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TiMER: Lessons in love

Present Pictures/Capewatch Pitures
Imagine if you had a way to know the exact moment you would meet your soul mate. That’s the premise of TiMER (2009), a light and modern fable-like story (albeit rated R and with some limitations, as both those who panned the film as well as those who liked it point out) that nonetheless echoes some key truths about life.

In TiMER, technology has caught up with love: a device implanted on your wrist counts down the days until you will meet your true love and then goes off when the two of you encounter each other. After 15 years, the device has a 98 percent satisfaction rating, divorce rates have plummeted and it’s generally accepted that the TiMER works. But, for the device to actually start counting down, both parties must have one—and therein lies the plight of about-to-turn-30 Oona (Emma Caufield), whose TiMER is blank. Her plight is accentuated because everyone in her family (including her teenage brother) has met their soul mate or knows when they will (though twenty-something step-sister Steph won’t meet her true love until she is 43). By the time, we meet Oona, she’s known on a first-name basis at the local TiMER store where she brings all the TiMERless guys she dates—and whose newly implanted devices inevitably start counting down immediately while Oona’s still remains blank.

The film takes an age-old plot—looking for love—and gives it a twist: if you could know when you’ll meet your soul mate, how would it change the way you live and the way you treat the people around you? In Oona’s case, her whole life revolves around finding her soul mate. Every TiMERless man could be her potential true love, but when his TiMER doesn’t activate hers, she walks away—until she meets Mikey (John Patrick Amedori), a grocery clerk at a local whose TiMER is already activated (which means Oona is not his true love). He catches on to Oona’s obsession right away:

Present Pictures/Capewatch Pictures
Mikey: I see your TiMER’s blank. 
Oona: And? 
Mikey: Nothing. You just want your future, though, right? It’s a shame, because you have a much more exciting present if you want it.
When Oona enters into a relationship with Mikey, she starts to care for him and that changes her—and the way she approaches life.

Present Pictures/Capewatch Pictures
If Oona avoids entanglements with guys, Steph (Michelle Borth) tangles with every man she can. Despondent that she won’t meet her soul mate for decades, Steph’s social life is a series of one night stands. Then she meets Dan, a widower who doesn’t have a TiMER because, as he puts it, he’s already met his soul mate and she died. Steph and Dan start to spend time together and Steph begins to genuinely care for him, even though she knows he’s not her soul mate. And that changes her—and Dan, who gets a TiMER because his time with Steph has made him consider there still might be hope for love out there for him.

Disillusioned by how the TiMERs are causing them to live their lives, both women decide to get rid of the devices—but then Oona’s finally goes off and tells her that she’ll meet her soul mate in 24 hours. There are some twists and turns and I won’t tell you how it ends, but this film about romantic love follows through and, with a little thought, reminds us of some greater truths.

While the film confronts in particular how we can disregard and minimize the people and relationships we encounter in the course of seeking our soul mate, we are also invited to more broadly examine how we view and treat people in our lives in general. And TiMER does this against the backdrop of exploring the danger of always focusing on the future versus the value of living in the present.

When we live focused on the future, we not only shortchange ourselves but also the people around us. When our agendas become our sole focus—be they as major as finding a soul mate or succeeding at a career or as minor as getting that to-do list done—we run the risk of turning people round us into obstacles to overcome or pieces to be juggled as we accomplish our goals.
But that’s not how we were created to live or who we are called to be. How we walk this life is more important that whatever destination or goals we make within it. And that makes every encounter and step along the way important. We are called to pay attention as we go, to really see and be with those with whom we cross paths. For it is along the way that we define ourselves by who and how we love.

We are called to live in the present: “And don't be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else,” says Paul. “Where you are right now is God's place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there.” And that means the people we encounter aren’t there to help us pass the time until we find our soul mate or accomplish the goal we’re focusing on. Our relationships matter—and how we see and interact with each other matters. The choices we make to love—be they romantic, familial, friendships or on-the-way encounters—change us. Dan tells Steph that it was because of her that he decided to take a chance on love again. Oona’s relationship with Mikey helped her to deepen as a person, facing down her fears and shortcomings. It is in loving that we learn how to love best. And how we react to relationships that don’t turn out the way we’d hope change us, too.

The film rather simply summarizes this into, as Oona’s dad puts it, “lessons” we must learn to love more fully. There is some truth in that. Every encounter we have is a chance to learn to love better and more fully. In the truest sense, love is putting the best interests of others ahead of our own, and while there is not so much of that in this film, it does invite us down that path in its reflection of the reality that the people around us are important and dear. “You can't go wrong when you love others,” says Paul. “When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.” Later, he reiterates: “For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom.”

While TiMER is a rather light romantic fable, it calls us to remember some important truths. Far too often, we are so focused on where we are going that we ignore where we are—and the people we are with. Stories like this call us back to paying attention, back to life as process rather than agenda. They call us back to living in the present, and ultimately, to who we are called to be: those who love as we are loved.