'Somewhere In Time' - the Film
Created | Updated Oct 14, 2008
Friendly Warning - If you have not seen the film or read the book, this Entry reveals the whole story.
Mahler Fan Matheson
Somewhere In Time, made in 1980 and based upon the novel Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson1, is not quite science fiction, not quite historical romance, but rather a mixture of both. The setting is the beautiful Grand Hotel on Mackinaw Island, Michigan, USA, and the soundtrack, composed by John Barry, is an absolute joy.
Richard Matheson is a huge fan of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No 10, and wrote Bid Time Return for that music. You can see a Mahler album in Richard's apartment in the 1972 segment. However, there were problems adapting the screenplay during editing. Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini was substituted during sound editing, but the visual images of Mahler and his work remained in the film as a tribute to the writer's favourite composer.
The stars, Christopher Reeve2 as Richard and the gorgeous Jane Seymour3 as Elise, had a particularly good on-screen chemistry and were great friends in real life. She held him in such high esteem that she named one of her twin sons after him and asked him to be the child's godfather. Chris passed away in October 2004.
Co-star Christopher Plummer4 excellently portrays WF Robinson, Elise's guard-dog of a manager and self-proposed guardian. This formidable character is of a single mind, his drive and ambition directed towards making Elise a star, and is determined nothing will stand in his way. He's the villain that you end up feeling sorry for.
The story opens when Richard Collier and his friends are celebrating after the opening night of his first play. An old woman approaches him and places a stunning antique pocket-watch in his hand. She whispers the words:
Come back to me.
... then leaves. Stunned, Richard looks down at the gift. His friends ask him who the old lady was, and he answers that he has no idea.
Over the next few years the memory of that night fades, but Richard has a constant reminder of the old lady in that he never uses another timepiece except for the pocket-watch which she gave to him so mysteriously.
As the time goes by, Richard becomes a published playwright, but he suffers from writer's block. Even his love of classical music cannot stem the restlessness in his soul. He has a girlfriend, but it's a relationship which doesn't inspire him, and he's being hounded by his publisher for a play he hasn't even started yet.
Suddenly Richard can't take the pressure any more, and he sets off for a drive along a road he's never been before, which seems strangely familiar to him. He stops at a sign for The Grand Hotel, changes direction and heads towards it.
Upon arrival, Richard signs in and the receptionist rings the bell for Arthur, the elderly bell-hop, to show 'Mr Collier' to his room. On the way, Arthur tells Richard a little of the history of the hotel, and he mentions that he came to the hotel with his father who worked there, in 1910. As Arthur is about to leave his room, Richard tips him and says:
See you around, Arthur
Arthur enquires as to whether they have met before, as his voice sounds familiar, but Richard laughs and denies this. Arthur shrugs and tells him if there's anything he can do for him anytime, he lives in a cottage behind the hotel.
Hall of History
Rejuvenated by the sea air and inspired by the beauty of the place, Richard heads for the dining hall. They are still preparing the room for the evening meal, so to kill time Richard goes to have a look around the Hall of History. There upon the wall is a photograph which captivates Richard immediately, a head and shoulders portrait of a remarkably beautiful woman, seemingly smiling straight at him. The nameplate is missing, but this only adds to her mystique, and Richard, undeterred, sets off to find Arthur.
Arthur informs him that the lady in the photograph is Elise McKenna, an actress, who once performed in a play in the hotel's theatre. Intrigued, Richard sets off to investigate the theatre and from there he goes to the town's library to look up all he can about Elise McKenna.
The librarian brings him some old theatre magazines and as he flips through one which has Elise's name on the cover, he sees her photographed performing on stage. He turns another page to find himself staring at the old lady who gave him the watch, eight years before. It was the last picture taken of Elise McKenna.
Richard visits the house where Elise used to live. In the pouring rain, he tries to explain his motives for wanting information about Elise to her housekeeper, who still lives in the house. She is about to shut the door on him when he shows her the watch. The housekeeper is astonished, she tells Richard that the watch was very precious to Elise, that she never let it out of her sight, but it went missing the night she died.
The housekeeper, who had written a book about great American actresses, shows Richard Elise's old room, still containing some of her possessions and clothes which are destined for a theatrical museum. Richard is astonished to find a book on time travel written by his old philosophy teacher, and a model of the Grand Hotel, which, when opened, played his favourite music. Elise had had it specially made.
He goes back to his old college to have a talk with his philosophy teacher. They have a discussion about time travel, and Richard is convinced it is possible. The coincidences are mounting and Richard determines to find out if he was there in 1912. He asks Arthur where the old hotel registers are kept, and climbs into the attic to find the one dated 1912. Leafing through the pages, he sees WF Robinson's signature, then Elise McKenna's. He turns the page and there is his own signature with the room number and the date.
Richard determines to take his old teacher's advice and totally disassociate himself from the present. He goes to town and purchases an old suit, a bowler hat and some coins from 1912. He places the coins in the suit pocket but forgets and adds his own current money. Realising his mistake, he removes the coins and places them in a dish, putting it out of sight in a cupboard. After cutting his hair, he lays down on his bed and tries to hypnotize himself into believing it is 1912.
After the second attempt, he wakes up to the sounds of horses neighing and a woman singing. He realises he's in someone else's room, so he has to hide until he can escape. Then he attempts to track down Elise, but is thwarted at each attempt. Finally he finds her walking by the lake. He walks over, and she asks him:
Is it you?
Although she seems to have been expecting him, she then takes flight and refuses to talk to him. Robinson, her manager, then appears and offers to take her into dinner. As Richard follows them, Robinson warns him that if he continues to pester Miss McKenna, he will have him ejected from the hotel.
Richard persists, and engineers a dance with Elise. Despite her initial reluctance, Elise warms towards Richard, and agrees to go out with him the next day. Richard spends the night on the hotel porch, then books himself into the hotel at the exact time he'd seen in the hotel register earlier. Whilst waiting for his key, he notices the sad little boy Arthur, who has had his ball confiscated by his father. Richard reaches behind the desk and retrieves the ball, which he hands to the delighted little boy. He ruffles his hair and says 'See you round, Arthur'.
After narrowly avoiding Robinson, Elise and Richard take a buggy and go for a ride. Richard hums the 'Rhapsody'5 and Elise asks what it is. By the end of the afternoon, both are equally smitten with the other, and they kiss passionately later in her hotel room. Robinson disturbs them and for the first time, Elise stands up for herself, stating to him that she is not a doormat. She tells Richard that she will leave a ticket for him at the theatre door, and she prepares herself for the play.
During the play, Elise delivers a soliloquy, which is not part of the script. She muses that finally she has found someone to love and how happy that man has made her. She looks directly at Richard in the audience and bows slightly. The curtain falls for the interval to tremendous applause, but Robinson is furious. Richard hurries backstage to be with Elise, but she is busy having her photograph taken. The photographer tells her to think of something nice, her gaze falls upon Richard watching her from the doorway. Her expression changes as she forgets her surroundings and smiles the beautiful, heartfelt smile of a woman in love. In that moment, the photograph that Richard had first seen in the Hall of History is captured.
During the second half of the play, Richard receives a note from Robinson, asking him to meet him outside, concerning a 'matter of life or death'. Richard has a big argument with him about Elise and as he turns to leave, he is set upon by two men. Robinson had arranged to have him beaten and tied up. Richard awakes next morning in the stables and manages to free himself. He searches the hotel for Elise, but Arthur's father tells him that the theatre company have checked out of the hotel.
Sitting on the porch, utterly despairing, he hears a shout 'Richard'! He looks around to see Elise running across the grounds towards him, and he runs towards her and scoops her up in his arms. They go to her room and make love. Later, while eating some chicken, Elise makes Richard laugh by saying 'You will marry me, won't you?' Then she teases him about his suit, which is at least 15 years out of fashion. Messing about, Richard puts on the jacket, inside out, and playfully pulls out all the coins in the pocket. He looks down and sees a coin dated 1979. This reminder breaks the spell and he is instantly transported back to 1980. The film shows Elise watching Richard disappear, as if through a long tunnel, and she screams 'Richard!'
Back to 1980
Richard wakes and stumbles back to his old room. He lays on the bed desperately trying to get back to 1912 to be with Elise. It takes all his strength, and he sobs as he realises he cannot return. Over the next few days, he takes walks by the lake, where he first caught sight of Elise, then sits by the window of his room, looking at the view that Elise grew old looking at, waiting in vain for his return. The old bell-hop Arthur reports to the manager that Mr Collier has not left his room in days. They use a spare key and find Richard unresponsive, and as they lay him on his bed, Richard smiles. He sees a bright light, and his spirit leaves his body, floating above the frantic men desperately trying to resuscitate him. Through the window, Richard can see Elise, dressed as she was in the play in 1912. She holds out her hand to him, and Richard walks towards her, removes his bowler hat, takes her hand and they disappear into the light.
The film won three 'Saturn' awards6 and earned Chris a new legion of fans. He received a 'Fantafestival' award for Best Actor in 1981. Devotees of the film attend annual conventions at the fabulous Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, the hotel around which the film is based. In 1997, the INSITE fan club paid for Christopher Reeve's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Where did the watch originally come from? It seems to be in a perpetual loop as Elise gives it to Richard in 1972. He keeps it until 1980 but then gives to her in 1912. She then keeps it for 60 years while waiting for him to come back to her. Then she sees the advert for his play, goes to the opening night, gives him the watch and tells him to come back to her. Starting the chain of events all over again.
'Somewhere In Time' Weekend
The beautiful Grand Hotel hosts an annual Somewhere In Time Weekend.