Study Guide

Time Bandits Themes

  • Escape

    Let's face it: we've all wanted to be able to just pull a hole out of thin air and vanish into it—no more cares, worries, or responsibilities. Well, in Time Bandits, Kevin and the dwarves are actually able to do that. Granted, the dwarves just want to steal stuff and make an easy getaway using cosmic holes. But for Kevin, the escape is more profound: he's able to get out of the lonely, digital-watch-laden coldness of his parents' world. Running around with Napoleon and Robin Hood sounds a lot more fun than watching that awful game show, doesn't it?

    Questions About Escape

    1. Which characters besides Kevin feel the need to escape? What are they trying to escape from?
    2. Is escape just a matter of running away? Or is it finding a state of mind in which a character feels free?
    3. Has Kevin escaped his life at the end? Either way, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
    4. Does the Supreme Being offer an escape for those who need it? What does that say about the nature of this universe?

    Chew on This

    Escape is a state of mind, and the characters need only shift theirs in order to be happy.

    Escape must be physical and literal for the characters to be happy.

  • Good vs. Evil

    Folks, there's a character in Time Bandits actually named Evil, so you can bet there's going to be a cosmic balancing act going on in this baby.

    In the movie, God totally claims at the end that the whole purpose of everything that has happened has been to test Evil. Evil, of course, has his own ideas about how the world ought to work, and by extension, those ideas are evil. Evil is big into technology, machinery, and, well, stuff. Materialism is his middle name. God's creation, on the other hand, is out of control: wild, chaotic, sometimes violent, but definitely unique and different.

    Good and evil are clearly defined here, but the things they're fighting for are a little different than you might expect.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Are there characters who hide evil beneath a good surface and good beneath an evil surface? Who are they?
    2. How do the various characters express good and evil in their actions?
    3. How is technology viewed as an instrument of evil? Where do we see concrete examples of that principle in action?
    4. Why is good often shown as distant or indifferent?

    Chew on This

    With the exception of Evil and the Supreme Being, no figure onscreen is either entirely good or entirely evil.

    Heroes and villains are divided pretty cleanly here, with good and evil fairly well defined.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    Kevin and King Agamemnon are really the only two characters in Time Bandits who aren't blithering idiots.

    There, we said it.

    We mean, look at Napoleon, or Robin Hood, or Winston and his wife. Don't even get us started on the dwarves. A lot of the comedy stems from the foolishness of these characters—and specifically from the fact that they don't think they're being foolish. Which of course makes them even funnier.

    Questions About Foolishness and Folly

    1. How is foolishness shown to be an extension of personality? In other words, how does the dwarves' foolishness differ from Napoleon's, or Evil's, or even Agamemnon's?
    2. Is the Supreme Being portrayed as foolish? Why is this important?
    3. In what ways does foolishness form the basis of the film's humor?
    4. Is anyone in the film not a fool? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Folly is something to be avoided and overcome in this movie.

    Folly is inevitable and can only be avoided by embracing it.

  • Time

    Time is almost a place in Time Bandits: it's a set of destinations on a map that the dwarves move to one by one. It's very much a kid's notion of what traveling through time would be like. You get to go to cool places and meet snazzy people living in very different worlds from yours.

    At the same time, Gilliam makes some quiet points about how we use time—and about how we often end up wasting the time we're given. Kevin gives Randall a lot of grief about wasting the map just to get a whole lot of money, for example, while Agamemnon has no idea what awaits him shortly after Kevin departs. Then there's that family of whatevers in the path of the giant, engaging in some kind of petty domestic spat with no idea how quickly their doom is approaching.

    The map makes time infinite, but we still need to use it wisely. You never know when it's all going to end.

    Questions About Time

    1. In what ways do the characters have much less time than they think they do, even those characters who possess the map?
    2. How does the ability to travel through time change Kevin?
    3. Why are the dwarves so basic about time travel? Could that explain why they just want to get rich with the map?
    4. How would you remake the world if you had time travel on your side? What would you do to make it a better place?

    Chew on This

    Time is still finite, even if you have the map.

    The map makes time infinite. The characters just can't take full advantage of it.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    In Time Bandits, Evil has plans. The Supreme Being has plans. The dwarves have plans. Agamemnon, Napoleon, Robin Hood? They all have pretty strong ideas about what they want to do and how the world should look. Kevin is the only one willing to just go with the flow, and it's his dreams that more or less come true. There's a subtle idea at work here, tied into that old phrase "man plans, God laughs." The characters all get in the way of their own dreams by trying too hard to make them happen.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. How many plans in the film actually come to fruition? Do the characters ever get what they want?
    2. Is it wiser in this universe to go without plans and stick with your dreams, like Kevin does? Why or why not?
    3. What is the difference between plans and dreams in this film?

    Chew on This

    Dreams depend on spontaneity and always upend any plans you make to fulfill them.

    Plans can be fulfilled; it's just that the characters here are too foolish to fulfill them.

  • Versions of Reality

    What's real and what's not in Time Bandits? Is Kevin just dreaming all this up? If he's not, then what the heck kind of reality do we live in? Well, if you ask this movie, the reality we live in is one in which you can use a map to open portals that will transport you in time to wherever you want to go, to a completely new version of reality. It's a heck of a ride, and we can't say it doesn't expand our notions of what the universe could be...which may be the whole point of it all.

    Questions About Versions of Reality

    1. How do class distinctions in the movie reflect similar divisions in the real world? What does the film have to say about those divisions?
    2. Which places in the film can genuinely be said to exist in an alternate reality?
    3. Can you make a case that the film has been all a dream? If so, what do you make of things like the photos and the piece of Evil? Has Kevin's dream become so powerful that it has broken through into reality?

    Chew on This

    Reality is a matter of perception rather than concrete fact, and because of that, it is limitless.

    Reality is a shifting place, but it does have firm boundaries. Otherwise, why would there be a map?