It’s the story of a group of high school kids who build a time travelling device (or at least, they build one according to the blueprints they found—which is totally believable). This isn’t just a fun romp through time. As one of the kids points out, “When you said time machine, I thought dinosaurs or at least Woodstock, you know?!”, but this machine has its limitations–with a few tweaks they manage to travel back a few years, but that’s it. What the movie is is a cautionary tale. What happens when you try to play God?
As far as looking for spiritual connections, I loved it, but my enthusiasm is not unchecked. Let me share the spiritual connection first, and then we’ll take a look at the concern.
The Good: Project Almanac as a Metaphor for Sin
At first it’s a lot of fun, travelling back in time, doing things “right” (like figuring out what the girl actually wants you to say and saying it, or having the right answers to the oral exam, or getting the right numbers to win the lottery.) But as they travel back in time, things change…for the worse. Their lives may be better, granted. They got what they wanted, changed things for the better in their lives. The problem was that those changes caused ripple effects which made things worse all around them. It wasn’t long before they were travelling back in time to try to undo what they’d done.
It’s actually a pretty good metaphor for sin.
They started messing around with something they knew they shouldn’t. They thought they could control it. They thought they could make their lives better with it (thinking only of their own lives). They set up rules for how to keep their time travel “in control”. But it wasn’t long before the pull was too great and David was out of control. He broke the rules. He was like an addict, lying to himself and those around him, hiding his addiction, going back again and again and again, always thinking he was “in control”. But it was taking an effect, on his body, his nerves, his psyche…people could see it. He wasn’t right. In fact, he was starting to look like a junkie.
The others managed to stay at a more “recreational user” level, but they were hooked nonetheless. When they first realized their “sin” was hurting people, they tried to fix a few things. They didn’t want to stop going back in time, they didn’t want give up what they just gained from their last trip through time—but they also didn’t want anyone else to be hurt by it. So they tried to fix things by “using” again. They aren’t bad people, but that’s the thing—it’s not only bad people who get caught up in sin. Sin makes good people do bad things, but it’s deceptive. You can see it in David. “Sorry guys. I would never do anything to hurt you guys. You’ll never even know it happened.” He’s not a bad guy. He’s not out to hurt anyone, but he makes horrible decisions because he believes the lie that he can keep it in control. He believes he can break the rules and no one will know. He even believes he can make things better by doing so.
Things got worse, not only for the lives of people around them, but eventually for themselves—especially David. Eventually, they began to see that the only way to “fix” things was to make sure the device was never built in the first place.
Obviously, we don’t have the luxury of going back in time to stop ourselves from making mistakes. What we do have, however, is a God who not only paid the price of our sins, but who also promises He can make all the bad things work out for good in the end.
The Bad: Sexuality in Project Almanac
I am concerned with the increasingly casual approach to sexuality in film, especially when it relates to teenagers.
David’s buddies are constantly making comments about girls’ bodies. For example, one of them says, “Look at those perfect little tree trunks,” as he zooms the video camera in on a girls’ legs. It’s mild, and maybe it’s typical, but it also objectifies women. If that was it, I wouldn’t get all up in arms about it…but it goes on.
David likes Jessie, but he’s shy and lacks confidence—he thinks she is out of his league, so he’s a bit slow to catch on. Trying to speed things up, Jessie teases him. They are reading comments off a wall answering the question of what they want to do before the end of the world. Jessie reads, “Run through the streets naked.” Then she asks David, “You picturing me naked now?” He’s surprised and unsure what to say; he’s really a nice boy—he says “No.” Jessie keeps pressing the matter. “Not even a little bit?!” David asks a good question back, “What’s the right answer?” He’s right. If he says “yes” he looks a little pervy. If he says no, he seems disinterested in her. Jessie, thoroughly enjoying his discomfort, coyly replies, “You will never know.”
That bothers me. You have a guy on screen who is trying to be honorable, who treats her with respect, who seems to be interested in her, not just sex with her, and she becomes a temptress. She manipulates him, teases him with sexual images, plants ideas in his head. As women, we complain about being objectified, but then get offended when someone we like doesn’t objectify us. It’s crazy talk. We find perverse pleasure in keeping men off balance. When they wonder how they should treat us or what’s the right answer, more often than not, we’re like Jessie, coyly replying, “You’ll never know.” It’s not right.
Again, I know that if this was the extent the sexual content in the film, you might think I was being overly sensitive. Not that these aren’t concerns, but that you might think I was nit-picking. There’s more.
David returns from a time jump, one he did alone, to find things altered. He doesn’t know how things were altered though. He’s in his bedroom and Jessie comes out, in a towel, having clearly just showered. He is a little shocked to find her in his room, much less walking around in a towel. As they talk he realizes they have been sleeping together. “Oh my god—we had sex?! Can I see you naked?!” he asks. And without pause, she opens up her towel for him to take a good, long look.
They are in HIGH SCHOOL. They treat sex like it’s a recreational activity, not something to treat with respect. I’m not even talking about the Biblical standards here of sex within marriage—this is so far from that it’s ridiculous. There is no sense of caution, of the risk and vulnerability involved in opening up your body and soul to someone like that. Is this really the way we want our children to think about sex? Do we really want our young girls to think they should be as “liberated” as Jessie? Do we want them to be that sexually confident, in high school, with their boyfriend?
This isn’t “just a movie,” it’s a seed. It’s a seed planted into young minds across the nation. This seed alone might be troubling enough, but combined with all the other seeds of the same nature in other films and TV shows… We are naïve to think we won’t be reaping a harvest from these seeds. We are naïve to think they won’t grow into thoughts and actions, that they won’t take root in the minds of the next generation.
Sadly, they already have. The sexuality in this movie is both chicken and egg. It’s revelatory for how things already are, even as it is furthering and growing this mindset and lifestyle.(For more on what the Bible says about sexuality, read here.)
Questions for Discussion:
- What can you learn from this cautionary tale?
- How do you think their experimentation with time travel might parallel someone’s experimentation with drugs? (Or any other sin?)
- Have you ever done something that ended up hurting others that you wished you could undo?
- Since you can’t go back in a time machine and undo the past, do you think it’s good news to hear that Jesus promises that he can both cleanse you from sin AND work bad things into good things?
- Is the sexuality in this movie true to your real life experience in high school?
- Do you think Jessie is a good role model for girls? Why or why not?
- Do you think there’s any danger in watching a movie that treats sex so casually? Do you think it will affect you personally, or your generation at large in a positive or negative way?