Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Liar, Lunatic, or Lord - A Review Of Safety Not Guaranteed

WARNING: contains spoilers

CS Lewis' gambit for how to approach the divinity of Jesus is probably the best fit for how Safety Not Guaranteed is played out. The idea is simple: a man takes out an ad for a companion to travel back in time with, and a journalist takes two interns to investigate it.

Here's where the apologetics comes into play. The first thing to see is whether or not he's a liar. Is he a real person making a real claim? Turns out he is, so liar is ruled out. What about lunatic? Well, the film certainly indicates that way. He's a crank who argues with physicists online, stalks government laboratories, talks up his own intelligence, and has delusional thoughts about a dead "ex" who is both not dead and was never his girlfriend.

If the movie left it at that, it wouldn't be so bad. It could have made a point about delusions and how they rule our lives. Indeed, for most of the film it appeared that was what they were doing. In parallel with the crank, the journalist chases down an old girlfriend whom he had idealised beyond all recognition. His moment of realisation comes in the film, yet the film vindicates the delusions of the would-be time-traveller.

To put in nicely, it's incredibly lazy storytelling. It's effectively a "miracles happen" ending, with no regard for establishing plausibility or keeping with the spirit of the rest of the film. Why do this? My hunch it's that it's for the same reason as people are drawn to the Lord part of the trilemma - prior plausibility doesn't fit well into intuitive thought. The most likely scenario is that people are simply mistaken.

Perpetual motion machines are impossible, yet people still build machines that they claim work. People of excessive intelligence and personality can harbour incorrect and even delusional beliefs. Indeed, given the range of things that people can believe, it should be the expectation that extraordinary beliefs even among the most extraordinary of individuals is still the norm.

For Safety Not Guaranteed, taking the Lord path of the trilemma meant quite the elaborate special effect sequence. I cannot help but think that money would have been better spent on a rewrite, but then again, I'm the sucker who paid to rent the film.

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