Somewhere in Time is a 1980 time travel romance film directed by Jeannot Szwarc, written by Richard Matheson and starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, Christopher Plummer, Teresa Wright and featuring an early appearance by then-unknown William H. Macy. The movie was filmed on location at the Grand Hotel, and the former Mackinac College – both located on Mackinac Island, Michigan. It was also filmed in Chicago.
Although this movie was well received during its previews, it was widely derided by critics upon release and unsuccessful at the box office. It has earned a large and loyal following since its release to cable television and video, and the movie is now regarded by many to be a cult classic.
Reeve plays Richard Collier, a playwright who becomes smitten by a photograph of a young woman at the Grand Hotel. Through self-hypnosis, he travels back in time to the year 1912 to find love with actress Elise McKenna (portrayed by Seymour). But her manager William Fawcett Robinson (portrayed by Plummer) fears that romance will derail her career and resolves to stop him.
The film is adapted from the 1975 novel Bid Time Return by science fiction writer Richard Matheson, which was subsequently re-released under the film’s title. The film is known for its musical score, composed by John Barry. The eighteenth variation of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini also runs throughout the film.
The film begins in May 1972, when playwright Richard Collier is approached by an elderly woman who places a pocket watch in his hand while pleading with him to “come back” to her. Eight years later, Richard, stressed from writing his play, decides to take a break and stays at the Grand Hotel, where he becomes entranced by a strangely captivating photograph of a mysterious, beautiful young woman. With the assistance of Arthur Biehl, an old man who’s been at the hotel since 1910, Richard discovers that she is Elise McKenna, a famous early 20th-century stage actress. Upon digging deeper, he learns that she was the aged woman who gave him the pocket watch eight years earlier, but who subsequently died later that same evening.
Richard learns about auto-suggestive time travel from an old college professor of his. To accomplish this feat of self-hypnosis, one must remove all things from sight that are related to the current time. He is also warned that such a process would leave one very weak, perhaps dangerously so. Back in his hotel room, Richard tries to will himself into the year 1912 using tape-recorded suggestions, only to fail for lack of real conviction. In the hotel’s attic, Richard finds an old guest book from 1912 with his signature in it, and realizes that he will (or did) eventually succeed.
Richard again hypnotizes himself (without the benefit of a modern tape recorder) and allows his absolute faith in his eventual success to become the tipping point or trigger for the journey back through time. He drifts off to sleep and awakens to the sound of whinnying horses in the year 1912. Richard looks all over the hotel for Elise, even meeting Arthur as a little boy, but he has no luck finding her. Finally, he stumbles upon Elise walking by a tree near the lake. She seems to swoon slightly at the sight of him, but then suddenly asks him if he’s the one. McKenna’s manager, William Fawcett Robinson, abruptly intervenes and sends Richard away. Richard stubbornly continues to pursue Elise until she finally agrees to accompany him on a stroll throughout the surrounding idyllic landscape. Richard ultimately asks why Elise wondered aloud if he was “the one” and she replies that Robinson somehow knows that she will meet a man one day who will change her life forever. Richard then shows Elise the same pocket watch which she will give him 60 years in the future.
Upon returning to the hotel, Elise invites Richard to her play. He attends the comedic-farce and she, in an almost trance-like state, recites an impromptu monologue dedicated to him. During intermission he finds her posing formally for a photograph. Upon spotting Richard, Elise breaks into a radiant smile and veritably glows with soft affection. Just then the camera’s flash goes off and forever captures that wondrous moment in time. We realize now that this picture is the same one that Richard will see 68 years later on a wall near the lobby at the Grand Hotel. He later receives a letter from Robinson asking to meet him immediately and saying that it is a matter of life and death. Robinson tricks Richard and has him tied up and thrown into the stables. Later, Robinson tells Elise that Richard has left her and isn’t the one, but she replies that she doesn’t believe him and he’s wrong. Elise admits to Robinson that she loves Richard and that he will make her very happy. Dispirited, Robinson leaves her dressing room and reminds her that they leave within the hour.
Richard wakes up the next morning and escapes his constraints. He runs to Elise’s room only to discover that her party has left. Richard then goes out to the hotel’s capacious deck and begins giving in to despair, but presently perceives Elise calling his name and running towards him. They return to his room together and it is there that Elise becomes truly intimate with a man for the very first time in her life. Later that evening, she asks Richard to marry her and he readily accepts. She then tells him that the first thing she will do for him is buy him a new suit (the suit Richard has been wearing the entire time in 1912 is about ten to fifteen years out of style). Richard begins to show his true love what a wonderful suit it is because of its many pockets. He is alarmed when he reaches into one and finds a shiny new Lincoln penny that has the date of 1979 on it. This has the effect of wrenching him out of his hypnotically-induced time trip, and Richard feels himself rushing backwards from 1912 as though through a tunnel, with Elise screaming his name in horror as he is pulled inexorably back to 1980.
Richard then wakes up in the same room he just left, although now it is 68 years later. He is very weak, physically and emotionally exhausted from his trip through time and from the devastating unexpected return. He scrambles desperately back to his own suite and tries to hypnotize himself again, without success. After wandering around the hotel property and sitting interminably at the places where he shared his innermost thoughts with Elise, Richard eventually retires to his room and remains there until discovered by Arthur, who then calls for a doctor. Richard then sees himself drifting above his body, and he is drawn to a light shining through the nearby window. There he sees Elise, with whom he will presumably be reunited forever.