Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index


Directed by Luc Besson (1997, Columbia Tristar)
Starring Dennis Quaid, James Caviezel, and Andre Braugher

A man communicates with his father 30 years in the past, and in the process, changes his own life in the present.



4 stars

November 19th, 2000 on Video  

Wonderfully enjoyable, full of great character moments, mercifully short chase scenes, and a real heartfelt relationship between a son and his father.  I do have to wonder, however, if one person is so inconsequential that just about everything stays the same.

This is science fiction at its purest.  I almost rated this as a drama, which it could easily have been, except for the fantastic twist that allows time travel of a sort.  As with The Thirteenth Floor last year, Frequency deals not with space travel, laser beams, robots or aliens, but with how you react when suddenly confronted with an unforeseen event in your life.  In The Thirteenth Floor, reality was suspect, and the realization that came with that was shocking.  Here, as John talks with an unknown person on the short-wave radio, and the reality sinks in that he is speaking with his father, Frank, the shock turns into something else: a second chance.  This is what SF used to be, a long time ago.  It still is, in many SF books, and the classic ones always dealt with.

The movie starts out in 1969, where Frank risks his life to save a group of city workers trapped in a sewer beneath a leaking oil truck.  He gets them out just before the truck explodes, and we see what kind of fireman he is.  He'll do anything to save other people, but doesn't even think about the consequences or the risk involved.  So when John tells him that he'll die in a warehouse fire the next day, Frank is pretty shaken up.  But he doesn't immediately believe.

The power of the movie is in how John convinces Frank of the truth- through their mutual love of baseball, which was fostered in John in the short childhood that he had with his father.  Frank survives the fire, thanks to his son's advice, and lives to hear the scores of the "greatest World Series ever".  But he already knew the scores, and the details, which are engrained in his son's memory.  He goes to see his wife, working as a nurse at the hospital, because he's so happy to be alive.

Suddenly John has new memories.  His father died of cancer, but worse than that, his mother was killed in a string of murders committed in 1968-9.  She saved a man from getting an overdose of medication, since she was at the hospital working the day her husband would have died.  She saved the murderer, and ended up being a victim.  John is a police detective, and has dedicated his life to solving those murders.  

But now his memories are getting muddled.  He remembers all the different timelines, and doesn't know which is which.  He sends his father out after the next victim, who isn't killed, but they didn't catch the man who would have murdered her, because she takes an interest in Frank, and they talk all night.  The next victim is not so lucky.  The murderer notices Frank following him, so beats him up and plants his driver's license at the scene of the crime.  When Frank revives, he goes to the woman's door, and finds her dead.  He leaves fingerprints all over the place.  

But John is ecstatic, because the murderer touched his father's wallet.  In a really neat scene, Frank places his wallet under a loose board in a plastic bag, and John retrieves it thirty years later, in a heartbeat.  They find out that the murderer is a police officer, and he is still alive.  John goes to see him as Frank is arrested.  John tells the policeman that he knows about the murders, and suggests that the first murder victim was a woman who spurned him.  It turns out that he probably even killed his mother, another nurse.  

Frank tries to convince the police detective, his friend, that he's been talking to his son in the future, and offers the day's baseball scores as evidence.  Left alone in the interrogation room, the murderer enters, and nearly shoots Frank before he is called away.  He reenters the room, but Frank has torn some wires loose, and electrocutes the man (partially, anyway).  But it's not over.  John's memories still tell him that his mother was killed.  

While talking to his father, he hears Frank being accosted, and his mother at gunpoint.  The murderer hears John on the radio, and must figure out some of what's happening.  For when John as a little boy enters the room, he decides to take the boy captive.  At the same time, the murderer shows up in John's room in 1999.  The way the director cuts back and forth from one time to another just increases the tension magnificently.  Both lives are at stake, and more than that.  John is at risk in both times.  In another cool scene, Frank shoots off the murderer's hand, and in 1999, both John and he watch in horror as the hand disintegrates.  In 1969, the murderer runs out of the house.  Thirty years later, he is extremely angry, and is about to kill John when Frank enters the house, old and grey, and shoots the man dead.  

What is neat is how Frank heard the fighting in 1969 and couldn't do anything about it.  But he remembered, and showed up with a shotgun when his son needed it most.  Also neat, when the short-wave radio wasn't working earlier, is how Frank sent messages to his son by burning words into the desk.  

The relationship is what affected me most.  This was a loving father-son relationship, and what John needed most was a second chance to talk with his father, to say goodbye.  But he achieved much more than that.  He realized that he could relieve childhood anxiety by saving his father's life, but that led to consequences that were much, much worse.  The murders in 1969 went from 3 to 10 in the blink of an eye.  

Unfortunately, there was no good reason given for the murderer's motivation.  It was suggested that he had been burned in love.  But if he was a serial killer, why stop at ten?  Originally, he stopped at three, because he died.  Another question, which really should not be asked in this kind of movie, is why did everything seem to stay the same in John's life except his memories.  He would not have been at the radio if his relationship with his wife was working, and in the final timeline, it appeared that they were in a loving relationship, with a child, even.  

But aside from that, the acting and directing were superb.  John gets to talk to himself in the past, and gives his friend some good financial advice about an internet company.  It was little moments like those, and the baseball talk with his father, that made this movie so good.  The reason for the ability to talk to the past was suggested to be the unusually strong aurora, but it was not stressed.  It was a method, and it was not analyzed, which I thought was great.  

The movie was mainly quiet, building on the solid foundations that it focused on from the very beginning.  Technical aspects were not specified, nor were they needed.  The acting was very solid, and moving, too.  The directing was also superb, especially during the climactic moments.  The denouement was a little abrupt, in that it left the motivations unclear, but that is acceptable, since it is the actions of the son and father (and to a lesser extent, mother) that is important here.  I loved it.


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