Brigadoon

Brigadoon The Time Machine

Brigadoon isn't a love story -- I mean, it is, of course, because it's a musical, but it really shouldn't be. It's a horror movie, a grotesquerie, a terrifying sci-fi cautionary tale with extraordinarily threatening religious undertones. It shouldn't be a lushly produced, Vincente Minelli-directed Cinemascope tentpole with an iconic Lerner-and-Loewe book and score (respectively), it should be a deeply chilling, very special episode of the Twilight Zone. [...]

First: Effectively, the residents of Brigadoon are experiencing a normal, continuous life, going to bed and then waking up, except that when they wake up, it's 100 years later than when they fell asleep. Where the village goes when it disappears, and whether the residents literally sleep for 100 years without aging or whether they in fact are in a Brigadoon-effect bubble of time dilation and sleep for just one night is unclear, but since the source of the village's magic in this world is actually, literally, Yaweh the Judeo-Christian god, let's just wave away the question and file it under "omnipotence, idk." Functionally, when you go to sleep in Brigadoon, you wake up a century in the future.

Second: If the village was cursed blessed with its time-dilation bubble 200 years ago, and it's on a century cycle, that means that this is only the second time ever that the village has reappeared. More to the point, because the Brigadoonians experience time continuously, it's only two days later for them. The priest prayed his magic wish-prayer and it was granted by apparently Loki-Yahweh or someone and the entire town is trapped in a time-dilation bubble and it's ONLY BEEN TWO DAYS and they are all SHOCKINGLY CALM ABOUT THIS which is ABSOLUTELY INSANE. [...]

More to the point, though, how is this nightmare reality in which they now live not the entire focus of the story? [...] It seems to me that a foundational allure of creating a world in which magic/weird science/God-induced miracles exists would be sitting down and seeing what the logical consequences are of your authorial tweak to the fabric of reality. (For example, I am constantly annoyed whenever characters in stories encounter ghosts or the spirits of dead people, and don't immediately reassess their metaphysical understanding of reality, particularly their own corporeal forms, and also just completely recalibrate their own fear of death. Wouldn't you?)

But seriously. If you're going to create a world where an entire town of Puritanical eighteenth-century Scots(wo)men have their town converted into a forward-motion-only time machine that will, in the span of just one year in their eyes, deposit them in the year 38235 -- that's thirty-eight thousand two hundred thirty five -- in what frickin universe does it make any sense whatsoever to make your story about a guy one of the village girls develops a crush on, on day goddamn two!?!

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5 Responses:

  1. Nick Lamb says:

    To be fair, approaching your interesting idea at a tangent, rather than head-on is a time-honoured SF choice whether Hard or not. It can be done clumsily for sure, I just got done with an alternate history short in which the Chinese colonies on a newly discovered continent are named the Unified Sandalwood Autocracies and our imperial bureaucrat protagonist awkwardly shoe-horns facts about his world "As you know" into a putative letter to a dead wife. But done well it's very pleasing. For the characters in the story the universe's rules, no matter how strange, are usually just a backdrop. The Clockwork Rocket trilogy begins with a death, and for sure we do see how strange this universe is, in the background behind that death, the flowers giving up their light to the sun, the reproduction by fission of sentient creatures, but mostly we're focused on our protagonist's grief, her feelings, our grasp of this alien world is coloured by her experience.

    The problem (if it's a problem) with Brigadoon is not that the story focuses on these petty affairs of men in the foreground, but that it doesn't seem to have noticed the deeper questions at all. They could be answered, or the answers hinted at, in the background of the action, but instead they are purely a plot device. "Anything can happen" is the same as "Nothing matters".

  2. k3ninho says:

    There's two stories: one where the Calvinistic metaphysics of their Yahweh god plays out as it seems (which requires the village to be kept as Chekhov-gun-on-the-mantel en route to a Megiddo Planes apocalyptic resolution), and the other where they hover outside of time and harvest new blood to keep the gene pool spread wide, spinning any story to newcomers to get them to commit to join the commune.

    K3n.

  3. PaulJBis says:

    About the penultimate paragraph: I think that, for most of history, belief (at least nominal) in an inmortal soul and an afterlife was the default mode of most humans; therefore, the appearance of ghosts didn't really disrupt anything in their worldview. Having materialism/atheism as your default mode is a relatively recent thing.

  4. I'm glad that I am not the only person who had this reaction to Brigadoon.

  5. zompist says:

    I don't know if you've seen the discussion on Metafilter, but they brought up the original story, Germelshausen, in which the trapping of the village is explicitly a curse.

    (Also there's apparently an alternative interpretation where the village exists normally in time, but only appears on Earth one day a year-- which is much more boring.)

    Also, I think the story is fucked up even with traditional theology. The pastor's prayer is completely insane.