Filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits was released in 1981, when I was nine years old.
Shortly after the 10-minute mark, Time Bandits’ child star, 11-year-old Kevin, has his quaint, British suburban life turned upside-down when his bedroom cabinet turns out to be a wormhole that delivers six dwarf pirates into his life.
The six dwarfs and Kevin use the pilfered map to cross time and space, sneak through important historical moments and cross paths with famous figures such as Napoleon, Robin Hood, and King Agamemnon as they snatch treasure and narrowly avoid capture at all costs.
As you can imagine, when you’re a kid accustomed to clean, uplifting endings to every fable and fairy tale, the lessons of Time Bandits were a serious shock to the system.
Gilliam would go on to revisit the dark underbelly of the best-intentions of mankind in films like The Fisher King and Brazil, but in Time Bandits, he perfectly captured the existentialist pangs of early childhood and the monumental letdowns of maturing and comprehending what the real world was like.
Even in Time Bandits’ final scenes – in the aftermath of the showdown between the Supreme Being and Evil, which the former wins with the assistance of Kevin and the bandits – the audience receives an underwhelming payoff: Kevin is transported back to his parents’ house and the drudgery of his pre-adventure life.
That’s what separates Time Bandits from all other kids’ movies, and what makes it an evergreen classic for children and adults alike.
As Time Bandits proves, “Happy” is a relative term, and it isn’t promised even to history’s most brave, unforgettable people.
We’re all running through time and space, stealing what small and large treasures we can and avoiding Evil’s clutches before the Supreme Being eventually catches up to us.