Time Changer will probably be lost in the deluge of straight-to-DVD movies and cable movies produced in a time when low budgets can work due to inexpensive digital technology. BUT it should be considered a cult classic in the tradition of such greats as Reefer Madness due to its alarmist nature over what amounts to nothing.
I speculated on this movie in one of my daily Freethunk News Bites and my evaluation went overboard in the expectation that Time Changerwould show a society in torment from lack of values. Quite the opposite. The premise of the movie is that society can be good without God but that without God we’re all going to hell. The most horrific moment in the movie is when Biblical Professor Carlisle–who was transported into 2002 from the past–picks up a TV remote and watches 150 channels of sinful cable. His horrified expression is so hilarious I laughed my ass off and rewound it to watch again.
And that’s why this movie should be a cult classic for freethinkers and unbelievers. Each immoral discovery is so harmless that we have to laugh at the shock of the good professor and yet, I believe the director Rich Christiano actually feels the same way.
Let me back up briefly to let you know the plot: We start in 1890 at Grace Seminary with a gathering of Biblical professors who have come together to review and approve of Professor Russel Carlisle’s new book The Changing Timeswhich is about presenting godly morality without placing emphasis on the authority for that morality (which is God/Jesus). All the professors will give their stamp of approval except one–Captain Stubing, I mean Dr. Norris Anderson played by Gavin MacLeod. He believes the book is dangerous because without the authority of God people will begin to essentially forget who created morality and why they need the salvation of Christ.
The professors quarrel until Dr. Anderson invites Prof. Carlisle to his basement to show him a new invention reminiscent of H.G. Wells–it’s a time machine! Although hesitant, Carlisle agrees to subject himself to Anderson’s experiment to go into the future and see how everything has gone downhill without Christ’s authority. “Zap,” Carlisle is in the future 2002 in a city area where he stares in awe and wonder at traffic, gadgets, tall buildings and lingerie in the shop windows. From there he proceeds to meet up with Christians at a church where he is continually disappointed at how “new” Christians are living and laments the lost souls who need God. When Carlisle returns to 1890 his end conclusion is that he was visiting “the last days.”
Here’s what made Carlisle think he was in the last days: Lack of church-going, boredom at church, God’s name taken in vain on a movie screen, prevalent divorce statistics, a little girl stealing his hot dog, disrespectful teenagers, sexy lingerie displayed out in the open while shopping, and yes, the TV remote which allowed for a child to see an unmarried couple kiss (I kid you not).
Now, realistically speaking, these kinds of reactions might be thoroughly accurate if we took a Biblical professor from the 1800s and placed them in modern times. The problem, though, is that the writer/director/producer expect us to sympathize with Professor Carlisle instead of laugh at his outdated reactions. Sex on TV, God’s name in vain, lack of church attendance–all of these things have not thrown society into chaos. Not even having a business open on Sunday is detrimental, which I find ironic because my local Christian Supply was open on Sundays growing up and I suspect I could find more of the same today. The film doesn’t care if society is happier, if disease is less rampant, that we have a better standard of living, that violence is down statistically speaking, that racism and inequality is on the decline, and that generally speaking we are better off than if we lived in the late 1800s. The film is concerned that we are all going to hell because we don’t accept Christ’s authority. Morality has nothing to do with it which is kind of misleading concering the morality premise.
The problem with this conclusion is that we need to take one step back. If morality and law does not need the name of Christ–whether you believe morality came from God or whether it evolved is not the issue–then we can live peacefully on earth with some statistical exceptions (there will always be a minority of individuals who don’t want to play nice). But if earth is to disappear and we live forever through our souls in heaven or hell we should be concerned. The problem is, no one has ever been able to prove the existence of the soul, heaven, hell or God. We even have to question the existence or nature of the original Jesus Christ as his life was put into print apparently 70 years after his death, and this was a time when there were multiple saviors roaming the land–not to mention we have no extant Biblical writings, only copies of copies.
So to allow for any authority you must prove the authority exists. If someone came and arrested me in the name of a government called “Bob” and I had never heard of Bob why would I acknowledge that authority? You could have just made “Bob” up. Concerning religion, you could even point to a dead Bob in history and say you are his religious representative and that unfortunately I can’t talk to Bob himself to verify what his moral laws are (because Bob raised from the dead and is now in charge of Bob heaven) but that you have written them down in a book. It is the same with God and Christ. This is why Christians have unquestionable faith and even in the movie when Carlisle speaks to a science class he says that we defer to The Bible first and not science even when science is in conflict with The Bible.
Christians don’t want to admit that life on earth is getting better. Certainly life is still hard, but give me 2010 versus the 1800s. I was surprised that Carlisle did not react to the diversity he saw around him concerning black people treated as equals or quite honestly talking to a woman as an equal. Were the 1890s so liberated? A woman with a job probably would have been frowned upon as immoral at that time (backed up by scripture, no doubt) and therefore I think Carlisle should have thrown that on his list–“women do not know their place, man is the head of the household.”
The reason I think atheists and other unbelievers would enjoy this film is because it depicts exactly what we might expect–a confused man grappling with an evolved society. Now I’m not so sure professors from the 1890s were so dumbed down as Carlisle as he goes around asking questions like Data from Star Trek: Next Generation, but certainly we could see this character from the past crying tears at holding a TV remote that shows him sex, violence and bad sitcom humor. It is the same for all of us growing up as we judge the upcoming generation and all of their foul entertainment…and then the same cycle will occur again. In his grand speech nearing the end of the film, Carlisle compares our generation to the generation of Noah. Seriously? As I doubt there was TV in the time of Noah, how did those people fall into sin so easily? Through stage plays, oral stories, a foul word uttered when thrashing wheat?
For entertainment value, I do recommend this film. D. David Morin’s portrayal of Prof. Carlisle is fun to watch and the dialogue by veteran actors Hal Linden and Gavin MacLeod keep the picture from falling into low budget amateur status. Production values are also pretty clean with even some fancy titles. It is a Christian nightmare of the future that atheists can be amused by. It even has Paul Rodriguez in it running a laundromat and he doesn’t pop one joke. The executive producer on the credits is listed as Paul Crouch, the owner of Trinity Broadcasting Network. I think it’s safe to say that TBN, with its history of scandals, should be “hands off” when it comes to judging the current morality of our society. If they want to say were imperfect but generally moral and without Christ we’re going to hell, I can accept that…because you have to prove your supernatural assumptions are all true first. With so many religions judging unbelievers, we can’t go on faith.