Clock Anti-Clock – a time travel short movie

How does time flow in Clock Anti-Clock? Is there personal time, is it a matter of perception of time, or does time actually flow backwards?

Clock Anti-Clock is a time travel movie produced by Deepak Sharma (Paragravity) with the simple premise of a time traveler who meets himself. But there’s a twist…

I’ve only got one issue with this movie, and I only noticed it because it accentuates the first of a few of my thoughts when I watched Clock Anti-Clock: Is time personal?

It relates to the construction; when the character is experiencing a backward flow of time, he stares at everything running backwards; it’s strange, it’s unusual – it deserves a good look.

But why was no-one staring at him? Relative to their time frame he’s also walking backwards etc. and would be strange to look at. He seems to be in a personal time bubble.

Personal time

In my post A Unique Signature of Time I alluded to the question: Is time personal?

In Clock Anti-Clock the question is very relevant because I think it explains a situation at the end of the film where otherwise there’d be a paradox.

We hear the door knob rattle. He puts his glasses on and from then on it seems that time runs backwards from around 12:00 pm. This is inside the room where we see the clocks going backwards, and also outside where he observes people walking backwards, taps dripping upwards, etc..

By the end of the movie we have a better perspective on what’s going on outside. The ‘experienced’ version of the character tries to open the door (causing the door handle to rattle), and realising it’s locked, walks away.

But here’s the thing: if time is running backwards for the guy inside his room and opening the door (to find no-one there) why hasn’t he seen the guy outside walking backwards back towards the door and trying the handle?

In other words, time appears to be flowing in different directions by the door – or at least, in different directions for each character.

I think it’s clear by the end of the movie we’ve figured out that it’s the glasses which cause the change of flow direction for time (though whether time actually flows backwards, or that things look like they’re going backwards can be questioned!). Since only one person can wear a single pair of glasses at the same time, it seems reasonable to assume that time is indeed personal and that there is a time bubble or something around our guy. After all – he’s still walking forwards whilst everyone else is walking backwards.

The Perception of Time

The flip side of this is that no matter what direction time flows, we perceive it as forwards – rather like applying a modulus function on time ( -2 seconds becomes 2 seconds).

This already happens in physics; I remember a cretinous teacher who took joy in deducting a mark from me when I was calculating “work done”, given as force times distance. We were told that distance was measured positive from left to right, but in the example the force was applied to an object moving in the opposite direction, so I gave it a negative sign. Of course, this gave me a negative product, but since work done cannot be negative I applied the modulus and gave the final work done as a positive number.

Mr Cretin took a mark away because he didn’t even want to see the negative number in a work done calculation. I still disagree with him. But the point remains – having a closed mind and removing a negative sign completely, or being a budding scientist to be and applying the modulus are just 2 ways in which direction is made a non factor.

So why not with time? Maybe wearing these glasses “opens our eyes”!

(As an aside, you might like to read my guest post on the perception of time and its relevance in time travel on the Theory of Space Time blog.)

Time running backwards

The question of time either being personal and acting under its own rules within personal space, or being perceived to be so, brings me onto my final point – time actually running backwards.

Time travel seems to be obsessed with moving from one point in time to another, but for the large part, time flows in one (forwards) direction. It’s often referred to as the “Arrow of Time” – a term developed by astronomer Arthur Eddington which basically says that there’s an obvious direction or flow of time reference: Wikipedia.

(Sometimes we experience time appearing to move backwards from the viewpoint of a time machine making a backward trip, but I’d suggest that this is little more than illusion – parked cars don’t really move backwards when we walk forwards alongside them, for example.)

So how does physics work when time runs backwards? For example, we saw in the movie a plane flying backwards because time flows backwards. But for the plane to remain in the air, complete with its aerodynamic design, surely physics must have changed to keep it airborne?

Plane flying backwards

To the left is a snapshot of the plane in the sky. It’s not falling, yet it’s not defying gravity. The force of gravity is an acceleration so has a time term, but here in this snapshot time has simply been removed from the equation. Is the gravitational force now working in the opposite direction so keep the plane airborne?

Physical processes at the microscopic level are believed to be either entirely or mostly time-symmetric: if the direction of time were to reverse, the theoretical statements that describe them would remain true. Yet at the macroscopic level it often appears that this is not the case: there is an obvious direction (or flow) of time. Reference: Wikipedia

In practice, I don’t know what this actually means and how that relates to the (macroscopic) plane, but I wondered further about the sign of time in vector physical equations. For example, velocity. Where speed (a scalar) is concerned only with how fast something goes, velocity is more specific; direction is also important.

Usain Bolt is the fastest human on the planet and ran 100 m in 9.58 seconds (reference: Guinness World Records). (That’s a speed of 10.43 m/s – he can run further in 1 second than he can fall if he fell off a cliff in the same time!) But Usain wouldn’t have won the Olympics unless he ran in the right direction – i.e. from the start line to the finish line. He needed to have the fastest velocity.

Where speed can’t be negative, velocity can (e.g. if Usain ran in the opposite direction). We’re back to my work done calculation here…where we can switch the sign for distance and come up with a negative velocity, can we not equally change the sign of time instead? We’d end up with negative velocity – and it would explain why everyone would be walking backwards…

Personal, perception or actual?

So how is time flowing in Clock Anti-Clock? Is there personal time, is it a matter of perception of time, or does time actually flow backwards?

The more I think about this movie, the more intricacies I find. And getting someone to think can only be a good thing!

You can see more of Deepak’s productions on his website (paragravityfilms) and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@deepaktrivadi).


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Review: Backwards by Rob Grant

Backwards isn’t strictly a time travel novel – playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which at the same time creates plenty of comedic scenarios…as you’d hope from a comedy!

Backwards is the third novel from the “Red Dwarf” TV sitcom devised by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.

The novel continues from Better Than Life (the sequel to the original Red Dwarf) so the main characters are the same and the plot is consistent.

Book cover for Backwards (Red Dwarf Series, Rob Grant)

An introductory summary paragraph provides the relevant thread of the previous book to get us up to speed, so the plot in Backwards is pretty much self contained. That said, the characters are complex – who’d have thought a computer generated hologram, a mechanoid, a humanoid creature descended from a cat and the last ‘real’ human!

I’d therefore suggest reading the first book (Red Dwarf) or watching a couple of TV episodes before reading Backwards.

At first I was hesitant in deciding to write a review for Backwards – it doesn’t set out to be a time travel novel in itself; rather it has an element of time travel in it.


The basic premise is that (in the previous book) a 30-odd year old Lister encounters time dilation and comes out as an old man and dies. He’s placed on a planet where time runs backwards (“Backworld”) so that he’ll get younger and get picked up by his crew mates when he’s ‘aged’ (or ‘younged’?) back to his original age as it was before the time dilation event.

Writing style

You can imagine that writing a novel which by definition is going to be backwards is going to have to be done well for it to makes sense. And it does!

Backwards leaps straight into backwards time, assuming that the reader is aware of it.

The writing is very clever – it describes an event and then shows how that event comes about. This isn’t done in a chunky Tarantino style swapping of sections but in a smooth ‘unhappening’ of events where the reader (and characters) are slowly introduced to scenarios and logic which map out the plot line.

For example, Lister runs towards the crime scene where he’d discover whether he really was guilty of the crime that he’d been put away in jail for. Or, the pain disappeared when the policeman hit him in the face. It’s really clever stuff!

I was pleased to see consistency in that everything was backwards, including speech. For Rimmer (a computer generated hologram) and Kryten (a mechanoid) this poses no problem as they can be reprogrammed. But for Lister and “the Cat” (a human-like creature evolved from a cat) speech was more problematic. Thankfully there’s no extended or overused attempts at trying to write backwards speech phonetically.

As an aside, there’s a rumour that in the TV version if you record the backwards speech and play it backwards to hear what is being said, you hear comments such as “I bet there are sad people who have recorded this and who are playing it backwards to hear what we are really saying!”

Backwards Time Travel

Despite the backward motion of time, Backwards isn’t a time travel novel.

Time travel can perhaps be defined as experiencing time at a different rate to it’s normal flow rate. e.g. experiencing 1 second, but going forwards in time by 1 hour. I think going backwards is “different” enough!

There’s no explanation why or how time runs back wards, it just does (or undoes depending on how you look at it). Given the comical nature of Backwards, the exclusion of the scientific intricacies and nature of time is not important, indeed it would be out of place. Rather, it’s the effect of time running the wrong way that is central to this novel more than anything else – it’s the canvas upon which the story line is painted.

Final thoughts

Playing with time is simply a backdrop to the plot which creates plenty of comedic scenarios – as you’d hope from a comedy! Some of the humour does get a bit repetitive after a while, but I suppose this is the nature of the book. As the plot progresses though, what starts out as humorous writing changes to a simple description of “Backworld” with different physics than ours. It’s not detailed to be scifi, and it’s no longer comedy. It kind of falls flat.

Rating * * *

Backwards continues the Red Dwarf comedy series with a time travel component used as a sounding block for its comedy. The concept is interesting and handled well, though the novel is clearly too long to be able to keep this up and peters out into more description than anything else towards the end.


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Is energy released in time travel?

A huge obstacle in time travel is the vast amounts of energy needed to power it. What if we could borrow and pay back energy by moving it through time?

A thermodynamic conundrum

One of the biggest obstacles in time travel is summoning the vast amounts of energy required to power it. I’ve often wondered whether we could use the energy from one time and return it in another during the time travel expedition the same way as we move physical objects around according to our transient desires.

So far it would seem not; the laws of thermodynamics mean that there cannot be a creation (or destruction) of energy and moving it from one time to another (forwards or backwards) is essentially the same thing (removing it from one time is ‘destruction’ and replacing it in another time is ‘creation’).

Looking at it another way, does time travel imply that there is a creation or destruction of energy? Perhaps thermodynamics hints at the importance of direction, at least in the temporal field.

A matter of direction

Most of us have probably heard about the direction of time, or time’s arrow. In these cases the direction is linear, that is to say, forwards, backwards or if we’re being creative, sideways.

Equally creative, but perhaps more conventional given the motion of hands on a clock, have we ever considered a rotational direction of time?

Image courtesy: Google images.
Image courtesy: Google images.

In H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (or was it that b***dy Baxter’s The Time Ships), the Time Traveller talks of a twisting of the spatial and temporal dimensions so that all 4 dimensions are transposed and travelling through time could be done so as easily as easily as travelling through space. Give or take a bit of nausea.

(Yes, it was Baxter. I remember now; he [appears to have] nicked the idea of rotating of the 4 dimensions (and inducing sickness from centrifugal and Coriolis forces from Poul Anderson, or at least the rotational aspect from Michael Moorcock’s Flux. )

It seems to me that if we’re going to play about with thought experiments and how time moves (or at least, how we move through an otherwise static time), then we should at least pay a bit of homage to the idea that it might twirl about!

Indirectly, my wife and I recently had a conversation which lead to these kind of musings.

I’ll say upfront that the conversation wasn’t directly related to time travel or even about time…but it did involve a clock. Note the manly pink colour, but please recall that I am a father of 2 daughters!

Rotated clock
Does time have a rotational direction? 10 o’çlock, 1 o’çlock or quarter past?

A few nights ago my wife exclaimed surprise that the bedside clock still worked even when the battery is put in with the knobbly bit on the wrong way reversed polarity. “Even the light comes on!”

Why wouldn’t it? In a general and simple electrical case (e.g. one without diodes), it’s not the direction of flow of electricity that makes light light or clocks tick (that’s an expression…digital ones don’t!) – rather, it’s the flow itself.

[Aside: an economist friend of mine once told me that the value of money is unimportant – it’s that it changes hands. Not spending a million dollars is the same as not spending 1 dollar. Movement, or flow, of money is important…though in this case the direction is important too…we’d rather receive a million dollars than part with it!]

My wife (who I should add, didn’t marry me for my money!) said that given all the warnings in the instruction manual about taking care to observe the correct polarity, she’d expected the clock to simply not work. Or blow up spectacularly.

At the very least, that it might run backwards.

Whilst this wouldn’t explain the workings of Edward Page Mitchell’s The Clock that went Backwards (which was a wind up Grandfather clock), the comment did lead to the usual cart-before-the-horse question: was our hypothetically backward running pink clock marking a backward motion of time, or was it actually driving it?

And if I can milk the driving metaphor, was our reverse polar battery the equivalent of the flux capacitor in the Back to the Future DeLorean time machine?

Now that the horse is well and truly trailing the cart, my wife and I turned to thinking about the local effect of a backward trip in time. As local as the battery squeezed in its compartment with the knobble against the spring.

In the usual case, the battery discharges and powers the clock. The corollary, if we’re going back in time, is that the battery is now charging – electricity is coming out of the clock and into the battery.

But if the battery isn’t discharging, then it can’t be powering the clock to drive the time backwards, and that means it should be discharging. We have the classic Grandfather Paradox…nullifying our speculative thought experiment!

Well! Paradoxes such as these are common place in time travel, so perhaps we’re on the right track…

But something else is at odds here – power is required to push time forwards (or to maintain it’s ambient rate of natural progression), and now it looks like energy is released in time travel when we go backwards!

This sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if it’s something else entirely…I think the clue is in the battery not being charged but recharged – the energy it spent in pushing time forwards is now being paid back.

It’s a subtle difference, but this idea of a return can be taken further in the case of time itself in that it’s not a backward motion of time but a return to some state of equilibrium, like an aeroplane doesn’t expend energy to fly downwards, but returns to the ground and gives up energy doing so.

This seems to be more in line with thermodynamic principles where energy is required to bring order and expended to return to chaos, and indeed…we have a battery with increasing energy.

A reversal of time is an increase in order(!)…the matter of the universe, going back in time, will become more ordered. Perhaps, into a singularity rather than an expanding universe.

So what’s all this got to do with rotational time?

Well OK, you got me! Clock hands rotating the wrong way doesn’t signify a rotational time direction any more than a digital clock counting backwards signifies time going backwards. Does it?

Maybe we’ll never know. If time is going (or rotating) backwards now how would we know? It would be normal to us; the definition of a direction would be a matter of convention.

I can’t help thinking though, that a time might introduce some twirling about, some seemingly random changes in direction, or loops or somersaults to avoid those pesky time travel paradoxes we’d have with a linear motion in time. And it would be a much cleaner solution that just making up a new multiverse to get out of the conundrum.

Don’t you think?

Well, we’ve talked and thunk ourselves into a tighter and ever decreasing circle, and like the Time Traveller, probably feeling quite dizzy and nauseous from it!


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