Directed by: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, & Steve Purcell (USA)
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Directed by: Colin Trevorrow (USA)
We have two great desires that we can never achieve – to change the past and to guarantee the future. But what if you had the opportunity to do one or the other?
Two of this summer’s films address these dilemmas. The films couldn’t have less in common otherwise, so it probably makes sense to address them one at a time.
Brave (2012) is Pixar’s latest offering. As a movie, it is certainly on par with The Incredibles (2004) and Cars (2006), but not quite as good as Pixar’s best (Toy Story 1-3 (1995, 1999, 2010), Finding Nemo (2003), Wall-E (2008), Up (2009)). The plot centers around the impending arranged marriage of a Scottish princess, Merida (Kelly MacDonald). Merida, who wishes nothing more than to avoid this fate, chances upon a forest dwelling witch (Julie Walters). The witch gives Merida a spell which would stop the marriage, but the unintended consequences of said spell are shocking and horrifying (well maybe not horrifying, this is Pixar after all).
Much like the characters in W. W. Jacobs’ classic short story “The Monkey’s Paw,” Merida doesn’t consider the full scope of the consequences of using dark magic to try and change her fate. While her mother Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) is stubborn, she is not entirely unreasonable. It is possible that Merida could have reasoned with her to avoid the marriage instead of trusting her fate to a random witch in the forest.
In Safety Not Guarenteed (2012), a team of reporters (Aubrey Plaza, Jake M. Johnson, & Karan Soni) tracks down a loner named Kenneth who claims to be building a time machine (Mark Duplass). While one of the reporters tries to re-ignite a long lost romance (Johnson’s character, Jeff), Plaza’s character, Darius, befriends the loner. The movie could go one of two ways, either Kenneth is mentally ill or a genius, and I’m not going to give away the ending. His efforts to create a time machine, however, are nicely woven into a film where the two other protagonists are either trying to re-live their past or, in Darius’ case, emotionally damaged by it.
As anyone knows from the Back to the Future films (1985, 1989, 1990), time travel is not something to be taken on lightly. While Darius may want to change her past, she risks unleashing unintended and dangerous consequences (she is warned of this by Kenneth and “trained” to handle it). As this and Jeff’s brief foray into his past romance seems to suggest, it may not be all fun and games even if Kenneth is legitimately a genius building a time machine and not just some nut.
In the end, changing the past or guaranteeing the future is folly. If you want to spend your $10 of summer movie money wisely though, either of these films are worth escaping the heat wave for. Then you can think about some of their overarching themes afterwards over some cold drinks at the beach.
(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe