Sins of the Father
While a little uneven in tone, Chris Pratt’s new action vehicle, The Tomorrow War (streaming on Amazon Prime), is an exciting science fiction diversion that leaves you chewing over the nature of sacrifice, responsibility, and grace for your parents.
A new franchise is always a risk.
It’s easier to bank on the ninth installment of the Fast and Furious franchise or push out another comic book movie or Disney live-action remake. You know there’s a dedicated fanbase that will buy the ticket just to complain how the original source material was better.
So it’s always refreshing to see a studio introduce a new, untested world.
The Tomorrow War is a bold new IP with a bold science-fiction premise. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s backed by a big CGI budget.
The movie’s premise is a great hook; one generation from now, humanity is losing a war with vicious, animalistic aliens that put us uncomfortably lower on the food chain. The first leap of logic is believing that future humans are able to crack time travel, but can’t develop guns that punch through the scaley hide of other-worldly carnivores. Nevertheless, humanity has created a time bridge from 2051 back to our “present” and has begun conscripting soldiers to fight in the future alien wars.
It’s here we’re introduced to the languishing high school teacher Dan Forester (Chris Pratt), who is still reeling from being turned down from a prestigious career opportunity.
We later learn that Dan is so crushed by feelings of inadequacy that, in the original timeline of pre-time travel, he comes to believe his life is devoid of meaning and eventually leaves his family in search of something to fill this hole.
It speaks to the ennui middle-age men are susceptible to and sets up some universal themes like a man’s need for meaning and making sacrifices.
However, while Dan is spiraling, he is given a second chance when the future war arrives on their doorstep. Instead of dodging the draft and hiding off the grid with his family, Dan chooses to fight to protect his daughter’s future. I think as men, we resonate with this deep need for meaning and a higher purpose in our lives.
It brings to mind the timeless quote from the Austrian writer and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl.
What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.
Thankfully, the injection of time travel essentially gives the present day’s version of Dan a second chance as he is called up to serve in the eponymous Tomorrow War.
However, in 2051 he meets his now-adult daughter, who informs him of his alternate self’s failures as a father, and how abandoning his family scarred her emotionally.
Dan, the doting father, is taken aback. It brings to mind Jesus warning to Peter, “Before the rooster crows…”
For fathers, this cuts deep because we know our weaknesses well. Being a good father or loving husband isn’t automatic. It’s a conscious choice you make every day. That’s the true nature of sacrifice.
Being a good father or loving husband isn’t automatic. It’s a conscious choice you make every day. That’s the true nature of sacrifice.
This theme of being wholly inadequate as a father is mirrored in both Dan and his own father (J.K. Simmons), who also left his family. However, he claims his abandonment was his way of protecting his family from his own violent tendencies as a sufferer of PTSD.
Dan calls him a coward and has essentially written off his dad, telling him bluntly he doesn’t give second chances.
It’s only when confronted with his own failings through his time-jumping reunion with his adult daughter that Dan begins to realize the importance of grace. Returning to his own time with PTSD and a glimpse into his alternate future, he naturally comes to see his own father in a new light.
For the Christian, it brings to mind the words of Jesus: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Armed with this warning and his own sobering experience of living with PTSD, Dan is able to reconcile with his father and recommits to being a dedicated father and husband without becoming fixated on his lack of prestigious science fellowship.
In the end, Dan is able to defy his future fate and kill some aliens to chart a new timeline for humanity. But more than that, the film is about having grace for our parents. As a child, you see your parents as superhumans, which makes their failings more of a betrayal than anything. Later in life, becoming a parent yourself, you begin to grow in grace for your parents and their humanity.
All it takes is a little time travel to speed up the process.