TiMER is that Netflix romantic comedy that you’re scrolled past countless times over the last five years. A straight to DVD film from 2009, it exists in a world where from their 14th birthday, Timer users can purchase, implant, and activate a countdown clock that lets them know how many days away they are from meeting their soul mate. When the day arrives, the Timer lets off a beep when you lock eyes with your one true love. However, the Timer only works if both parties have one implanted–if your soul mate doesn’t have one implanted, you’re left with a blank clock and a lot of questions.
Spoilers ahead, Bri
The movie makes this pretense work by providing enough details to avoid massive Timer related plot-holes, while remaining vague enough that the viewer can use their imagination to fill in when needed. You have to accept the ridiculous premise of the soul mate Timer, but the movie is charming and thoughtful enough to earn it. TiMER follows Oona (Emma Caulfield), a Los Angeles orthodontist with a blank clock. As she has a sensible bob haircut and a sensible, non-manic pixie dream girl job, the uncertainty of a blank Timer is killing her. She lives with her stepsister Steph, whose Timer is givers her over 5,000 days till she’ll meets her soul mate. The Timer-induced stasis of both sisters lives becomes all the more frustrating when on his 14th birthday, their adored younger brother activates his Timer only to find out that he’ll meet his soul mate the next day, in the form of the daughter of the family housekeeper. What should be a liberating device holds both sisters back–Oona feels she cannot embark on relationship–what’s the point if you can be certain he’s not ‘the one’? Steph knows when she’ll meet ‘the one’, and let’s this prevent her from beginning a life of her own–she works dead-end jobs and has one night stands with men whose Timers are about to go off. In the 15 years since the invention of the Timer, first loves and divorce have become a thing of the past, yet the certainty of a soul mate has removed a degree of agency from the users lives. The promise that Steph will meet her soul mate at 43 adds futility, not certainty to her days. She likely won’t have biological children with her soul mate–not that she even wants kids, but the removal of the possibility is a frustration. Oona doesn’t date, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t have fun romantically–she just searches and waits, until a stranger activates their Timer, allowing her to feel certain about her future. Emboldened by their mutual frustration, both sisters start out-of-character relationships–Oona with Mikey, a young drummer/grocery store clerk with 4 months on his timer; Steph with Dan, a Timer-less widower. Oona and her soul mate side piece
Pamela Drukerman wrote that “‘soul mate’ isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title”, one of the few truisms about love that doesn’t make me irrationally angry. It’s not that you meet someone, and suddenly realize that that person is who you’re meant to be with–it’s that you reflect back on a shared lifetime of love and observe that the person you spent your years with was a true partner.
One of the themes of this film is that while the countdown to meeting your soul mate may seem fantastical, it tends to only come when you’re ready for it. At the start of the film, Oona takes a Timer-less date to get one implanted (her SOP: date Timer-less men, after four pleasant dates, convince them to get one implanted). After finding out his soul mate isn’t Oona, but is a woman he’ll meet in 3 years, he comments that the situation is ideal–he’ll be done dissertating by then, and able to focus on a relationship. It’s only after abandoning the wait for a soul mate that the sisters embark on the emotional growth key to their ability to engage in a meaningful adult relationship. In the films third act, Oona’s Timer activates, and at her birthday party the next day, she learns that her soul mate is Dan, who realized through Steph that he no longer wanted to remain alone. Earlier in the film, Dan and Oona had been set up on a blind-date, which Oona missed–not inconveniently, but necessarily, giving both the time to grow into being each others soul mates. I can’t argue that this is terribly profound, but it is charming to watch.