insert questions about the determinability of time. Toss in a question or two about free will.  And finally, insert a head job of an ending that jukes 100% your perspective on everything that you were previously assuming and you get an idea of what Time Lapse is really all about.

Spoiler-filled Drama Begins Now

Above I walked you through the spoiler free overview of the movie.  But I figure it is important to actually take you through the detailed events of the movie so that the discussions further on in my walk through begin to make more sense.  I’ll keep the detailed walk through at a high level – but you need to grasp the actual events so that when we look at the final reveal it will actually make more sense come the end of the day, or the end of the post, as the case may be.

  1. Callie checks on Mr. B and discovers the machine
  2. Machine takes a photo at 8 pm everyday
  3. Jasper pushes to use the machine to gamble
  4. 1st Photo shows they bet on the track
  5. Photo also shows Finn has painted a new painting
  6. Trio realizes they must make all events in photos occur
  7. Mr. B’s disappearance is covered up w/ Big Joe security guard
  8. A week in they get a photo of Callie kissing Jasper
  9. Jasper’s bookie Ivan learns of the machine
  10. Ivan begins forcing them to pose for photos for him to bet on
  11. Jasper sees skull and crossbones painting which he sees as a warning
  12. Big Joe gets a job as a police officer, and drops off his keys
  13. Ivan threatens trio, but Jasper convinces Ivan that the photo is of his death
  14. Jasper stabs Marcus, and then clubs Ivan to death when he returns with photo
  15. Bodies are all hidden in Mr.B’s storage unit
  16. Dr. Heidecker (Mr. B’s colleague) arrives & makes the trio explain
  17. Mr. B had mailed Heidecker a photo for the next night showing blood on the window & Mr. B’s hat
  18. Finn finds a photo of Callie and Jasper having sex he assumes is for the next night
  19. Finn tries to negotiate and prevent the events from occurring
  20. Jasper knocks Finn out and locks him in Mr. B’s storage
  21. Finn breaks free and threatens to destroy the machine
  22. Jasper continues, they fight, and Callie smashes Jasper’s head in
  23. Finn realizes that the machine takes photos at 8 am as well
  24. Callie reveals that she has been using the morning photo to send herself messages to manipulate events and rekindle her relationship with Finn
  25. Finn decides he is going to destroy the machine, Callie shoots Finn creating the blood splatter Heidecker sees in the photo Mr. B had sent him
  26. Callie attempts to send herself a message by sticking a message to the window to fix events and Big Joe discovers Jasper and Finn murdered
  27. The paper falls from the window…it’s a wrap.

Time Lapse Time Travel Rules

Here’s the tricky thing about Time Lapse, there are some perceived rules within the movie – that are completely false.  And there are hard and fast rules that are unbreakable. Knowing which are which is the trick to understanding how this movie actually works. So to understand how a 24-hour period works in Time Lapse, I drew this diagram on my whiteboard.  Yeah, I didn’t photoshop it, yeah its got the sheen of a 2-week old banana.  But it explains what I’m trying to say faster and clearer than anything I could come up with otherwise.


So at 8 pm, a photo arrives from the machine.  It shows (in this example anyway) three people standing in the window.  OK.  So the trio (triumvirate, trifecta?) decide, no matter what…they had to make that photo a reality come 8 pm the next night.  Come what may.  If they were showing the sports page.  Then they had to show the sports page.  If two people were kissing, then dangit…that’s what had to happen or else they would cease to exist. Literally, that is what they say in the movie.  “Otherwise we will cease to exist.”

I’ll get back to that the further we go down through the rabbit hole.  But that is how the movie’s mechanics work at their simplest.  If you don’t get this, then go back and read again, because things just get crazier from here.  So as the days start progressing on the flow starts to look more like this:


Right?  While the machine is taking the photo for the previous day, it is also spitting out the photo for the next evening.  And so on and so forth. Because, the assumption throughout the movie is, that the machine takes one photo every day at 8 pm only. Well, we know that this isn’t the case at all.  We know that not only does it not just take one photo per day, but it is also setup to take photos at 8 am.  Which would overlay another set of possibilities to the timeline.


So, we can see here that we have the 8 pm timeline going on top…and more importantly we have the 8 am photos going on the bottom.  Not only does it take photos TWICE a day, but it also has the potential for taking photos further into the future, because that is how Dr. Heidecker finds out that something bad has (will, might have already?) happened to her colleague, Mr. B.  Right?

But the biggest insight to this movie is not that there are two pictures a day. It’s more subtle than that. During the 8 pm timeline we see that they believe that they must obey the photos in the future or they will cease existing. Right? But in the 8 am timeline Callie believes no such thing.  She sees the photos as an endless loop of possibility. Callie begins to do things, and try things, and then redo them again. Because she understood that if she screwed up, she just had to tell her previous self to do it differently…and she could fix it.

While one timeline is locked into a predestined timeline of inevitability, the other morning timeline has been manipulating the day all along. Callie is the real puppet master in this movie.  She has been manipulating both guys towards her own ends. “Kiss Jasper too long” she says to herself, because she wants to make Finn jealous. The reason this is revolutionary is because upon our first viewing we assume that it is Jasper and Finn that are the evil ones.  Using the machine for personal gain…and ultimately murder.  But they were actually just a pawn in Callie’s larger mission.  We know this for sure because we see that she says she can fix the final timeline if only she can put a note up to change the final fateful events.

The Recursivity of Time Lapse

I had cobbled a crappy whiteboard drawing together, but so many people were flaming out on this idea I decided I needed to put more detail into the diagram. And so I’ve added two diagrams of how the flow works. So here are my new time sketches detailing out how a basic flow could work utilizing solely the 8:00 pm photos.


So to understand the flow – please follow it from the beginning to the end first. First 8:00 pm photo shows and says, “Go gambling on this horse,” which deviates the first timeline from continuing without any gambling in it. The next night another photo shows up and it says hide the keys (or whatever), and a new timeline is created which includes the hidden keys. Ostensibly, the person (you prime, or whatever) that sent the photo back continues indefinitely forward unaware of the ripple downstream. But we have even more power than that available to us because we have both the 8:00 am and the 8:00 pm timelines available to us, right? So it should look more like this:


I took the same drawing, and I added 8:00 am stop points, and then just worked it from the back to the front of the timelines. Oh NO, tell my previous self about x. Day 5 – 8:00 pm, you send back a message to your Day 4 – 8:00 pm self. Then you could take the recursion to a new level by also having your Day 5 – 8:00 am self also tell your Day 4 – 8:00 am self something else as well. Then your Day 3 – 8:00 pm self and your 8:00 am, Day 2 – 8:00 pm and 8:00 am, and so on. You basically walk the cat backwards until time is adjusted to your liking.

But the thing that most people in the comments are missing is this. In most movies the camera – the point of view – discards the secondary timelines and only follows the effects. Time Lapse does not do that. It should still work regardless of where our concentration is pointed. Right? It should have been possible to send backwards a message all the way to the beginning of the photo machine’s life. And in so doing resolve any timeline conflict or problem that you have encountered so far. Right?

Time Lapse Explanation Conclusion

The key to understanding the final moments of the movie have been hard for some to understand ultimately.  I’ve seen posts on Reddit and other places where they seem to not fundamentally get that final scene.  So let’s walk through it slowly.

Immediately after the big Jasper/Finn fight Callie smashes Finn’s head in…she then let’s herself know that she should swap out the affair photo with the charades night photo.  She also tells herself to kill Jasper to save Finn as we see here.


She’s always the one that is willing to escalate the fastest because she knows she can fix it later. Then after that, the great big enormous revelation is that Finn finds out about the 8 am photo. Whaa? He freaks out.  Callie says, no wait, wait, it’s all good because I’ve been using the photos in order to fix our relationship, rekindle our love for one another!  (By kissing Jasper too long, and covering over the fact that they had been sleeping together, but never mind all that.)  Finn flips out (rightly) and decides he is going to destroy the machine.  Callie shoots Finn (how’s that for rekindling their relationship? But Callie knows that she can go back and unshoot him later as long as she sends herself a message, so it isn’t permanent. Right?  Make sense?) and blood sprays the wall and window.

So, the final message that Callie puts on the window is CRITICAL.  “Don’t get caught at the window.”  But notice something critical about this photo?  She holds it up with a single piece of tape.  (If she were to get free from Joe the next message she should post at 8 pm should be, USE TWO PIECES OF TAPE DANGIT!! Hahaha.)


What do we have?  She killed Jasper to stop him from hurting Finn.  And she killed Finn to keep him from destroying the machine.  But that was all temporary…IF, IF, IF she can send herself a message to undo the chaos.  She had been living with the flexibility of time for so long she had become callous to her own actions.  They didn’t mean anything anymore. She could do whatever she wanted and get away with it. But when Joe, the recently hired police officer, finds Callie surrounded by blood and dead people everywhere (including the dead bodies in Mr. B’s storage) he is definitely taking her in.  Which is fine with Callie. Take me in.  No problem.  But it’s when the sign falls down that she comes unglued.  Right?  Nothing mattered until that happened.  She will now see the picture that Mr. B’s colleague sees and nothing else.  There will be no going back now.

As a result, the movie ends with Callie going to jail for the murder of four people.  Mr. B, Dr. Heidecker, Jasper and also Finn.  She is covered in their blood after beating in heads and shooting people.  She wasn’t able to go back and undo this final thread, and so it becomes locked in reality.  The sign falling is the single most significant event that happens throughout the duration of the film, because it dis-empowers the historical Callie from being able to undo the chaos and damage that naturally results from her selfishness and manipulation of the timeline.  But it also proves out the previous photo of Mr. B and shows that what ultimately came true was the initial photograph sent to Dr. Heidecker.


This movie is awesome.  And really holds together the deeper you dive into it.  I’d love to know your thoughts on whether I completely missed it in my time travel movie Time Lapse explained post.  Let me know below!


UPDATE – Look who just won the geek of the day award. Bradley King just contacted me…out of the blue. Here’s what he had to say:

Mr. Holmes! Bradley King here, writer / director of Time Lapse. I just wanted to say I stumbled on your page while seeing how our results in Google were looking, and I was very impressed! It’s really gratifying to see someone accurately analyze and break down the movie. Our outlining board looked very similar to your dry erase boards. Great work!

How ya like me now?  Hahahah. No, it’s cool. I think he has already realized contacting me was a bad idea because I’ve literally contacted his mother for all the necessary best-friend forms…and what not’s. Cause, now that HAS to happen. No, but seriously, Mr. King even agreed to do an interview with me after finding this post…which, you JUST HAVE to check out, or we can’t be friends.

Such a great movie.

Edited by, CY