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Time Bandits Map
Bar Harbor
kestrell often complains that I am impossible to buy presents for. Most things that I *really* want, I buy for myself. I have very particular tastes, and trying to guess what I *might* like rarely leads to sufficiently satisfactory results. It is *possible* to find something that I really want but haven't acquired, due to not being aware of its existence, but it is a rare event.

Well, Kes managed to find such a thing for my birthday this year, something I've wanted for over thirty years, but didn't know had actually become available.

A Map. [ETA: More about the seller here.


Time Bandits is one of the most influential films of my youth. It was one of the first of my media experiences that invited -- and rewarded -- close reading. It was also one of the first stories I encountered that ended, not with closure, but with a sort of anti-closure, a statement that anything was possible, and the *real* story was just beginning.

I spent many wistful hours imagining what a sequel would be like[1]. Eventually, I came to be glad that no such sequel ever happened, as it could not have failed to disappoint. See the example of Back to the Future. The end of the first film implied that almost anything might happen. When that vista of possibilities was reduced to the sequels that were actually made, much was lost.

The Map is the dominant image of Time Bandits. It's the first thing we see, and the last[3], and an important plot point and prop throughout. "The fabric of the Universe was sort of a botch-up job to be quite frank. You see ... there are holes in it... it's the map showing where they are, and it's the only one in existence." That is, it's the only one in existence at the *beginning* of the film, but not by the end. Kevin takes a Polaroid photograph of the Time Bandits holding up the map. And it is explicitly established that this picture is detailed enough to be used *as* a map, at least with the aid of a magnifying glass. It presumably lacks the detail of the full-sized version, but is still powerful.

Kevin's relationship to the Map is ambiguous. In fact, the film's very first verbal mention of the Map, just after the Bandits have arrived in Kevin's bedroom, is, "Where are we?" "I don't know." "Check the map..." "It's not _on_ the map..." God reclaims the original Map, but leaves Kevin with a functional copy. This is no accident. "I _am_ the Supreme Being... I'm not entirely dim."

There's a moment near the end of the film that puzzled me as a youth, due to a specifically English cultural reference. In the middle of the scene with the return of The Supreme Being, he holds out Kevin's original clothes, asking "Whose are these?" Kevin pipes up, and God hands them over, then has Kevin "Sign here," in a little book. I knew enough stories by then to know the dangers of signing a contract without reading it thoroughly, and wondered if God had just tricked Kevin into doing so. I still sort of think that, though the idea has grown more nuanced. You see, God has taken the appearance of an English schoolmaster (presumably in order to put Kevin somewhat at ease), and apparently, when claiming something from a school's Lost-and-Found, you have to sign a receipt for it. Not, strictly speaking, a contract, but ultimately just as significant. While He does not make a big deal about the clothes, slipping the business into the middle of the chaos of cleaning up bits of Evil, these clothes had not been present in the scene before He arrived, so He must have brought them there. God wants it made very clear that these clothes -- and the contents of their pockets -- belong to Kevin, officially. For most of the film, God has been pursuing the Bandits, intoning "Return what you have stolen from me!"[2] The copy of the Map in Kevin's pocket is owned, not stolen.

What is Kevin expected to do with the Map? God hopes that he will "carry on the fight" against evil. But it's ultimately up to Kevin. There's a fascinating, subtle moment in the film where Kevin asks the Supreme Being, "Why _do_ we have to have evil?" God's immediate response is to *retreat off screen*. Just for a few frames, it seems, but I have long felt that He actually steps outside of time for a while, to very carefully consider how to phrase His answer to what is arguably the most important possible question. (This brief vanishing is not called out as a stage direction in the script.) "Ah.... I think it's something to do with free will..." And then He is immediately "distracted", by the continuing chaos of Evil
clean-up around Him.

Kevin is left at the end of the film with the power to go anywhere in space and time. God has structured the events of the film[2] to try and influence his choices, by demonstrating that wealth, crime, and military power do not produce happiness. The romanticized images of Kevin's boyhood stories have been shown for the actual Evil that they contain. Similarly, the Evil of the banality of the everyday world has been made abundantly clear to him, in the many visual connections drawn between Evil and Kevin's own home and parents. The Map is not just a literal map of space-time wormholes; it is also a metaphorical map of the inherent moral imperfections of the universe.

So, yeah, this makes a great present :)

[1] The film ends on a Thursday morning, in a small English village. I always thought that this was the same Thursday, and possibly even the same village that saw Arthur Dent's house -- and then planet -- demolished. As Time Bandits is a story that ends with a beginning, Hitchhiker's is a story that begins with an end; they seemed an obvious match. And this makes Kevin's empowerment both timely and urgent, for without it he would die with the rest of the planet.

[2] After he regains the Map, God claims "Of course you didn't mean to steal the map ... I gave it to you ... you silly man .. I had to have some way of testing my handiwork ... I think Evil turned out rather well, don't you?"

[3] The actual *final* image is of God rolling up the Map, and snatching it away, leaving a black and empty screen. When this film was made, the concept of ordinary people owning copies of movies had not yet become mainstream. The film itself *is* the Map, and God claims that for himself. The audience is left only with their imperfect memories of it to guide them.
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What do you think is an appropriate age to see the movie? (and get something out of it.)

Well, the hero of the film is an 11-year-old boy with a vivid imagination and a great love of fictional violence -- seems to me like Arthur might well identify :)

Like most Great Art, there's plenty available to get at a surface level; the deeper layers are optional.

I substantially missed most of this, and I've seen the film several times. Thanks for the thoughtful exigesis!

Glad to return the favor. You have similarly expanded my views a number of times.

[I haven't developed the "Is Sean Connery meant to be Jesus" angle yet, as that only occurred to me while writing this piece :-)]

I was waiting to see how you worked Sean Connery into it; he does rather stand out as a Good Guy, compared to so many other people Kevin meets.

Just for a few frames, it seems, but I have long felt that He actually steps outside of time for a while,
I've always thought—though I can't now remember just why—that that was very much the idea.

Thank you for a thoughtful essay which reminded us of a thought-full movie. And hooray Kes for finding the Map!

I like this post very much.

Had not considered some of these things, and I've seen the movie many times.

Do you truck with Christian's theory of Time Bandits, Brazil, and Munchausen as three phases of the dreamer's life (youth, adult, old man)?

That's not so much Christian's theory as Gilliam's own, as stated on many occasions. Probably a bit after-the-fact, but no less valid for all that.

Nifty. I'll have to track down Gilliam's thoughts on the matter.

It's been many years since I thought of Time Bandits and most of it was utterly wasted on me. I saw it with my parents, at a time when I was in typical teenage angst/rebellion against my parents. So I mostly concentrated on how awful the parents were and how superior their son was.

One my favorite films of all time, right up there with "The Princess Bride".

That is an awesome present!

OK, I have to see this again. I saw it once on TV (tape?) about 1984, and just remember chaos.

Thank you for the analysis. I always looked at the ending of this movie as, "God proves that he is a jerk!" But maybe I have issues. The well-considered alternate view is welcomed.

It is a favorite movie. I stole from it liberally in one of the first D&D campaigns I ran.

Well, he *is* a jerk in this film, I'd have to agree. I just noticed the subtle stuff he was *also* doing :)

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