Moving images have a history of allowing us to believe that we can gain access to some past event or moment in time through the illusion of that which is portrayed on the screen. Time and space seem to be absolved of their exclusive instantaneous status, as images of the past flicker across the screen and invite us to revel in and re-live moments past. Of course, the actual ability to reposition ourselves within time and space through images is an illusion, yet one which seems so prominent in our modern conception of how images and reality interact. In Colin Trevorrow’s new science fiction romance Safety not Guaranteed, this dilemma is addressed and ruminated on with a clear-headed insight and lack of agenda that is quite refreshing. That is until it lays on its escapist conclusion that drops the film firmly in opposition to the potentially mature exploration the film seems to be suggesting.
Working for a Seattle based magazine, an oddball trio of journalists set out to investigate an advertisement placed by a man named Kenneth (Mark Duplass) who claims he can travel through time and is looking for a partner to accompany him. Interns Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) are led by journalist Jeff (Jake Johnson) to a small town beach community to find Kenneth and write a story. Each of the characters in this detective narrative are traumatised in some regard, and the level to which their personality disorders are communicated is perfectly pitched. Darius is somewhat of a social outcast, constantly battling an inability to fit in whereas her boss Jeff is the opposite; crass and confident but with a seeming dissatisfaction with the empty successes his life has thus far delivered. Kenneth too is somewhat of an idiosyncratic outsider whose dedication to his mission and paranoia are all wonderfully encapsulated by Duplass.
Each of these three characters are plagued by an event from their past, and each seem determined that a resolution to their particular problems also lies in the past. Kenneth wants to travel to 2001 to save the only girl that was nice to him from being killed in a car accident, Darius blames herself for her mothers death when she was 14 and Jeff is seeking a woman from his past whom he shared a relationship with when he was 18. Each of these narratives intertwine with effortless design and are all underlined with the general desire to reclaim the traumas inflicted on the characters in their past. What each character comes to discover (in their own unique way) is that a present experience punctured by ghosts of yesteryear becomes tainted in itself, and that escapism from the responsibility of dealing with the past is an endeavour perhaps not worth embarking on.
Through the generic codes of the modern indie drama/comedy, Treverrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly elicit the basic human dilemma of learning to live with and understand the mistakes we make and the temptation that arises from our desire to return to those moments; or at least to return to a moment seemingly free of pain and suffering. For the most part the film gets this balance right, and the insight we are treated to is neither overtly prominent nor flimsily elicited. Unfortunately, the film resolves itself by indulging in the fantastic notion of achieving such fleeting desire, rather than have its characters reconcile with the inevitable. As the film comes to an end, the responsibility of accepting our fates and decisions comes to a halt and ends up promising a future that can never be. It is disappointing that the film ends up basking in the sunlight of illusion as everything that comes before it hints at a mature and modern interpretation of how our awareness of time and its effect on our present lives is so crucial in a fully realised self. Safety not Guaranteed is by all accounts is a well-made and unique genre film that unfortunately seems content in grounding itself in a completely unattainable fantasy.
Safety Not Guaranteed is out now in Limited Release and is distributed by Rialto Pictures
Written by Simon Di Berardino