The typically pretentious, existentialist French mon-Dieu-what-is-this-thing-called-life-all-about nonsense wears out its welcome fairly quickly, leaving us to survive the drudgery of 90 minutes of two dull characters droning on and on, with scenes thrown around as if discarded by a garbage-disposing stewardess leaning out of the window of a flying plane. I would have loved to be in the editing room when they made this flick. "Where does scene 59 go?" the editor asks. "Just stick it somewhere in the first half," replies the director. "But what if it confuses or bores the viewer?" asks the editor. "What's your point?" replies the director.
Therein lies the film's crucial rub: the notion that pasting together a bunch of often unrelated or only vaguely related scenes in an almost random order can somehow make for riveting cinema. The movie drags on and on, and the tedium rarely lets up. One keeps hoping that eventually the director gets tired of his collage-like approach, but he never does. Yes, we get it; this isn't a conventional time-travel sci-fi but a semi-pretentious psychological drama with plenty of fortune-cookie philosophy hoping to pass of as profound insight into life's many mysteries. Or is it just a pointless analysis of the downfall of a skinny Frenchman? Bla bla bla bla. Big f-ing deal. The whole existential shtick is some kind of a loony obsession by France's New Wave buffoons, and gets old fairly quickly (except the cat hypothesis).
JTJT is also typical of many French dramas from the 60s and 70s: 1) the male protagonist is skinny, 2) he sleeps around with attractive women, 3) he is unfaithful, 4) his unfaithfulness is portrayed as commendable and a badge of honour not to mention proof of high machismo, 5) he is way out of the league of all the women he sleeps with and yet he somehow gets them into bed despite not being a wealthy man, 6) all the women he has affairs with are half his age (admittedly, that's a small difference; many French films have an age ratio of 56:15 i.e. a 56 year-old man dating a 15 year-old Lolita), 7) at least one of the characters is a hobby philosopher, constantly musing about this fascinating world, and 8) the skinny Frenchman cheats on his attractive women – rather than the other way round, which would make a whole lot more sense.
How many women have any of you ever met that constantly philosophize about the world? Who make up unusual theories about the world? Exactly: you don't know any and you've never met anyone who has ever known such a woman. It is characteristic of French movies to be cut off from reality, i.e. how real people behave. God forbid a Frenchwoman in a French drama should talk about shopping all the time – that would be too realistic (though in this case no duller than most of the conversation pieces we're subjected to). After all, French movies are to the most part male fantasies disguised as meaningful dramas, to varying extents: either the middle-aged male protagonist dates women in their 20s or those in their early teens; that's the only difference. Also, sometimes the male protagonist is bald and ugly, whereas sometimes he is merely skinny and average-looking, as is the case here. But essentially it's the same shtick over and over: male fantasies told in a number of more-or-less not-that-different ways: this time it's time-travel, but Resnais could just as well have picked a costume drama, or a rundown post-office.
By the time the plot's tempo finally shifts from turtle speed to occasional frog-hops (baby frog), I'd lost interest. Claude's time-travel maze is hardly a cinematic extravaganza. Instead, the time-hopping is filmed and offered in such a dry, lazy and sterile manner that it makes a mockery of the genre term "sci-fi". The photography is fairly poor for its period, the hundreds of scene-changes were glued together in a dull, unexciting manner, and the characters are neither interesting nor likable. It's hard to give a toss about this man; he is neither fascinating nor a man of high morals. So why give us this much insight into his life? Given a choice between a more conventional time-travel flick and a lame character drama, the choice is simple – at least given THIS kind of dialogue, this director's lack of imagination (or sheer incompetence?), and the non-exceptional cast.
Catherine's "God as Cat" idea, however, is quite good. (She says that God might have created the cat in his own image, and then created man to serve the cat.) It would certainly explain why cats rule the world, whereas French movies don't.
A clever twist would have been the revelation that the team of bored-looking scientists had in fact used this man for the experiment over and over, time and time again, leaving the movie in a sort of endless loop. Obviously, some scenes at the beginning would have to be re-written, and it's not terribly original either, but at least that would give us SOMETHING as a conclusion. As it is, we find out that the experiment had failed (well, not really: he did travel to the past, didn't he? So why was everyone so down on themselves?) and that's pretty much it. Not enough by a long shot.
I shall now explain to you why this movie has such a high average. It is because it is a French drama made in the 60s (although any other period would do) and by a left-wing French director. If this had been an American drama, with the exact same kind of dreariness and Philosophy for Beginners 101, it would have had a much lower rating. That's because movie-goers – generally so against prejudice – are prejudiced against American cinema, while prejudiced in favour of French, Iranian and Swedish ones. Stupidity and confusion have many manifestations, and this is but one of many.
Review by fedor8 from the Internet Movie Database.