Chris Pratt in The Tomorrow War
WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for The Tomorrow War, now available on Amazon Prime.
First and foremost, The Tomorrow War is an all-guns-blazing action blockbuster, which probably explains why it's a little light on details when it comes to explaining the implications of its time-twisting plot. The film sees people from the year 2023 drafted into a future war against alien invaders, being fought in 2051. Although the film imposes a few rules that attempt to restrict time travelers' potential to rewrite history, the final act finds Chris Pratt's Dan Forester seemingly averting the future war entirely. While the film implies he has succeeded, one theory says otherwise.
This Reddit theory
posits the idea that Dan's actions throughout the film not only fail to prevent the war, but in a dark twist, lay the foundations for his bleak future in a self-fulfilling cycle. The theory relies on the concept of an immutable future and touches on the ideas of PTSD explored in the film. As well as explaining how Dan may have failed to avert the war, the post touches on what Dan learns about his personal future; his daughter Muri's future self (Yvonne Strahovski) tells Dan that he will abandon his family. The theory suggests this may be caused by the trauma Dan experiences while visiting the future. It's a grim interpretation of the film's events, but may make sense of its paradoxical time-travel mechanics
Most depictions of time travel on film fall into one of two categories - immutable futures or alternate timelines. According to the alternate timeline theory, as seen in Loki
and Back to the Future
, changes made to the past will result in the creation of a new, alternative future. Conversely, the immutable future idea, seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
, suggests it is impossible to successfully change the future when traveling to the past. The Tomorrow War
appears to follow alternate timeline logic.
When Muri perfects a toxin that can defeat the alien White Spikes, she entrusts it to Dan so that he can prevent the invasion of Earth from ever occurring when he returns to 2023. Dan's reluctant to do so, believing that while he is saving his future, he will be leaving this version of Muri to die. However, given that time travel is presented as a new and relatively untested technology in The Tomorrow War, it's safe to assume the characters cannot be certain of the implications of altering time.
This theory indicates that the world of The Tomorrow War
instead operates on the basis of an immutable future. It states that Dan watching Muri die during the future war
leaves him with PTSD, resulting in him becoming emotionally withdrawn and eventually leaving his family, just as Muri described when recounting her past and his future. The theory points to Dan's preoccupation with menial and familiar tasks upon his return to the present, a behavior commonly associated with PTSD, as evidence of this. This mirrors Dan's own father's reasons for leaving his family, which he said was caused by the impact of his time serving in Vietnam.
The theory goes on to suggest that even though Dan apparently destroyed the White Spikes
upon returning to his native time of 2023, the aliens may have survived the attack. It is possible that not all creatures on board the ship were killed and, as the Redditor points out, the ship's interior appeared unaffected by the cold outside. If the ice melting was what woke the White Spikes from their dormant state, it might be more likely they escaped the ship, were frozen in the glacier's harsh conditions, and were then reawakened when the ice melted.
If true, this theory would darken The Tomorrow War
's supposedly hopeful ending, which sees Dan reuniting his family as they look towards a brighter future. Then again, the White Spikes' survival could open the door to a sequel
, which may well be reason enough to believe Dan Forester hasn't killed his last White Spike yet.
Directed by Chris McKay, The Tomorrow War is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. A sequel is now in development.