Time travel is one of the most commonly contemplated ideas in popular culture. Thinkers have spent considerable time pondering whether or not it is actually possible to travel back in time; and, if possible, how an interference in the past would produce ripples in the present. To cite a popular example, think of the Time Turner from Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) or the theme of time travel that governs The Flash (2023). Apart from prominent science and fantasy fiction movies, time travel found its most unlikely (but wholesome) usage in this rom-com, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), directed by Colin Trevorrow.

The story follows Darius Britt, an intern at Seattle magazine, who is in pursuit of doing a story on a guy who published an advertisement in the Classified section of a newspaper looking for a partner to time travel with him. During the movie, Darius must cross her heart and follow Kenneth’s (the guy who advertised) lead to witness the impossible. A feel-good drama that doesn’t treat time travel as a gimmick, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is a timeless story about noble intentions, kindness, and the search for human connection. To understand how these themes come into the narrative, let us unpack the movie for you below. Happy Reading!

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

The protagonist, Darius Britt (played by Aubrey Plaza), is an introverted and cynical young adult interning at Seattle Magazine. The film begins by taking us through her air of disenchantment that has unfortunately proved her unworthy of jobs and friends. During a round of discussion at work, someone proposes to do a story on a classified ad in the newspaper that reads:

“Wanted: Somebody 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. I have only done this once before. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.”

Jeff Schwensen (played by Jake M. Johnson), a journalist at the magazine, picks up the story and assigns her to help him and another intern, Arnau (played by Karan Soni). The next day, the three of them leave for Ocean View, Wash., and quickly come across the guy who had published the advertisement in the newspaper – Kenneth (played by Mark Duplass). He is a man in his 30s, works as a grocery clerk, and has an air of urgency around him when they spot him.

They retrieve Kenneth’s address, and Jeff volunteers to talk to him, but Kenneth quickly shoos him away. Jeff clearly fails to meet Kenneth’s criteria, seeing right through him and dismissing him as a partner in his travel. Back in the car, Jeff informs his interns that Kenneth seems quite serious about his notion of time travel when Darius volunteers to go undercover and develop a rapport with Kenneth to understand his motivation and actions as part of their coverage.

Darius begins her investigation by pretending to be interested in time travel. She meets Kenneth in a supermarket aisle and convinces him about her willingness to join him on the mission. She plays her deadpan self for the role; Kenneth tells her that government officials and secret agents are following him, so it is risky for him to discuss the subject openly in public. However, he asks her to follow him to a desolate location later that evening to continue their discussions.

She gradually earns Kenneth’s trust and becomes involved in his mission. Although Kenneth is constantly paranoid about the people following him, Darius becomes emotionally invested in helping Kenneth in this mission. She even participates in firearm training sessions with him near his house in the woods and starts to develop feelings for him.

On one occasion, Darius tells him that she’d like to go back in time to 2001 to save her mum from dying when she was a 14-year-old. She uncovers the reason behind his desire to travel back in time: to prevent the love of his life, his former girlfriend, Belinda, from dying in a tragic accident. Accidentally, Kenneth’s prosthetic ear puts him in an embarrassing situation in front of Jeff, who unflinchingly tells him that it is okay to have a prosthetic ear and that there is nothing wrong with standing out from the crowd.

On another occasion, Jeff becomes an accomplice in stealing lasers from a lab that Kenneth conducts indiscreetly. Darius learns that Kenneth has been constructing a time machine in a storage facility, using instructions from a mysterious government agent named “Agent Callahan.”

However, it is unclear whether Kenneth is genuinely capable of time travel or if he is delusional. Despite the doubts and skepticism of those around her, Darius remains determined to support Kenneth in his quest.

Meanwhile, it becomes clear quite early in the movie that Jeff has taken this trip to rekindle his relationship/track down a girl named Liz (played by Jenica Bergere) he had slept with from his teenage years. He sends her a request on Facebook. Although she has aged and he is initially disenchanted, he decides to meet her. He comes to know that she has colored her hair and does it often, bakes pies and cookies at home, and volunteers to give him a neck massage.

She had also been married, but the marriage had ended a while ago. Soon, he neglects the initial purpose of their trip and starts spending more and more time with her, ultimately asking her to move to Seattle with him. She denies it, citing that she has been in this situation previously. A heartbroken and upset Jeff decides to help his intern, Arnau, have some fun and lose his virginity with a one-night stand.

The same night, as Kenneth and Darius spend time in the woods, preparing for their time travel, they share a kiss. The next day, as Kenneth prepares to leave for his mission, he must also confront his feeling for Darius while the government agents close in on him.

Is Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) based on a true story?

No, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is not based on a true story. The film is inspired by a classified ad that appeared in the Backwoods Home magazine in the late 1990s. The classified ad written by senior editor John Silveria was quite similar to the one used in the film, except the P.O. address directs a reader to Oakview, CA, and not Ocean View, Wash. The ad was used as filler content. The writer of Safety Not Guaranteed (2012), Derek Connolly, or Trevorrow himself may have developed the idea of this story from the ad. However, it is safe to say that the story itself is fictional.

AUBREY PLAZA and MARK DUPLASS star in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
AUBREY PLAZA and MARK DUPLASS star in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

What is the significance of the title, Safety Not Guaranteed?

The title – Safety Not Guaranteed – reflects the uncertain and risky nature of the characters’ pursuits in the movie. It alludes to both – the literal idea of time travel being a dangerous endeavor without any guarantee about what it will lead to and the metaphorical notion that taking risks in life and relationships often involves stepping into the unknown without guarantees of safety or success. The film then becomes a commentary on how life is a risk that we choose to step through every day, even though it did not come with any safety manual.

Do Darius and Kenneth really travel back in time?

One of the most fascinating aspects of this movie is that it provides no definitive answer about whether or not the protagonists travel back in time, intentionally leaving the reality of time travel open for interpretation. It gives us a glimpse of the time machine that Kenneth has put together after years of study and research, and it looks like a big boat full of meters, wires, and tin. From what we know by the end, the time machine certainly works, but its success or failure is for the audience to ponder.

While the story revolves around the concept of time travel, it is actually invested in laying out the emotional and personal journeys of the characters rather than providing a definitive answer about the existence or possibility of time travel. The film invites viewers to draw their conclusions according to their belief systems.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Themes Analyzed:

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) explores the themes of trust, personal growth, and the power of human connections. The film balances its comedic elements with heartfelt moments and delves into the vulnerabilities and aspirations of its characters beautifully. Here are four prominent themes in the movie:

Belief and the Power of Imagination

One of the film’s central themes is the power of belief and its impact on our lives. Kenneth’s unwavering belief in his ability to travel through time drives the narrative. He is unfettered by his single-minded agenda of time travel, even if that requires him to contact government employees and steal lasers from labs, which almost makes him come across as eccentric and delusional to others.

However, Kenneth’s firm conviction in himself helps create a sense of intrigue and drives our curiosity, making us wonder if he has built the fabled time machine until the very end. The movie invites us to consider the role imagination and confidence can play in shaping our reality and the transformative potential of holding onto our dreams, even in the face of skepticism.

Human Connection and Emotional Resonance

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) emphasizes the significance of human connection and the profound impact it can have on individuals. Darius and Kenneth are societal misfits. While Darius is cynical and introverted, Kenneth comes across as an imaginative buffoon because of his time travel obsession and, as we later learn, a prosthetic ear. Together, they spend more and more time only to develop a deep emotional bond, finding solace and understanding in one another’s quirks.

The quest for emotional resonance also drives the less-highlighted narrative of Jeff, who has come to track down his old fling. However, even though he wishes to give his relationship with Liz a try, there is no reciprocation from Liz’s end, leading to Jeff’s heartbreak. The film portrays the human desire for connection and the transformative power of relationships, showing how genuine connections can provide comfort, healing, and a sense of belonging. At the same time, the quest for the same can lead to heartbreaks and disenchantment with love.

Taking Risks and Embracing the Unknown

The movie encourages viewers to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the unknown. Both Darius and Kenneth exhibit courage by taking risks in pursuing something greater – time travel. Darius, who initially approaches the idea of investigating Kenneth’s idea of time travel with skepticism, eventually opens herself up to the possibility of the same. Furthermore, she allows herself to be vulnerable with Kenneth, risking her secrets. It rewards her when Kenneth starts to show signs of opening up about the real reason behind his desire for time travel, ultimately leading to a romantic connection between them. The film suggests that by taking risks and embracing uncertainty, we can discover new aspects of ourselves, forge meaningful connections, and find fulfillment in unexpected places.

Seeking Meaning in Life

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) explores the theme of seeking meaning in our lives and the quest for redemption. Each main character is grappling with personal challenges and seeking a sense of purpose. To begin with, Kenneth, haunted by events from his past, believes that time travel can provide him a chance to rectify his mistakes and help him make a genuine connection. On the other hand, Darius is wrestling with her emotional baggage only to find purpose and a renewed sense of self-worth through her relationship with Kenneth. Jeff also seeks a genuine emotional connection as he recognizes that he has lost his days of youth and frivolity. The film prompts viewers to reflect on their journeys of self-discovery and the possibility of finding meaning in life’s twists and turns.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Movie Ending, Explained:

The night after Jeff and Arnau have spent partying wildly, Jeff receives a call from his boss at the magazine, Bridget (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub). She informs him that according to their sources, Belinda (Kenneth’s first girlfriend) is still alive and lives a few hours away. He informs Darius, who then visits Belinda (played by Kristen Bell) for an interview.

Belinda informs her that she was never really in a relationship with Kenneth, but he was one of those guys who had a crush on her, and she was nice to him because he was a good guy. She was in a relationship with her now ex-boyfriend, Robin, when Kenneth drove into Robin’s house. However, Belinda had not told after him to the police, calling it a hit and run, and she hadn’t seen Kenneth since. This confirms to Darius that Kenneth has been lying about his real intention of time travel all along.

When she is about to exit Belinda’s house, she is stopped for interrogation by two government agents. They question him about Kenneth, calling him a spy who has been relentlessly trying to get in touch with scientists at their research facilities and stealing pieces of equipment from government labs. Jeff intervenes and informs them that they are journalists from the Seattle magazine who are actually doing a story on Kenneth. Jeff and the two interns then drive over to Kenneth’s house, and Darius enters the house in search of him, noticing how each room is filled with what looks like scientific equipment and papers.

When Kenneth arrives at the scene, Darius confronts him about Belinda, who then rationalizes that she is alive because Kenneth had gone back in time to rescue her from his previous mission. At this moment, Jeff arrives at the scene to warn them about the government officials at his house premises and ousts the truth about Darius’s investigation. Darius apologizes and tells him she hid the truth about her investigation, but whatever else she has shared with him is true.

Kenneth flees the scene, and soon after, Jeff, Arnau, and Darius set out after his track in the woods. They come upon an outhouse full of diagrams of a machine, wondering if he had built the time machine. Darius follows the trail to the nearby lake, where Kenneth is on a boat with his time machine. He tells her he wishes to return now for her and invites her to join him on the mission. As Kenneth brings the time machine to life, he kisses Darius as Jeff, Arnau, and the two government officials watch them disappear into thin air from the shore.

Ultimately, Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) is a charming and thought-provoking film combining science fiction, romance, and comedy elements. It encourages viewers to embrace uncertainty and find solace in their connections with other human beings. The movie leaves a lingering question about the nature of Kenneth’s time-travel ambitions, allowing audiences to contemplate the possibilities of the unknown and the importance of embracing the present moment.

Read More: Blue Jay [2016]: Duplass’ B/W Tribute to Simplicity, Nostalgia, and Lost Love

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Movie Trailer

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) Movie Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson
Rating: R (Some Sexual References|Language)
Genre: Comedy
Original Language: English
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Writer: Derek Connolly
Release Date (Theaters): , Limited
Release Date (Streaming): Box Office (Gross USA): $4.0M
Runtime: Distributor: FilmDistrict

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