Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Movie Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Defying the 'indie comedy' genre

By Mark HadleyFriday 19 Oct 2012MoviesReading Time: 4 minutes

The unique indie comedy trumping the blockbusters


There’s a certain type of film that sidesteps the publicity of the blockbuster, but still ends up being recommended years later. Moving insights like The First Grader and Precious; comic gems like Little Miss Sunshine and Being John Malkovich fall into this category. When you finally see them you wonder why no one told you earlier. Well, here’s an opportunity to skip a year of waiting. Safety Not Guaranteed is my pick of the fringe films for the year. 

Now I hesitate to tell you what this film’s about because the moment some people read the phrase ‘time travel’ – oops, I hear the sound of receding footsteps already – the suggestion of science fiction sends them running for the door. So let me assure you ahead of time Safety Not Guaranteed is an offbeat comedy about a man who has supposedly invented a time machine but don’t expect anyone with pointy ears to appear. There’s barely a glimpse of special effects and no-one even breathes “One point twenty-one gigawatts!” 

The story begins with a Seattle magazine staff struggling for interesting stories until one of its journalists points out a strange advertisement that appeared in their previous issue:

“WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.”

The editor sniffs an opportunity to turn some hapless schmuck’s delusion into an interesting people story and so dispatches journalist Jeff, and interns Darius and Arnau. After days of staking out the post office they finally identify Kenneth Calloway as ad-owner and potential fruit loop. Kenneth is clearly paranoid so Darius dons a similar attitude to weasel her way inside his home. However the better she gets to know him, the more she finds to like, and the less she wants to profit from his mania. But the line between psychosis and sanity becomes blurred as Safety Not Guaranteed rolls on and Darius begins to wonder who’s actually the fool.

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Time-travel is the plot device that won’t go away because it’s everlastingly linked to regret. So long as we can look back on our lives and see things we lament, we’ll daydream about the possibility of changing them. The best thing Safety Not Guaranteed has to offer is the observation that there are lots of different ways to time-travel. Darius is forever mentally travelling back to the day her mother died and wondering if she could have done something different. Journalist Jeff is secretly using the trip to reconnect with the high school girlfriend he believes he should have kept. Arnau even becomes Jeff’s test pilot as the older man arranges for his intern to walk down the roads he regrets leaving behind. What they all have in common, though, is the realization that the results have a way of wandering off plan. 

Both the bigger and smaller plotlines reveal that even if we were able to go back and re-write our pasts, there would be losses along the way. The unalterable truth of time travel – real or imagined – is that your safety can’t be guaranteed. In order to alter our future we have to be prepared to sacrifice our present. There’s no way to have your cake and eat it too. Imagine you stand on brink of the final Judgment Day. The Almighty is about to pass sentence and you realize things might not go the way you’d hoped. But there’s a last minute opportunity to turn back the clock, to present Him with a life that would satisfy His requirements. Does anybody actually believe that you could keep your old life and the new one too? 

Safety Not Guaranteed suggests some costs are worth paying. Quirky Kenneth eventually gives up on his plan in favor of one that involves Darius. He tells her there’s no point having the, “Awesome power of time travel at your disposal,” if you don’t have someone who “…has your back when the heat gets hot.” The same idea should shape our own thoughts of the future. Surely our present independence is worth giving up for a secure eternity.