For whatever goddamn reason, I watched the romantic comedy Kate & Leopold around 10 or 15 times when I was a kid.
We had the VHS tape of the film that stars Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, and it was just a mindless film to put on in the background.
What I didn’t realize is that the movie is terrifying because Meg Ryan gives up everything to go back in time and to bring about a causality loop that put her into an incestual relationship.
Kate McKay is an ambitious career woman who works with a market research company. She’s on her way to being promoted and about to be made partner even though she doesn’t exactly like her job.
One day, as she rustles through her ex-boyfriend’s apartment looking for the stylus of her Palm Pilot (could you be any more early 2000s?), she meets a strange man wearing strange clothing.
He identifies himself as Prince Leopold Mountbatten and alludes to being from the distant past. Thinking he’s just a bad actor, McKay dismisses him at first, but like any bad romantic comedy they slowly fall in love.
What she doesn’t know is that he really is from the past and that he’s followed Stuart Besser, Kate’s ex-boyfriend, from 1876 to the present day.
Stuart Besser is Mountbatten’s descendent and is the discoverer of several time portals around New York, which he uses to explore the past.
And near to the end of the film, Kate confirms that Leopold’s claim of being from the past is true by inspecting a photograph that’s she in. She’s then transported to the past and completes this 4D web of shenanigans.
If Kate hadn’t gone to the past and married Leopold, he would never have had the kids whose descendants would eventually give birth to Stuart who goes into the past, have a laugh about erections, brings Leopold to the present, and sends Kate to the past to begin the whole loop again.
So there are some horrifying implications about this including the ramifications of what would happen should the loop not have been completed (the universe would likely explode), but there are also some more practical issues here.
For “Love”, Kate McKay throws away her career and plunges into a past. Yes, there were some cool historical events she’ll witness, but she’s also going to live through one of the most horrifying times in modern history and a time that’s pretty much worse in every way for women.
Kate’s career is important to her
Kate’s job involves marketing bad products to the general public — including Farmer’s Bounty. She doesn’t exactly love her job, but her career is something that she’s fought for.
After using Leopold in a commercial for a product they both hate, he tells her that, “When one finds oneself participating in an endeavour entirely without merit, one withdraws” to which she responds, “I don’t have time for pious speeches from two hundred year old men who have not worked a day in their life.”
I think we can say that she has doubts about what she’s doing and it’s a fact that her boss is a bit of a slime ball because he keeps hitting on her; however, she’s earned herself a comfortable lifestyle in New York. She has her own place, she’s about to be made partner, which means more agency, and she’s gonna be making a lot more money, so maybe she can just create her own marketing firm one day.
And she throws all of that away to live in the past where women barely had any rights?
The worst part of this is that she ultimately has no choice in the matter. Since this is a causality loop, she has to go back to the past (Samurai Jack) in order to meet the Duke, have his kids, and eventually be the ancestor of Stuart Besser.
This means that everything she has done and everything she has fought for in her life is pointless because she has to fall in love with Leopold and go back in time, which brings us too…
Stuart and Kate = wincest
I guess incest isn’t the most terrifying part of what Kate’s facing and there could be many branching marital trees between the 1870s to the early 2000s, but she’s most likely been having sex with her great, great, great grandson.
What’s so strange about this is that this realization hits the group in a deleted scene. Kate doesn’t even get the chance to really wrestle with this problem. She leaps into the past not knowing that in some way Stuart is actually her descendent.
You wonder how Kate would have reacted if she had been told and whether she would have been so eager to take part in this strange causality loop that she’s trapped within.
Also if Stuart and her did perhaps have kids if their relationship had gone well there’s a big chance they’d likely have some genetic disorders like the one Leopold has…
The Duke is dead
There are a tonne of problems with Kate leaving the modern world for the uncertain past, but the biggest is Prince Leopold’s health.
If he’s based on the real guy, the Duke of Albany, he only has about 8 years left to live. The actual duke died in 1884 due to a fall and complications from haemophilia.
Haemophilia was a common genetic disorder in many royal and aristocratic families that existed in part due to inbreeding (something Stuart knows all about). It affects the body’s ability to create blood clots leading to severe bleeding with even the smallest injury.
Open wounds — in a time before antibiotics — means death by infection, so the duke’s days are, essentially, numbered.
So, what happens to Kate when he dies? Maybe without the duke around, she’d be thrown out onto the streets to live out the rest of her life homeless. The alternative is that she continued to live, but there’s no record of a Kate McKay in history.
So, Kate McKay is now in the past living with Leopold. She’s a Duchess and lives a comfortable life even without the modern conveniences that she’s grown accustomed to like stylus pens.
If she survives the next 50 years, she’ll witness some amazing historic moments and live through the First World War, the Great Depression, and several other horrible things.
The fact that there is no record of Kate McKay suggests she didn’t achieve much in the past. You’d think that someone with her knowledge of the future would be able to use that to her advantage, but it seems like she simply faded into obscurity.
In her quest to find true love, she ends up a time traveller. She’ll never to return to the people who really care for her like her brother. She also gives up a promising career for a man likely to die in the coming years.
Kate & Leopold is a lot scarier than I remember…