Your Enjoyment (Mostly) Guaranteed


Have you seen this movie?  No?  You may wish to reconsider your life choices.  At least insofar as they involve watching or not watching Safety Not Guaranteed.

How would you react to someone who told you that they could and had built a time machine?  What if they told you that they had used one once before?

That’s what this movie is all about.  It tells the story of a young woman working as an intern at a Seattle magazine; it follows her travails as she tries to learn just how crazy the person who posted the above classified ad actually is.  And somehow, in the course of a wandering storyline that nearly lost me at a few points, Safety Not Guaranteed absolutely stole my heart.  It’s been about a year since I watched it, and the movie still sticks with me as an excellent example of how you can make a great movie with a fairly low budget and a healthy dose of creativity.

I mentioned above that the storyline wandered and nearly lost me.  But I have to say that despite my issues with the way that the storyline meandered, by the end I felt that it was all perfectly appropriate.  On reflection, the sections that I felt were off were still perfectly on target, dealing as they did with all the regrets and past issues of the characters involved, and how they wished that they could have changed things.  Even the people who thought that the idea of time travel was crazy would probably have hopped in a time machine if they thought they had the chance.  Just like you should watch the movie when you have the chance.  It is entirely possible that you will bounce off the film, left uncertain of its appeal by the ‘indie’ meanderings of the story, but I strongly recommend that you stick with it to the end.

Ok, now I’m going to say things which are *SPOILERS*, or are close enough that they might ruin things anyway.  Please don’t read ahead if you haven’t already seen the movie.

Seriously, I strongly recommend that you see the movie, and that you not read any more of this if you have not yet watched it.

I have to say that I was impressed by how well the movie kept me guessing up until the very last moment.  I’m usually pretty good about calling which way a movie is going to go, or at least having a 70-80% strength estimate by the time that I’m about half-way through.  Sometimes I can call it a bit earlier, sometimes I call it a bit later, but I’m usually able to call it before the very last scene of the movie.  That was totally not the case with Safety Not Guaranteed.  I had no idea whether I should expect the crazy man to blow himself up by accident, or whether I should expect the misunderstood genius to have been telling the truth the entire time, and that stayed the case right up until just before the credits rolled.  Maybe this was particular to me?  Other people who have a similar experience of calling story arcs before they finish might have had a different experience with Safety Not Guaranteed, but it completely ‘got’ me.  And honestly, I think part of the reason that I liked it so much was because I couldn’t tell whether our self-proclaimed time traveler was more madman or genius.

Why didn’t I want to share that with you unless you’d seen the movie?  I think that knowing that there is a last minute settling of accounts gives enough evidence to decide one way or the other about the movie far earlier than I did.  Or at least to decide that you won’t care enough one way or the other.  And, since I haven’t watched it again since I first saw it, I’m not sure what impact that would have on my (and your) enjoyment of the movie.

Another thing that I admire about the ending is the way that it completely avoids what we might refer to as “The Shyamalan Problem.”  The entire movie has been spent building up evidence that could be used to go either way (or perhaps, both ways) when it comes to deciding whether the self-proclaimed time traveler is telling the truth or not.  (Now would be a really good time for you folks who are reading this despite not having seen the movie to stop reading).  When we discover that he’s been telling the truth, we’re still left with our impression of him as a deeply ineffectual and overly serious individual, even if he is capable of truly surprising things.  Rather than having some strange twist turn everything we’ve learned thus far on its head, we’re given a glimpse of a larger picture in which all the various things we’ve learned make a greater sort of sense, without necessarily contradicting each other.  I think that that is an example of the best kind of slow reveal in storytelling, and it’s paced out very nearly perfectly in this movie.

So yeah, I definitely recommend seeing it.  I think I’m going to watch it again soon.


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