Date Posted: 09/10/16
There are a number of concepts that I have found to be very interesting since arriving on this little blue planet, and in 1998 I learned of another. Sliding Doors stars Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah. It is a romantic comedy-drama that was written and directed by Peter Howitt. I have subsequently learned that whilst I thought this film was the original source of its main concept it actually wasn’t. Still, this was the first time that I had encountered this idea so as far as I am concerned this was the birth-place of this premise.
As I have already mentioned, Sliding Doors has a very interesting idea at its core but before I discuss that in detail, let me clue you in regarding what is going on…
So the film follows the life (or more accurately lives) of Helen Quilley (Paltrow). On an especially bad day she is fired from her public relations job, and on the way home she catches a train after a child moves out of her way. However, this is not the only version of Helen in this story, and this is where the film splits into a parallel universe in which she missed the train because the child didn’t move. The first Helen arrives home earlier than expected and catches her boyfriend, Gerry (John Lynch) cheating on her with his ex-girlfriend Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). She is devastated and dumps him before moving out, her life seems to be in tatters but then she crosses paths with a charming man named James (Hannah).
In the other timeline or parallel universe Helen misses the train and therefore arrives later, missing Gerry cheating on her, she gets a new job as a waitress to support him as he is an unemployed-writer.
The film switches between the two timelines as the two Helens start to lead very different lives…
As I’ve said this was not the first time that this concept had been done, however, this was the first time that I encountered it. The idea of a single moment leading to two vastly different lives is so clever that it is impossible to not be drawn in. One moment, a child that either moves out of Helen’s way or doesn’t leads to a completely different outcome. Would the same thing happen if say one day someone made the traffic light or if they didn’t, such a thing is so mundane to you humans, and makes you wonder “…what if…??”
Since this film came out I have seen this concept done over and over again, and that is why it left me with such a lasting impression. It makes you think…is there a single moment that changed everything and naturally you would have no idea. Most people only think about the big decisions: Do you take that new job?? Do you get married?? Do you go to one university or a different one?? But what if it is the little choices that create the biggest outcomes, will wearing a different colour tie lead to a different scenario?? What if you wear jeans instead of shorts?? A thousand things happen each and every day, could each and every one of them create an alternate timeline or parallel universe in which those scenarios are played out??
No human can even know the answer to such questions because it is beyond your understanding…
Director Peter Howitt expertly flips between the two timelines, and as the film develops, the lives of the two Helens become increasingly different. Plus you have no idea which of the two is the “primary” universe and which is the “what-if” scenario. Now to make things a little easier the Helen who caught the train decides to have a make-over in which she cuts and dyes her hair so pretty quickly it is easy to tell the two Helens apart.
John Hannah is a effortlessly charming as James the friendly man that Helen meets after she discovers that Gerry was cheating on her, but he also crops up a couple of times in the life of the Helen who caught the train. The supporting cast play their dual roles very well. One of the continuous highlights of the film are the scenes in which Gerry wrestles with his conscience about whether or not to confess his infidelity to Helen and which woman he really wants to be with. Naturally he had history with Lydia and the two only separated when she returned to America, so he is trying to decide if she will up and leave him again.
Like Groundhog Day, Sliding Doors is one of those truly great films, and has been copied so many times. I love the fact that it makes you think about the possibilities of a single decision, and it might even be something that you didn’t realise was a choice. The child moved in one possibility and didn’t in the other, that was not Helen’s decision, it was that unknown child that changed Helen’s life.
The ending also makes you wonder if there is such a thing as fate, if something is “meant to be” will it happen regardless of the obstacles that life puts in the way?? Is one reality the primary universe and the other the “what-if” or are both universes as valid as each other??
There is an idea in which it has been theorised that across the infinite number of parallel universes and different identities (if parallel universes exist) that each and every scenario is played out. So if you are trying to decide if you want to go out for a drink with your mates or not, in one reality you did and in another you didn’t, will such a decision change your life, probably not. But what-if, if you go out you could meet the love of your life although you probably won’t because you go to that same bar every time you go out, if you don’t go then you definitely won’t, but naturally you have no idea that by declining that particular invitation you are losing the love of your life. But if it is meant to be then will you meet her some other where and some other when?? Are all of the possibilities out there somewhere, all of them happening right now, and if that is true then is this the primary universe or do we exist in one of the “what-if” scenarios??
Think about that…
I always enjoy a film that makes someone think, and if a film can give my mighty alien brain a moment to pause then it is going to be more than enough to challenge a human mind. It is an old film but it is one that I always talk about if the opportunity presents itself and as a result it is getting a Thumbs Up. Track this film down and give it a watch because it is not only very good but also has a really creative idea that is well worth your time.
8/10 - A great concept that is very well executed, Sliding Doors is truly a mind bending film that will always leave the audience to wonder about “…what ifs...” and if there is such a thing as fate…