The Problem with Time Loops

Wallpaper from The Edge of Tomorrow.

One of my favourite movies from the last few years is Edge of Tomorrow, the Tom Cruise vehicle that had him repeating the same day over and over again as he fought against alien beings. Marketed with the tagline, “Live. Die. Repeat.”, the film really fed my love for the concept of time loops. The idea that we can relive the same past until we get it right holds a strong appeal for me. Comics, anime, and movies that show time loops often present them as a curse, but I see them more as a superpower. With this ability, what could I do better with the time I’m given? How could I improve my situation? Could I do something to help the people around me that I didn’t do the first time?

Steins;gate, an anime about a pair of scientists and their cohorts who find themselves intertwined in conspiracies and plots involving time travel, emphasizes further complexities regarding time loops. At first, Rintaro Okabe, a peculiar college student and self-described mad scientist, is satisfied living an eccentric life, visiting his wide array of friends, and conducting unusual experiments involving bananas in his home laboratory. But as his conspiracy theories start to tap into truth, Okabe and his partners discover that time travel research has come at a great cost, and that the organization that has conducted it is willing to kill to hide and preserve their findings.

“Time Machine” by Rosuuri (

Okabe encounters a time loop as he travels to the past incessantly in an attempt to save someone very important to him. Although it’s a loop that Okabe can exit, it has no less effect on him than one in which he would be helpless to break. Okabe witnesses the brutal death of a dear friend over and over again, and no matter what he does, he can’t seem to disrupt the cycle.

In television and film, that’s always key–in the time loop, there’s something critical that must be done, and the character can’t exit until that feat in accomplished. And whether it’s something clearly devastating, like Okabe’s loss in Steins;gate, or something less sinister but still frustrating, like the repeated day for the protagonist, Kyon, in the infamous episodes from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya known as the “Endless Eight,” there’s literally no moving forward unless that important component is addressed.

Sometimes I feel like I need to be drawn into a time loop, to experience pain over and over again. Not because I want to punish myself, but maybe if I had that kind of repeated, obvious emphasis in my own life, I would do what was necessary to avoid these things that hurt myself and others around me. But I also realize that I am in figurative time loops, where I repeatedly face the same faults and vices because I’m unwilling to address them.

One flaw that I struggle with is a lack of self-control. As a teenager, I would literally throw my keyboard and other peripherals across the room when I became frustrated at a slow Internet connection or sluggish processing. When I became a Christian, like Paul recollects, I felt challenged to put childish things, like these temper tantrums, away. So I prayed and practiced at it, making a concerted effort at no longer being so physical with my frustrations. In a sense, the answer was simple. It was like Kyon’s way of leaping out of the time loop in Haruhi, where he merely had to do his homework. Like Kyon, I had to evaluate my situation and address it.

Nothing would change if I had stayed put and just decided to live that problem over and over again.

There’s a caveat here, though. I might not act like a maniac anymore with my keyboard and mouse, but I’m still impatient. Just as with Okabe’s loop, mine is more complicated than just one problem, and that more intricate, deeper issue takes time to repair.

But nothing would change if I had stayed put and just decided to live that problem  over and over again. I know that if I really want to grow, I have to do the uncomfortable work of facing my character and understanding that I’m not quite as wonderful or great as I think am.

At the beginning of Edge of Tomorrow, Cruise’s character, William Cage, is cowardly and devious. The time loop forces him to confront reality, but it isn’t until Cage decides to do what is right, to become a better man than he is, that he can create change that helps the people around him. Like Cage, I can shift the narrative away from “Live. Die. Repeat.” I don’t have to struggle the same way my entire life. If I confront the problem, if I confront myself, I’ve started down a path that might break me free of the loop and from the steps of “die” and “repeat,” and to lead me simply to just “live.”

Charles Sadnick

Charles Sadnick

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Converted from the moment he first heard Han Solo reply, “I know,” Charles resisted his nerdy urges until Hayao Miyazaki, Spike Spiegel, and Evangelion Unit-01 forced him to confront the truth of his inner geekery. Baptized into otakudom, Charles masks himself in the not-so-secret identity of TWWK as he blogs endlessly about anime and faith.

He can also be found, however, feeding his other nerd habits, including A Song of Ice and Fire. Charles also remains hopelessly stuck in the 90's, maybe best demonstrated by his unexplainable passion for The Phantom Menace.

A historian and director at a government agency by day, Charles joins in the work of college and digital ministry is his off-time, while growing each day in the round-the-clock charge of being a husband and father.
Charles Sadnick