The hypothetical concept of traveling back and forth in time has always been fascinating to us and has existed in mythologies across the world long before the advent of sci-fi literature. Later, the prospect of not being shackled to our present and learning about the past and future by bypassing the natural flow of time has intrigued many writers and physicists. In order to rationalize its possibilities and conceptualize its ramifications, the efforts of curious minds led to the advent of a number of theories like general relativity, special relativity, the grandfather paradox, quantum entanglement, time dilation, suspended animation, and wormholes, most of which, at this point, have been liberally used in literary endeavors.
Even though most of these aforementioned concepts have been overused in mainstream media, now and then, some of the time-travel-oriented ventures try to put their own unique spin on them in order to stand out. Therefore, it only makes sense that DCEU’s latest entry, The Flash, having a titular character who has been intricately entangled with the concepts of space-time since his creation, will try to weave its own version of temporal shenanigans, and while doing so, it will also simplify the DC Multiverse for a big screen audience. We would like to briefly discuss the concepts and how they unfolded in the movie itself.
Concept Of Time Travel In ‘The Flash’: What Barry Thinks
To provide a general overview, Barry Allen, a forensic scientist, gets speed-oriented superpowers after getting struck by lightning and uses his powers for the betterment of the planet under the moniker ‘Flash.’ During his boyhood, Barry’s mother, Nora, was murdered, and his father, Henry, was wrongfully convicted of the crime, resulting in his prolonged incarceration. In order to help his father get acquitted, Barry decided to take up the profession of an investigative researcher. But as fate would have it, Barry gradually learns that there isn’t enough evidence present to prove Henry’s innocence, even after all these years.
Getting increasingly desperate and despondent while thinking about the situation, Barry breaks into a hurtling run, which leads him to enter an altogether different dimension via accessing the Speedforce (the quintessential protective, augmentative space for the Speedsters). The dimension takes him to the chronosphere, a certain timestream-control mechanism. Barry sees an arena-council-like structure surrounding the sphere, depicting various points in time, which can be accessed forward or backward depending on the direction Barry is running inside the sphere.
It has been previously established that Barry can travel faster than the speed of light, which has allowed him to access the timestream in the first place—a pretty straightforward interpretation of the theory of general relativity. After learning that, Barry decides to go back in time to prevent his mother’s death, and despite his friend and mentor Bruce’s warnings about the possibility of disastrous consequences for reality, he does so, believing that a slight alteration without major interaction with the past will not affect much. What Bruce was fearing, and Barry also kept in mind, was the Grandfather Paradox, which might have happened if Barry interacted too much with his past, like, as Barry also mentions, apprehending the murderer of his mother, a significant enough change that could have altered the present timeline significantly.
A Non-Linear Timestream And Spaghetti Multiverse
As planned, Barry goes back in time and causes a minor alteration, which ensures Nora’s survival. However, he is knocked into the year 2013 by Dark Flash and visits an alternate version of himself already living during that time period. Barry was knocked out on the same exact date in the past when he received his superpowers; therefore, in order to ensure his return to his timeline, he has to put alt Barry in the same scenario, which he does, and alt Barry receives superpowers as well. However, the same year also marked the start of the Kryptonian invasion by General Zod, and while Barry tries to assemble the rest of his superhero friends, the Justice League members, to prevent the upcoming destruction courtesy of Zod, he finds out his one action has changed the course of time so significantly that in this alternate timeline they simply don’t exist. This seems to be mostly inspired by the Butterfly Effect, which is attributed to the situation when a miniscule change in a nonlinear system causes incomprehensibly massive changes further down the line—like a butterfly’s wing flap in one place causing a typhoon somewhere else. However, it gets more complex than that, as the movie takes inspiration from the “Flashpoint” comics.
After learning that Batman exists in the alternate world as well, Barry goes to meet his friend Bruce to seek help and comes across a totally different version of the character, played by Michael Keaton. While Barry struggles to wrap his head around the fact that his action caused changes in events even in the distant past, Bruce, a genius in his own rights, comes to his rescue. Using his spaghetti strands as timelines, he delineates that changing a certain event in the past in the timeline doesn’t simply have a linear effect on the future; the ripple effect goes both ways, affecting both the past and the future and turning into a totally separate timeline. A singular alternate timeline, as shown by raw spaghetti, doesn’t merely bifurcate from the point of diversion (changed event); rather, having the point act as an axis, it rotates in its entirety, creating a new future and also a new past. This is the reason why in this timeline, an elder, different version of Bruce replaced the Bruce Barry knew and later Barry also learned Kal-El was killed in infancy and Kara Zor-El, his cousin, had arrived on Earth. Enough of these changes result in incalculable numbers of possible timelines existing all at once, creating a multiverse, for which Bruce uses the metaphor of a bowl of cooked spaghetti.
Fixed Points In The Timestream And Paradox
However, Bruce also mentions that certain key events, relations, or coincidences exist in timestreams that cannot be changed or altered by any means, and irrespective of timelines, they occur nonetheless, almost as if two points are attracted to each other like magnets. These fixed points of time shape the course of distinctive realities, and some of these events in the DC multiverse are, as we learn, the arrival of Kal-El on Earth, the Wayne getting murdered, and later, as Barry learns, the death of his mother, Nora Allen. After losing Bruce and Kara during the Kryptonian invasion battle, Alt Barry continuously tries to change the outcome by altering the events but is unable to save them. Barry realizes his effort to change a fixed point in time has resulted in a doomed timeline, which can sever the fabric of reality itself. Barry’s fear manifests when Dark Flash turns out to be a future, corrupted version of Alt Barry, who was locked in a losing battle with destiny through eternity and whose actions start to lead the universes to collide with each other, almost collapsing the Multiverse. Barry also learns that Dark Flash is a living paradox, as he knocked Barry into the year 2013 to ensure his own creation. Dark Flash delivers a death blow to Barry, but he gets erased from existence when his past self, Alt Barry, takes the impact while saving Barry.
In the end, Barry lets the fixed point of time run its course by undoing his action, but another minor change made by him results in a different version of Bruce appearing in the prime timeline yet again.