Review: ‘Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes’ (2021) Joyously Bends Time (and Minds). By Tyler Simeone.
Executed tastefully by Sokurov and perhaps no one else, the all-in-one-take film is a tired gimmick, drawing exclamations of “how did they do it!” from audiences at the expense of thoughtful exploration of theme and affect. Unless a film directly questions the nature of free-flowing real time, there is no reason besides the attention of its own spectacle to eschew the cut and the emotional power of editing that accompanies it.
Thankfully, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes does just that: under a surface that never reneges on humor, the continuous take debut film from Junta Yamaguchi and theater troupe Europe Kikaku unearths a stupefying relationship between humans and time by way of a café TV monitor that can see exactly two minutes into the future.
It’s a quirky little concept, a method of television time travel that can reveal only a miniscule elapse. But by establishing such a whimsical tone from its very conceit, Two Minutes denies the seriousness of other time travel films like Interstellar and the baffling Primer to play with a thoroughly relatable reaction to such newfound power. When café owners Kato (Kazunari Tosa) and Aya (Riku Fujitani) first discover their little digital wormhole, they use it to pull pranks on their friends, question their future selves, and anticipate the reaction of Kato’s love interest when he bucks up the courage to ask her out.
As the film unfolds, the group experiments with nested TV timelines, using the Droste effect to establish futures that extend two, four, six, eight minutes forward. It’s silly, but wonderfully head-splitting: when Komiya (Gôta Ishida) is instructed by his future self to put a bottle of ketchup in his back pocket, he does so, only to instruct his past self to do so two minutes later, evoking the possibility of an endless loop of Komiyas and ketchup bottles extending infinitely through time. In this way, the film’s humor belies a more mind-bending exploration of temporal mechanics, an experience equally as pleasurable to watch as it is to dissect.
What’s at stake here is not, however, the pure theoreticals of quantum physics; Two Minutes uses its crafty set-up to explore its characters’ relationships to history and to themselves across the (albeit very short) reaches of time. When Past Aya asks her present self to predict the next era of Japanese history—a feat she obviously cannot accomplish being only two minutes ahead—it appears as if Present Aya is conversing with an entirely different person.
Choices made and questions raised by the characters two minutes earlier appear completely illogical with the passage of time, raising the possibility that one can be a radically different person than one was in the very recent past. Their decisions—Komiya’s to take the ketchup bottle for example—become faits accomplis, each character beholden to the future they know is coming by fear of opening a paradox should they choose to deny it. In one evocative exchange, Tanabe (Masashi Suwa) tells Kato to ask his future self how he should season his eggs; Kato replies, “That’s my choice.” The present’s binding by the predestined reality of the future, however, would seem to indicate otherwise.
Beyond the implications of futurevision on self-identification and free will, Two Minutes raises metatextual questions on the nature of film time. Because of its continuous take (the organizational gymnastics of which are no small feat of cinematic engineering), the passage of diegetic time in Two Minutes is equivalent to the passage of both real time and “reel” time. The film thus permits the viewer to experience the shock of being in two interacting timelines through the unfolding of actual cinematic time, likening the projection of a film to time travel itself. In other words, by watching a film, one can experience the past in its unfurling, traveling in time by way of a screen much like Kato and Aya do.
I evoke all of these ideas—the characters’ relationships to their past and future selves, the consequences on decision-making, the notion of cinema as time travel—to highlight the thoughtfulness that belies Two Minutes’ lighthearted (and decidedly not gimmicky) presentation. By framing such common cinematic tropes as time travel and the single take with a spirit of curiosity and self-aware frivolity, the film is able to gently guide its viewers’ minds deep into the recursive quagmire in a singularly delightful manner. The film screen housing an endless succession of nested Droste TVs, the viewer of Two Minutes can tumble into the depths of a funny little future, smiling all the way down.
Images courtesy of IndieCan.
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