The Lake House (2006)

If I could go back in time, I’d pick another movie to watch.

the lake house

“If I Could Travel Time, I’d Go Back and Pick Another Movie”

The Lake House is a movie that was screaming for a review before the first line was even spoken. If there’s one thing that really bothers me, it’s when a writer bases an entire movie around the premise of time-travel, and then blatantly disregards the properties of how time works.  It’s the equivalent of making a World War II movie where they use water guns and stink bombs.  Would an idea like that ever fly if you pitched it to a big-time Hollywood exec?  So how is it that these illogical time-travel movies get made?

The answer: They’re chick flicks.  Women don’t care how the man and woman get together, as long as they get together in the end. Things don’t have to be logical in these films, in fact they follow the guidelines of “the more illogical, the better.” It’s a time tested rule that has led to a horde of horrible movies being made and countless men suffering through two-hour torture sessions.  In all fairness, I was actually the one who suggested we watch The Lake House, not my fiancé.  There was nothing else on TV and I knew it would end up as a good movie review.  I figured it couldn’t be too bad, and for the most part, it wasn’t.  In actuality, I’d even go as far to say that the film was decent.  Well, until the last three minutes that is.  Then it became a train-wreck of epic proportions!

sandra bullock

The basic storyline of The Lake House is that Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves both live in the same house, only two years apart.  Keanu is there in 2004, and Sandra is residing in 2006.  Magically, the house’s mailbox allows them to send letters to each other across time and the two fall in love through their correspondence. Isn’t that sweet?

keanu reeves

Like I said above, the movie was surprisingly decent considering its premise.  And even more shocking to me was that there was a solid hour where I was thoroughly enjoying it.  I’ll tell you the reason why in a moment, but first I want to discuss the right way and the wrong way to handle time-travel. Get ready to concentrate, because this takes some brain power to think through.

This movie had two instances in the middle of the film that involved Sandra and Keanu messing around with time.  One was where Sandra wrote to Keanu about loving the trees by the lake house.  So like the charming guy he is, Keanu plants a tree outside of Sandra’s Chicago apartment building.  We then see a shot where Sandra is walking outside of her apartment building and a tree suddenly appears.  This, my friends, is not how time works.  You can’t change the past, only the future.

Think about it.  In 2006, Sandra mentions that she loves the trees.  In 2004, after getting the letter from the future, Keanu plants the tree.  Now when we cut back to 2006, the tree wouldn’t suddenly appear.  The tree should’ve been there all along. When Sandra was writing that she loved the trees, the tree should have already been outside her apartment because Keanu planted it two years ago.  You see what I’m saying?  With the way time-travel works Sandra wouldn’t change the tree by writing the letter, she would simply become the reason why the tree was there.

In another instance, Sandra tells Keanu that she left a gift for her father at a train station on a particular day and asked him to get the gift and send it to her father.  Again, this wouldn’t work. If Sandra would be able to get the gift to her father by writing the letter, he’d already have it.  Think it through. Keanu would have retrieved and delivered the gift in 2004 and, therefore, her father would possess it in 2006.  Since her father never got the gift, telling Keanu to go pick it up wouldn’t change anything.  And it didn’t, since Keanu decided to hold onto the gift instead of sending it along to Sandra’s dad.  This is the right way to handle time travel.  Nothing was changed.

I could just cut to the chase, but I feel like ranting on this topic a little more.  If this is boring you, just skip the next four paragraphs…

Now you might be wondering to yourself, “What if I could go back in time one week and buy a lottery ticket now that I know the winning numbers? Wouldn’t that be changing the past?”  Not really.  Think this through with me.  In Week 2 you would be traveling back to Week 1 to buy the lottery ticket.  This wouldn’t make you the same person as you were in Week 1.  The “past version” that was living in Week 1 would still exist.  You would simply be the Week 2 version of yourself that had traveled back to Week 1.  There would be two versions of you existing in that one moment in time: The Week 1 version, which would go on living Week 1 just like you had, and now you, the Week 2 version which purchased the ticket.

When you traveled back in time, you wouldn’t suddenly be a multi-millionaire, as you would still have to go cash in the ticket.  The reason is that the Week 1 version of you never bought the ticket and just continued on his way until he became the Week 2 version that is you as you currently are.  So you didn’t change the past.  When you were the Week 1 version of yourself, unbeknownst to you, the Week 2 version had traveled back from the future and bought the ticket.  You were both existing at the same time.  By going back to Week 1, you weren’t changing the past. You were simply carrying out the events that had already happened in Week 1 as the Week 2 version of yourself.

Now you might ask, but what if I bought the ticket and went up to the Week 1 version of myself and handed it to him.  Wouldn’t I then be changing the past and be a multi-millionaire when I returned to the future?  There’s two ways to approach this.  1. You can’t possibly do that. Because if you, as the Week 2 version of yourself, gave the ticket to the Week 1 version of yourself, you would remember it happening, as you would have experienced that encounter a week earlier as the Week 1 version of yourself.  Since you have no recollection of being approached by a future version of yourself, you will never travel back in time and greet your past self.  If you did you would have already experienced it back when you actually were the past version of yourself.

2. If you go and approach yourself in Week 1, having no recollection of ever been approached by a future version of yourself, you would then indeed be changing things.  However, since you have traveled back in time, “the past” has now actually become “the present” for you.  So you’re not changing the past. You’re actually doing something in the present which will lead to a different future – a future where you do not exist.  You will have erased the current version of yourself that never met his future-self in Week 1 and replaced him with a different version of yourself that did meet his future-self.  Since you would have effectively caused the Week 1 version of yourself that never met his future-self to not exist, that Week 1 version of yourself could never go on to become the Week 2 version of yourself, which means you would cease to exist.  That’s why you really want to leave the past alone.

Now back to your regularly scheduled movie review…

For fair warning, I’m going to go into major plot spoilers to wrap this thing up.

Going into this movie, I knew that it would progress to a point where Sandra and Keanu would want to meet up in 2006.  Like any story, this movie would need some conflict.  And what better conflict could there be than the two arranging to meet, only to have Keanu never show up?  This would send Sandra into a frenzy to determine what happened to Keanu.  Is he in a coma? Dead?  Did he fall out of love with her after some future correspondence that Sandra hadn’t written yet?

As I was waiting for this to play out, I began thinking of good ways Keanu could have died.  And then about fifteen minutes into the film, you have Sandra eating lunch outside with her mother when a guy gets hit by a bus and is killed.  I knew right then and there that Keanu was the road kill.  I then proceeded to ruin the movie for my fiancé, as I couldn’t keep this incredible plot-call to myself. After all, I needed proof that I actually figured it out right away.  I guess that’s the price you pay for agreeing to marry me – 100 Timberwolves and Patriots games per year, hours of Survivor rants, and spoiled chick-flicks.  Hey, I never said she was getting the better end of the deal!

Like I said, the whole way through I was thoroughly enjoying this movie.  Watching this plot play out exactly the way I said, was extremely gratifying.  (Yes, I do realize I’m a gigantic loser.) You have to admit, there’s something to be said for a movie where a woman witnesses a man die, which causes her to retreat to a lake house, which allows her to communicates two years back in time to her soul-mate, who she falls deeply in love with, but they don’t meet in the future because he’s dead, only she thinks she’s been stood up, so she cuts off all communication with the guy, which causes him to resort to trying to contact her before they were scheduled to meet in the future, and the only time and place he knows she’ll be is in the city eating lunch with her mom on a certain day because she mentioned the man dying, so he goes to meet her on that day and ends up becoming the man who was hit by the bus, thus setting off the entire chain of events.  Yes, that is one confusing and long run-on sentence I just wrote, but that is a great, great plot for a movie.

Thinking that this was the movie I was watching, I was extremely entertained.  I was even more excited thinking about all the woman who would be fooled into watching this movie thinking it was a chick-flick with a happy ending, only to become completely furious at the very surprising and very tragic ending.  The thought of an entire movie theatre of outraged women and chuckling boyfriends absolutely delighted me.  As things continued, I genuinely thought we could be dealing with an all-time classic. And then the the ending happened…

The whole movie went according to plan until the final minutes when Sandra discovered that Keanu died two years ago to the day.  She put two and two together and realized that exactly two years earlier, she witnessed the man get hit by the bus and that the man was Keanu.  So she raced back to the Lake House and put a letter in the mailbox telling Keanu that he can’t go see her that day or he’ll die.  Wouldn’t you know, at that same moment, two years earlier, Keanu was at the Lake House retrieving the letter Sandra wrote about the man dying so he could get her location for lunch with her mother.  As Sandra sat crying by the mailbox in 2008, we were left with a few moments of suspense, until Keanu appeared, alive, because he got her letter in time and didn’t go to see her.   Basically, they ended the movie by manipulating time like the illogical tree example instead of the logical gift example. This resulted in The Lake House earning the title of…

Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves

Worst. Ending. Ever.

Now you see why I went on that four paragraph rant before.  Time does not work this way!  If Sandra would be able to stop Keanu from coming to see her and getting hit by the bus by sending that letter in 2008, then he wouldn’t have died back in 2006. You can’t change the past!  Sending a letter to the past won’t help.  That letter existed in 2006 when she witnessed him get killed.  If it had been an effective letter, then he wouldn’t have been killed and she wouldn’t have witnessed him die.  Because she did witness him die, obviously that letter didn’t accomplish a thing.

Now let’s say that she could change the past and prevent Keanu from dying by sending that letter.  Well guess what?  By doing that, she just caused the version of herself who witnessed his death to be replaced by a version of herself who didn’t witness his death.  By erasing the past version of herself who witness the death, that version of herself was not able to go on and become the current version of herself who also witnessed the death, and just like in the lottery example I gave, she would then cease to exist.

Those are the only two logical endings for this movie after she puts that letter in the mailbox.  1. It doesn’t change a thing.  2. It does change things, but causes her to cease to exist.  There are no other logical options.  And so the ending where they end up together and live happily ever after is absolutely impossible!  Chances are I lost 95% of the people reading this twelve paragraphs ago.  But if you’ve managed to wade through this entire mind-bending article and actually follow what I’m saying, then you can probably appreciate why this got me so upset.  Look, I understand it’s a dumb chick-flick and having a mailbox time-portal is no more realistic than having Keanu show up at the end alive.  But the fact that they didn’t go for the logical ending isn’t really what bothers me.  What irks me is that The Lake House had the potential to be an epic, mind-blowing movie along the lines of the legendary Arlington Road, but the writers took the cheap way out and settled for the storybook finish.  Maybe they made more money going for the ending that leaves the theatre full of women happy and myself outraged, vs. the theatre full of women outraged and myself happy.  But I’m certain that if they went for the tragic ending, this movie would go down as a classic instead of just another forgettable chick flick. Any chance I can travel through time and get my hour and forty-five minutes back?

DeROK’s Take:

I don’t think a movie has ever gotten me so excited throughout its course, only to leave me feeling like I had been the one who got flattened by a bus.

About Derek Hanson

Doctor by day, blogger by night, Derek Hanson is the founder of the Bloguin Network and has been a Patriots fan for more than 20 years.