Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Rated R. Our ratings: V -0; L -5; S/N -2. Running time: 1 hour 26 min.

For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?—
the God who girded me with strength,
and made my way safe.
Psalm 18:31-32

Darius and Kenneth, both outsiders.

2012 Film District

“Wanted: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91, Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.” The writer of this ad that catches the eye of a Seattle magazine writer might not be able to offer a guarantee, but I can guarantee that those who enjoy offbeat films will have a good time watching director Colin Trevorrow’s quirky little film. This is the second film with a character allegedly claiming to travel through time. In both journalists are drawn to the claimant with the intent to disprove the claim—in The Sound of My Voice the traveler claims to be from the future, whereas in this one the character wants to return to the past (for the 2nd time). A journalist, Jeff (Jake Johnson) working for The Seattle Magazine, takes two interns with him to the small town of Ocean View to try to track down the ad writer—he has given only a P.O. box number. Jeff is a self-centered jerk who makes the interns do all of the spade work, beginning with sitting and watching the tiny Post Office to discover who comes to the particular box. Darius (Aubrey Plaza) has always been a misfit, her alienation going back to the time when she lost her mother. Arnau (Karan Soni) also is an outsider for a combination of reasons—he is an Indian (Asian) American and somewhat withdrawn and inhibited. Thus when they finally connect with their quarry, it is Darius who is able to win his trust.

The latter might be because it takes a weirdo to recognize and get along with one. Kenneth works at a grocery story where everyone regards his strange manners and tinkering with gadgetry as weird. As senior member of the party, Jeff goes to meet Kenneth (Mark Duplass) first, but Kenneth immediately spots his insincerity and runs him off the property. Darius, on the other hand, he is hesitant about, and then accepts her. They slowly bond as he reveals a small amount of new information to her each day. He approves of her “mission” as he calls it—to go back and prevent the death of her mother. (there is not talk about unintended consequences of changing the past.) They suffer a setback or two, but he comes around again. Darius is mystified and scared when they stage a night raid on a high tech lab to steal several parts and gadgets. Does Kenneth really know what he is talking about, or not? Kenneth also insists on training Darius in marksmanship with a pistol, though the reason for needing to defend oneself so forcefully remains a mystery—they are only going back to 2001, not the Wild West. The Psalmist might have relied on the Lord for safety: Kenneth will provide his own.

While Darius is engaged with Kenneth, Jeff has also been seeking to return to his past. We learn that one of the reasons he wanted the assignment is that old school flame Liz (Jenica Bergere) lives in the town. Jeff’s reconnecting with her and his seeking to bring Arnau add two subplots to the film, the first a gratifying one, the second, in which he works to connect the virgin Arnau with a girl is not as uplifting as the filmmakers think it is.

This is a film really about human relationships than about the theory of time travel. Some might question it being a sci-fi tale, though this—well, go and see the film, one that has enough twists to keep you guessing about what will happen next.

For reflection/Discussion 1. In the two flashback scenes to her youth Darius is shown as not fitting in: from what you can see is this a bad thing?

2. Why do you think Kenneth rejects Jeff as a partner? How is the one regarded by everyone as “weird” wiser than the self-confident Jeff?

3. Kenneth asks, “What is your mission?” If you had to answer this, what would your reason(s) be? How might it be better for us to learn from the past, rather than to try to change it?

4. Why do you think he accepts Darius’s reason, and thus her? How are they each seeking a balm for their psychic wound?

5. What kind of person is Liz? Can you see why Jeff left her years before? And maybe now wants to reconnect? How is he changing? How does his relationship with Arnau show this? What do you think of the ending?