Why do so many films today tamper with time? Check out today's Ask the Critic question, then post your own

By Owen Gleiberman
Updated October 24, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

Why do so many films today tamper with time?

Why do you think that showing scenes out of sequence, in movies like Pulp Fiction and Memento, is such an effective technique? —Gabriella

It’s a paradox: The movies you mentioned take head-spinning chronological leaps backward and forward, turning time into a pretzel, yet the effect is to plug us ever more into the moment — immersing us in the present tense, the eternal now, of a movie’s reality. This fractured temporal gamesmanship has evolved, in no small part, because audiences today are so attuned to the detours and ruses of conventional storytelling. When a story is told out of order, it’s far easier for it to conjure that surprise, that what’s-going-to-happen-next rush. The real news is that what started as a novelty has now edged into the mainstream via the work of directors like Alejandro González Iñárritu, who bends time in 21 Grams and the current Babel, and Christopher Nolan, who uncorks his time-trip narrative magic tricks in The Prestige.