The Past You’ve Always Wanted

At its best, "X-Men: Days of Future Past" shows that while the past is set and cannot be changed, the future is open, and will be shaped by our choices

MPAA Rating, PG-13
Reel Rating: (4 Reels out of 5)

Only a week after Godzilla burst onto the big screen (see CWR review), X-Men: Days of Future Past unveils another fantastic special effects bonanza that is just as entertaining and profound, but is better written. (The films currently are the two top-grossing movies in the country.) This is the seventh X-Men film, and it is, I think, the best of the lot.

The plot involves time travel, mutant killing robots, vomit-brown Seventies costumes, and wisecracks from Wolverine. It is pure, unfiltered entertainment, with the basic message that it’s never too late to change for the better. Of course, time travel helps a lot with that.

The future is grim for Prof. Charles Xaiver (Patrick Stewart) and his band of brothers. The year is 2023, and nearly all mutants have been killed or captured by sentinels—robots that can adapt to any mutant power. Fortunately, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) can someone how use her intangibility to send a person’s consciousness into their past self. It’s a bizarre time traveling method but at least it avoids the awkward problems that faced Marty McFly.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) volunteers to make the trip to 1973 and convince young Charles (James McAvoy) and young Eric (Michael Fassbender) to put their grievances aside and fix the future. “I was a different man,” Old Charles tells him. “Be patient with me.” Wolverine grunts, “Patience isn’t my strong suit.”

He wasn’t kidding. The 1970s Charles is a drug addict, wallowing in self-pity, while Eric is imprisoned in the Pentagon for his role in the JFK assassination. In the course of events, new characters are introduced and old favorites reappear; the cast boasts an astounding eight Oscar-nominated actors among them. The best is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), a rebellious teenager who uses super speed to rob department stores and pull pranks. The sequence where he takes out a dozen Pentagon guards in a millisecond to the tune of “Time in a Bottle” is the best superhero moment I’ve seen in years. (The only drawback is the plot assumes quite a bit of knowledge from the previous films, but it stands alone pretty well too.)

What would you tell your past self? Study harder? Eat more vegetables? Don’t go out with the pretty redhead in your algebra class because she’ll break your heart by showing up at the homecoming dance with someone else even though she said she would go with you? Age brings wisdom. As (most) people make mistakes, they learn gradually how to avoid those same mistakes in the future. This why it is so important for children to have constant contact with their grandparents and other older relatives, as the experience of years can teach the young to avoid certain mistakes. In a sense, the elderly mirror the role of time travel in this film.

Suffering and hardship also bring wisdom. Suffering can help remove the ability to rationalize falsehood and focus proper attention on the truth. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “the man who has not suffered; what could he possibly know anyway?” The mutants of 2023, having suffered much, don’t seek revenge or fight among themselves. They have endured years of genocide and seen its terrible consequences for themselves and all of humanity. Even Wolverine is more sensitive and docile than in any previous film. Young Charles and Eric have had their share of suffering too, but respond by either withdrawing from society or directly attacking it, a good snapshot of 1970’s America. They cannot see how their selfish actions will lead to the demise of everyone they love. The older Charles and Eric have seen it and respond with compassion.

As the ending of the film approaches, it becomes clear the fate of the world depends on an act of mercy, not war. The choice faced by both mutants and humans is whether or not to let go of their hate and work for a better future. Is it possible? The answer is yes. It is an echo of the reality of Christ’s perfect example. Perfectly righteous as God, he nonetheless accepted suffering and death, so that through the Cross and the Resurrection man can have a future in the Kingdom of Heaven.

At its best, X-Men: Days of Future Past reminds us that while the past is set and cannot be changed, the future is open, and will be shaped by our choices. Imagine your older self looking at your past that has not yet happened. What would you change? Make your future the past you wished you could have had.

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About Nick Olszyk 190 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.