The Lake House (2006)

The Lake House is a masterpiece- truly a love letter to love letters, and a nod to how little we know about time in all its nonlinear possibilities... which also serve as a convenient device for smoothing over plot holes. Starring Ms. Sandra “I Can’t Decide If I Fundamentally Like Her” Bullock and Sir. Keanu “It’s Ridiculous I Even Have A Last Name Because I Could Just Go By ‘Keanu’ Like Madonna or Rihanna” Reeves, this movie came out during a time where a slew of (SPOILERS) time travel/correspondence with the past movies were coming out. Frequency springs to mind- in case you didn’t see that stinker, it’s a movie about an old ham radio that some guy uses to talk to a firefighter from the past (his dad maybe?) except it’s very bad. It was the early aughts, we didn’t know how poorly time-manipulation plots could unfold back then. This is also the first time that Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock made a post-Speed movie together. Another spoiler, there is only one bus in this movie and someone does die.

This movie starts out with a montage of Sandy B and Keanu’s eyes wistfully looking out a window of a- dare I say- lake house??? Did I spoil it? I hope not. Ol’ Sander is a frazzled doctor working at an overcrowded hospital, and Keanu Jeez He’s So Damn Attractive When He Doesn’t Speak works construction or something. The scenes kind of jump back and forth with them at work, Keanu in his element wearing a hard hat and walking around like the job site like he wishes he was surfing and Sad Sanadu is very much out of her element, scrambling around her new hospital job like she’s a giraffe on roller skates. I’d like to take this as a purposeful commentary on patriarchal oppression, but I know it is not.

We then pan on Keanu Reeves arriving at a lake house, which through weird forced exposition we learn he has just bought. He finds a letter in his mailbox, and begins to read it (the letter is narrated by Sandra B, so one assumes that she wrote said letter). This first letter basically says “hey new tenant, hope you enjoy living in this lake house which people keep referring to as ‘on the coast’ which is confusing since do lakes have coasts? Or just shores? Anyway, hope you like living here- sorry about the paw prints on the front walk and the box in the attic, they were there when I moved in! xoxo Sandy Bee”. Keanu checks out the front walk and there ain’t no paw prints! Then he goes to the attic and (guess what)- ain’t no box!

The next scene, Keanu is painting something on the deck and a dog runs through the paint, and his paw prints get all over the front walk. Keanu is like hey! What the fuck! And then fishes Sandra’s letter back out - he is already suspicious and we are not but four lines and 8 minutes in.

Smash cut, back at Sandra Bollux’s hospital job, she’s eating a sandwich with her mom and her hair cut is very strange- it’s like a brunette Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail meets...mullet. Then, a bus hits a guy literally right in front of them. Sandra rushes to the scene- she’s got this! Wide shot of the guy sprawled on the sidewalk as she rushes towards him- she can totally save the guy that the bus hit!

Then smash cut, we’re at Keanu’s worksite, where he does construction something, and we get a little more exposition about how he’s new to his job (MUCH LIKE SANDRA but he’s got the swagger of a man that knows he doesn’t get paid 87 cents on the dollar). He tells his client (or possibly boss?) that he’s gonna handle everything on this project- Jorge, Carlos, Raphael and Rodriguez will take care of it (RACIST).

Smash cut back to Sandy. The guy the bus crashed into is dead. Her boss says you should get as far away from this place as you can. Wow, great advice supervising doctor. Did you take a seminar on morale and employee retention? Perhaps you caught a Ted talk about communication and productivity or wanted to try out some of the radical motivation techniques you picked up at Soul Cycle? Sandy goes to the lake house. I should mention, this house is all glass and on precarious stilts directly over the water. There are no shades or curtains and from 100 feet away you can see every piece of furniture and it bums me out. She notices her mailbox flag is up (which usually means that mail is in the box to be picked up by the postman or woman or gender non conforming postal worker) so she opens it. There is a letter inside, which she starts reading and Keanu starts narrating.

Side bar- it is illegal for some random pleeb off the street to place a piece of mail in a mailbox without postage. Only postal people are allowed to use free-standing mailboxes! For example, if I had a letter I wanted to give you that just had your name on it and you weren’t home, if I put that letter in your mailbox for you to pick up then I could get fucking arrested. Not really arrested, because although it is illegal, it’s not enforceable because a letter costs like 45 cents to mail and email exists sooo not a lot of incentive for the PoPo[stal office] to start a goon squad to go breaking kneecaps over unstamped wedding invitations or whatever.

I digress. Keanu’s letter begins “uh I think you’re writing a letter to the wrong person, this house has been empty for a long ass time, ya bish. You mean the Sandberg house up the shore?” Seems like a lot of unnecessary effort to tell someone they sent a letter to the wrong person. Kind of like an analog version of getting into a fight with someone who has the wrong number and keeps texting you. So naturally, Sandra gets even more petty and the second that she finishes reading his letter, she starts penning her own. “Hi sweetie,  you sound really hot and thank you for mansplaining that to me, but I know where the Sandberg cottage is and I sure don’t live there- I am very rich! I lived in this lake house, which is over 6,000 feet! Trust me. Get over yourself. Forward my mail, you little punk. I live in Chicago and I’m not playing witchu. PS it’s 2006.”

Cut immediately to Keanu going to his mailbox to read said letter, as this movie escalates VERY quickly. I can’t believe they establish that one of them (Keanu) is living in the past and one of them (Sandra) is in the future in under 15 minutes. It is absolutely breakneck.

Then, there is a cryptic scene where Keanu shows up somewhere and meets someone he knows and then gets blown off by an old man leaving a building? It's a weird moment that should have probably been cut for time, but one gets the sense that It’s A Complicated Relationship and perhaps old man is Keanu’s dad and young man is his younger brother. We’ll just have to see- wait no we don’t! They explain it in literally the next scene. Lil' bro bro is an architect and their dad is too, and they kind of scoff at Keanu because he is a lowly money grabbing contractor? Construction worker? Something? Not specified. It makes no sense, they are basically in the same business and who cares you’re all getting paid too much, plus the housing bubble popped one year after this movie was debuted so all those nice houses probably go into foreclosure anyway. 

Keanu and his brother go to the Chicago address that Sandra left in her latest passive aggressive note, and he is surprised to find that it is still under construction! It hasn’t even been friggin built yet! Like, the explicit 2006 date she listed in her letter wasn’t a dead giveaway, they also had to go there just to be sure. So he goes back to his lake house mailbox and mails it in there instead. His unnecessary letter basically says “Dear Ms. ‘I live in Chicago but my condo isn’t built yet’, uh…. I went to your condo in Chicago... and that shit ain’t even built yet! It won’t even open for another 18 months! You got the address and the date wrong, dummy!”

Apparently they did not have the internet to entertain them in Chicago at this point, so Sandra doubles down on the pettiness and writes a letter back saying “well, if you’re in the past you better wear this scarf, because it snowed late that year and everyone got sick so rest up you sweet moron before nature seeks its sweet revenge with its germy snow.” Sure enough, that very night as he sits down he sees snow and then he sneezes cuz he’s got the bubonic now and he is a believer.

Mid-sneeze at the  l  ake house

Mid-sneeze at the lake house

He sticks a letter in.

Sandy, who apparently has moved out but still checks her lake house mail on the regular (does that annoy the new tenants?), immediately pulls the letter our and it says “can this be happening?” and then Keanu sees the mailbox flag move up without him touching it and he races back to check on his letter, and on the outside of the envelope she has written- “WHY NOT?”

WHY NOT?? Of course, why not. How foolish of anyone to assume that they have mastery over time, space, matter, or the US Postal Service. None of these things are in the realm of human comprehension and it is just a stupid movie so WHY NOT??????

It is kind of dumb and cute to watch them stand in front of this weird mailbox while the other one is invisible and at another point in the time prison they have constructed with their minds. Also super stupid and weird that the flag goes up and down on both ends of the time/space continuum when one of them adjusts it, but the opening remains closed when someone is opening it at another point in time. I guess in the grand scheme of continuity problems, this is just a small thing, but this is a reality of someone's creative construct, and I think we deserve answers from the bastard(s). 

So, both parties after this moment just accept the fact that they are instant messaging snail mail style through a time portal. This is normal at the lake house. They move past this very, very quickly at the lake house. They just roll with the god damn punches at the god damn lake house. They write back and forth about, you know, what is the future like, what’s your job like, what are you wearing, a/s/l, etc. They do a lot of things that are cute if your boyfriend lives in the actual past. The actors narrate the letters so they sound normal as voice overs, but some of them I cannot imagine someone physically writing down and sharing with another person. For example, it’s one thing to say something flirty or probing out loud, such as "..and did you forget to mention you had a husband?" That’s something you expect to hear from a hospital administrator when you hand in an emergency contact form and list your dog as next of kin. It’s not something I want to READ from a suitor from the PAST.

 Also, they are only two years apart in time. There is one part where Sandra complains that there are no trees by her new condo, so Keanu plants them and they just pop up instantly and appear, full matured- while her back is turned. I'm no arborist, but I think it takes more than two years for trees to reach their full height. More importantly, this establishes a precedent that is important to note when discussing the consistencies of a time travel movie: things that Keanu does in the past can affect the future and it affects it IMMEDIATELY at the exact same date/time/location two years in the future. There is one point where he runs into her past-self but they don’t really make significant contact so it’s reasonable to accept that this does not implant a new altered-future memory into her “present-day” 2006 self, as it didn't change the future.

I remembered at this point, 30 minutes in, that maybe the movie culminates in Keanu dying and then Sandra gets the dog somehow as a result of his death. I contemplate stopping watching because I know there is over an hour left and I simply cannot imagine the plot resolving itself in a logical way. Best case scenario, Sandra Bullock gets sent to a mental institution for her delusions and ramblings about communicating to a man from the past. There are so many points I want to scream for Shandy to go to the library and ask a librarian to help her with research or whatever people did before Google. I think they at least had a 30-day AOL trial disk or Ask Jeeves or something.

So, Keanu uses his snail mail future girlfriend to fulfill his emotional needs, while creating a barrier against his present-day contemporaries and shutting himself off from other more readily available romantic prospects. He uses her as a safe, private, and consequence-free expression of his complex masculinity and identity issues that stem from a strained relationship with his immediate family. But he also has a lot of love to give and writing letters is an outlet for those ahem, creative juices, so good on him. There are little hints as they snail mail that he might not exist in her 2006 reality, but they are easy to push aside.

 Keanu is wise in that he does not mention his time/space wormhole mailbox to aaaaanyone, except his brother who doesn’t really believe him- which is very smart. Actually, until this point Sandra Bullock is the one that seems to hold all the power in the relationship- she knows what is going to happen in the future (kind of) and is something of an oracle (Matrix reference intended) figure for poor dumb dumb Keanunu. Her initial value is her ability to predict things, which she doesn’t successfully utilize for selfish gains, and that seems like a mistake. BUT Keanu, being an attractive white man in America, doesn’t stay in his powerless role for very long. Upon learning that his actions can have an altering effect on the future, he finds a way to take back some control.

He finds her boyfriend from the past (albeit by accident) and slivers into her past life, unbeknownst to past-her! He knows what she likes based on their intimate letter exchanges, so she essentially has provided him with the tools for seduction tailored to upstage her past-boyfriend, who made his first mistake when he invited two strangers (Keanu and his.. secretary? Work wife? Friend?) off the actual street to come to a party IN HIS HOME. This is akin to hitchhiking in the 70s apparently, because it is a very popular movie device in rom coms- meet someone one time, decide they aren’t rapists based on a split-second judgement, and invite them into your home for beers and bbq.  

So, he goes to Swandra’s house for what turns out to be her birthday party and he hits on her HARD. Past Sandy doesn’t even know she’s getting played by this guy who has groomed this woman (in the future) to love him. Or at least to kiss her one time before he slinks back into obscurity where in the future she barely remembers him in the grand scheme of her sexual partners. Which brings up some questions in the moment- if he can do things that impact the future in a history RE-writing way (i.e. trees popping up fully grown when her back is turned), then why does so much happen that does not impact the outcome of the future (i.e. no new memories or "amnesia" of altered events in Sandra’s consciousness as they develop on the parallel past two-year time line)? Or are we to believe that all her memories are canon/ unchangeable and his actions can alter physical matter in the future but not ultimately change the course history or alter her memories? Who is steering this ship- Keanu with his future altering powers, or Sandra with her perhaps unalterable experiences and outcomes in the future? Can Neil DeGrasse Tyson help in any way? This bus is off the tracks and it can't go below 50 mph or it will explode (buses don't have tracks but I didn't remember they were in Speed together until long after so these! are! the! jokes!)

 I also wonder when things shift in their pen-pal relationship where they decide they feel comfortable enough to say shit like "are WE having our first fight"? Assuming WE means they are a couple, how the fuck did that progress? Like, did one person just get brave one day and start putting labels on it so the other person just kept going with it because they didn’t want to end whatever whacky thing they were doing, even if they knew it was flawed and destined for failure? Or was it like, check one box and you’re my girlfriend, check the other box and I’ll burn down the lake house so you can’t live there in the future and that would really fuck up our precarious time continuum?

Okay, so after some cheesy monologuing to each other (supposedly this is them writing the letters out loud? I don’t know, it’s awkward and feels like community theater) they cut the bullshit and say “let’s meet at this fancy restaurant tomorrow (for her) / in two years and one day (for him).” So he makes a reservation for two years in the future and waits. Then Shandy shows up and everyone is super nice to her. Then comes the big reveal. Girl, he ain’t coming he DEAD- girl, he’s the man that died IN YOUR ARMS when he gets hit with a god damn BUS from Speed at the beginning of the god damn movie, which is two god damn years ago at this point!!! But then, she flips the script and writes him a quick letter saying “OMG I just found out that it’s you that died in my arms all this time- so hang tight and meet me in two years at the lake house and maybe we’ll both live happily ever after!” They do, but he shows up wearing a turtleneck sweater so how happy can they really be. Also, what happens to his body from the original timeline where he dies in her arms after getting hit by a bus? Does it just disappear from the morgue or from his grave plot or whatever? Do her memories of the bus crash disappear after he decides not to show up to the hospital that day, because in changing the past, it never happened? Can one truly cheat death, or did he get hit by a bus the very next day? Also, what happens to his regular mail when it goes into his mailbox? THE END.