This is a Spanish film directed by Nacho Vigalondo who later wrote, directed and produced Colossal. Timecrimes is a lovely film with a simplistic setting that gets tangled in time complexities and ends by untangling itself free of any major plot holes. The film stars Karra Elejalde in the lead role. Nacho, himself, has played a character in the film too. If you haven’t already watched this masterpiece, please drop everything and go watch it right away. Read further only when you have. Spoilers ahead.
The first thing that we need to understand is that there is only one timeline. What I mean to say is that Héctor’s (Karra) traveling through time does not give birth to new timelines with new events. We see Héctor travel back through time twice. In both instances, he lands in the same timeline. This is the reason why every time Héctor travels back through time, there is one more Héctor (Héctor 1, Héctor 2, Héctor 3). El Joven (Nacho), the scientist, who operates the time machine witnesses three Héctors.
I’ll stick to the naming used in the film. We have Héctor 1 who goes through the time machine for the first time to come out on the other side as Héctor 2. Héctor 2 goes through the time machine a second time to come out on the other side as Héctor 3. The higher the number, the more time travel. The higher number also means it’s the Héctor who has seen more of the events.
While Héctor experiences three set of events in the same time frame first as Héctor 1, then as Héctor 2 and finally as Héctor 3, the rest of the characters experience only one set of events during the day. Let’s take a look at what each of the characters goes through on that day of September 16, 2006.
Héctor’s day starts off simple enough. He’s sitting in his yard peeking through his binoculars. He ends up entering a time machine once (events #1).
He travels about an hour and a half to the past. He does a bunch of predestined things (events #2).
He travels about an hour and a half to the past for the second and final time and does a bunch of more predestined things. He saves his wife’s life at the cost of an innocent girl’s (events #3).
Clara (played by Candela Fernández) is Héctor’s wife. Her day starts off with some gardening and moving furniture. She has a normal day with her husband. She realizes that they are out of food and she decides to go to the nearby town to buy groceries. When she returns she probably finds Héctor missing. She assumes he’s gone somewhere nearby. After dark, she finds an intruder with bandages at home. She freaks out, calls the cops, heads to the basement to hide. She finds a very bruised Héctor there. Clara is taken out of the house by this Héctor. She stays in hiding till this Héctor returns and is taken to the lawn. Clara sits on the lawn with Héctor as she hears noises in their house. She hears a lady fall to her death.
The Girl’s Day:
The Girl (played by Barbara Goenaga) happens to be cycling past a road. She sees a small white car get hit by a large red truck. The small white car then rolls down a slope to hit a tree. She drops her cycle to go check if the driver of the car is alright. She sees a man in the driver seat with a pink bandage on his face. She takes him to the road. She uses her scissors to fix up his bandage. She’s then forced by this man to go into the woods and take off her clothes. She runs for it. Gets knocked out. Finds herself lying naked in the forest. She clothes up and runs again. She runs into a Héctor who takes her to his home. In the house, she is given a red coat by this Héctor. She gets her ponytail cut by this Héctor for her own safety. She’s asked to head to the roof. When she’s heading to the roof, the bandaged man pulls on her leg. She falls to the floor and dies. You do feel sorry for her as all she’s been is nice and gets caught up in things and is rewarded with death.
El, the scientist, comes to his lab on a holiday. He’s been working on a time machine prototype. He doesn’t have the approvals to turn it on yet but then he does anyway. Scientist curiosity. Soon as he does, a Héctor shows up from inside it. This Héctor claims to be Héctor 3, meaning he has already passed through the time machine twice. He tells El that another Héctor, Héctor 2, will soon emerge from the machine. El follows instructions and acts surprised at the arrival of a Héctor 2 (who has passed through the time machine for the first time). El has no clue what’s going on. All he knows is that his machine works. El gives Héctor 3 his truck. El explains to Héctor 2 that he has just traveled through time. El sees Héctor 1 sitting on his lawn far in the distance.
El prepares the time machine because he knows that Héctor 1 will eventually show up after sundown. El wants to ensure he preserves the time continuity by ensuring all of the day’s events happen consistently. El gets a total of 3 calls on his walkie-talkie. The first from Héctor 3 saying that everyone will know what we did (time travel). The second call from Héctor 1 who has wandered into the lab asking for help. The third call from Héctor 2 stating that he is the man in the bandages. El guides the lost Héctor 1 to the lab and tricks him into entering the tub and sends him back in time. Since a Héctor 2 has already exited the time machine, Héctor 1 must enter it. After that El meets Héctor 2 again and sends him back in time too. Again, since Héctor 3 has already exited the machine, it is only right that Héctor 2 must enter the machine. El’s day ends after he sends Héctor 2 back in time.
So you see, other than Héctor, the rest of the characters have only one sequence of events on that day. While they all encounter different Héctors, the events in their day are chronological and consistent. Other than El, the others don’t ever get to know that they are interacting with multiple Héctors.
Let’s now go through the plot following Héctor 1 as he becomes Héctor 2 and finally Héctor 3.
Héctor 1 arrives home one day and greets his wife Clara. He goes up, the phone rings, he answers. There is someone on the line but hangs up without saying anything. Héctor 1 tries calling back he gets an answering machine. Héctor 1 forgets to cut the call. Clara comes up and the two start making out. Héctor 1 realizes that he’s forgotten to cut the line and cuts it. While this doesn’t appear significant at this point, it is, and we’ll get to this phone call in a bit.
Héctor 1 is looking at the forest by his house with his binoculars and catches a glimpse of a girl. When he looks again, he sees her take her t-shirt off. Héctor 1, like most men who have just seen a pretty woman get naked beside their house, decides to go investigate. Héctor 1 finds upturned trash and a fallen cycle (these are important, but we’ll get to them later on). He goes into the forest and locates the girl. She’s lying naked and unconscious. As he approaches the girl, a man in a coat and red bandages on his face stabs Héctor 1 in the arm from behind. Héctor 1 makes a run for it. He hides behind a tree and looks through his binoculars. He sees the bandaged man. The bandaged man turns around with his hands in front of his eyes, looking straight at Héctor 1. Héctor 1 freaks out and makes a run for it. We’ll get back to the bandaged man soon.
Héctor 1 wanders into the nearby building which happens to be a lab. This lab is where El is working on a Time Machine. As we’ve discussed before, El, at this point, has already encountered 2 other Héctors – Héctor 3 and then Héctor 2. Héctor 1 puts a bandage on his arm where he’s been stabbed. Héctor 1 picks up a walkie-talkie and El is on the other side. Héctor 1 says that a man in bandages is trying to kill him. El guides Héctor 1 into the lab with the time machine. El asks Héctor 1 to get into the tub lying that they both can hide there. Héctor 1 is reluctant but soon as he sees the bandaged man outside the window he enters the tub. This tub is a time machine. El shuts the lid and Héctor 1 travels through time for the first time and exits about an hour and a half in the past. Héctor 1 exits the time machine and we’ll refer to him as Héctor 2.
Héctor 2 is obviously confused because he just entered the tub when it was dark outside and now there is daylight. He leaves the house. El stops Héctor 2 and tells him that he’s traveled through time and is in the past by a short duration of time. Héctor 2 sees Héctor 1 at home talking to his wife (events that happened an hour and a half ago). Héctor 2 wants to go back home and El warns him not to as it will disturb the space-time continuum. El takes Héctor 2 back into the building and explains what has just happened. El also says that all they had to do was wait for about an hour and a half when Héctor 1 will eventually enter the time machine and disappear. Héctor 2 can then go back home and resume life in place of Héctor 1. Remember, there is only one timeline. There is only one El, only one Clara. Héctor 2 can resume his life in place of Héctor 1 soon as Héctor 1 travels back in time. It is only in this short window of one and half hours that there are multiple Héctors. After that, the timeline will have just one Héctor. Have a look at the diagram.
El leaves Héctor 2 for a bit and in that meanwhile Héctor 2 makes a call to his house. Héctor 1 picks up the phone. This is the same phone call we see happening at the beginning of the film. Héctor 2 is the one on the line, Héctor 2 hangs up without saying anything. Héctor 1 calls back, it goes into answering machine mode. El comes in and is annoyed that Héctor 2 made a call to his home instead of lying low. This is the call that Héctor 1 forgets to cut. Héctor 2 and El hear Héctor 1 and Clara make out and Héctor 1 finally cuts the line. El leaves asking Héctor 2 to just keep low till sundown.
Héctor 2 doesn’t listen, he leaves the compound in a small white car. As he’s driving past, he sees the “girl” passing by on a cycle. He recognizes her and hits the breaks and the car comes to a halt. Just then a truck rams into the car and Héctor 2 is sent rolling down into the woods and the car hits a tree. We’ll get to the truck later on. Héctor 2 hits his head and it starts bleeding. He removes the bandage from his arm and puts it on his head. The bandage turns pink. It is now revealed that the bandaged man in the forest is, in fact, Héctor 2. Héctor 2 wraps his face with the bandage. The girl has seen his car fall down the slope and she, being the kind person she is, comes to help. Héctor 2 realizes what is happening. How his time travel has caused the events he has witnessed so far. The girl takes Héctor 2 back up to the road and corrects his bandages by snipping them with her scissors. Héctor 2 sees the scissors and quietly picks them up. He also sees a coat by the dustbin and wears it.
Héctor 2 takes the girl into the forest by force. He takes her to the exact spot where Héctor 1 is looking with the binoculars. Héctor 2 makes the girl stand at the spot and instructs her to take her t-shirt off. She does. Héctor 2 is observing Héctor 1 as he gives these instructions. Next Héctor 2 instructs the girl to take her trousers off. What Héctor 2 is doing here is he’s simply recreating what he saw as Héctor 1 (before traveling through time). This way he will maintain the integrity of the timeline and all the events will happen as it has happened before. The girl makes a run for it. Héctor 2 goes after her and knocks her unconscious by mistake. Héctor 2 carries the girl back to the spot and begins to take off the rest of her clothing. He knows he must do this as he remembers seeing an unconscious naked girl before traveling through time.
By now, Héctor 1, like most men who have just seen a pretty woman get naked beside their house, decides to go investigate. He sees the fallen bicycle. Now we know that it’s the girl’s cycle. As Héctor 1 approaches the naked girl, Héctor 2 (the bandaged man) stabs Héctor 1 with the scissors. Héctor 1 makes a run for it. Héctor 2 remembers that this is how the bandaged man looked at him and is simply recreating the events. Héctor 2 doesn’t actually know where Héctor 1 is hiding. Héctor 2 puts his hand in front of his eyes and turns around. He does it thrice and eventually does it in the right location which then causes Héctor 1 to make a run for it. Again, Héctor 2 is merely recreating the events as he saw before traveling through time.
When Héctor 2 gets back, the girl is missing. She’s worn her clothes and has made a run for it. Héctor 2 goes to his house. He takes the stairs and gets hit by a table. He goes back up and sees an open window. He goes out. He sees a woman go up onto the roof. He thinks it is Clara and tries to grab her. The woman slips and falls to the floor, breaking her neck. Héctor 2 thinks he’s just killed his wife. He uses the walkie-talkie to talk to El and tells him that he’s the one in the bandages. We can hear El talking to Héctor 1 guiding him to the lab with the tank at this point.
Héctor 2 goes to the lab. He hears El talking to Héctor 1. Héctor 2 peeks into the window. Héctor 2 does this because this is what makes Héctor 1 get into the tank. El sends Héctor 1 back in time and comes out to meet Héctor 2. Héctor 2 explains that something has gone wrong terribly and that he needs to go back in time to correct it. Héctor 2 threatens to destroy the time machine if El doesn’t help. He takes off the bandages from his face. El says that he took out the battery from the time machine and threw it. El also admits that there is a Héctor 3 and he had told him to prevent Héctor 2 from going back in time.
El says that the first one to come out of the tank was Héctor 3. El also says that the first time he gets a message on the walkie-talkie was from Héctor 3 where he was instructed to stop Héctor 2 from traveling back. Héctor 2 realizes that the walkie-talkie that Héctor 3 would have used is the one he’s carrying. If Héctor 2 travels again to the past, he will become Héctor 3. Héctor 2 realizes that the walkie-talkie too would have traveled back in time with him. If he destroys it, he can stop El from getting the message from Héctor 3. But remember, in this movie, there is only one timeline. Which means that there is only one set of events. Héctor 2 tosses the walkie-talkie to the ground to smash it, when El shines a light on it, they find the battery. It begins to rain. They hear sirens. Héctor 2 says that there is no other way, that he must go back.
Héctor 2 enters the tank. He travels back in time and exits as Héctor 3. Héctor 3 exits 30 – 40 seconds before Héctor 2. Héctor 3 tells El that he’s from the future. He asks El to act surprised when Héctor 2 comes out of the tank 30 seconds later. El does. Héctor 3 is making sure to not disturb any of the events that have happened so far. He stays in hiding from Héctor 2 and Héctor 1. Héctor 3 tells El to help Héctor 2 get Héctor 1 into the tub as before. Héctor 3 takes El’s red truck and leaves. Héctor 3 passes the girl on her cycle. Héctor 3 waits for Héctor 2 to pass by in the white car. Héctor 2 hits the breaks and the car comes to a halt. Héctor 3 drives the truck and hits Héctor 2 which sends him tumbling down.
Héctor 3 is now doing what he needs to do to ensure the integrity of the timeline is maintained. Héctor 3 loses control of the trunk and hits the garbage cans. This is what causes the garbage cans to be upturned. The truck tumbles and falls. Héctor 3 picks up the walkie-talkie and talks to El. Héctor 3 understands that there is no way to stop Héctor 2 from traveling one more time through time. But he tells El to stop him anyway. He’s simply maintaining the integrity of time because El already mentions receiving a call from Héctor 3 (only one set of events).
Héctor 3 runs into the girl who is running away after she has gained consciousness. She has never seen Héctor’s face. She doesn’t realize that Héctor is the bandaged man. Héctor 3 lies to the girl saying that they are both running from the same man. He takes her to his home. He goes to the basement. Clara shows up there scared because she’s just seen Héctor 2 (the bandaged man) break into their house. She mentions that she has informed the cops. Héctor 3 takes Clara out of the house and keeps her safe. He asks her to not interfere no matter what she hears. He goes back into the house using a ladder. He enters from one of the windows. He understands that he needs to set up the girl in place of his wife. Inside the house, Héctor 3 sees the girl who indicates that the bandaged man is coming up the stairs. Héctor 3 throws the table on Héctor 2.
Héctor 3 then puts on Clara’s coat on the girl and cuts her hair to look like Clara’s. He then instructs the girl to head to the roof and he goes back down to Clara. He takes Clara to the lawn and sits besides her. In the background, we can hear Héctor 2 trying to stop the girl from going to the roof thinking it’s Clara. Héctor 2 causes the girl to tumble and fall to the floor and she breaks her neck. You see, the person on the roof was never Clara. The coat and short hair only make Héctor 2 mistake her for his wife. Clara hears a girl fall and is about to go check. Héctor 3 stops her and asks her to sit for a while more as they have a few moments before the rain starts. Héctor 2 drives off. Héctor 3 knows that his house will soon be visited by the cops as Clara has already called for them. The film ends.
The cops are going to find one heck of a situation here. An unfortunate, unrelated, beautiful girl dead with her neck broken. A Héctor with a badly bruised face. An apparent break in but no sign of the intruder. The cops would have a tough time putting things together. But the secret of the time machine may stay a secret after all.