"Someone has just blasphemed the name of the Lord!"
Russell Carlisle, a liberal theologian at a seminary in the late 1800s, has written a book on morality. The oldest preacher on the campus is warning him that the book is wrong, but he's been acting crazy for a while. Others at the seminary want it out so much that they are changing the rules of the seminary from unanimous to majority vote so it can get a seal of approval from the place.
It turns out that the oldest preacher on the campus has invented a time machine and seen the future; it's only since then that he's seemed crazy. He offers to send our protagonist forward. The rules are, the time traveler and his things can travel forward, but nothing from the future can travel back. Oh, and don't look up your own future (it's never spelled out why). There is a sending unit right there; after a set amount of time, he'll be retrieved.
So our protagonist is sent forward to Next Sunday A.D.
, figuratively speaking—specifically, 1999. He deals well enough with most of the technology, but the culture throws him—he's isolated even relative to his own culture, remember!
Dress codes, the lack of respect for elders, and films and TV throw him. Even the Christians of his era find him a bit kooky...
This film includes what may be the most creative way of showing corruption in film without showing
it: church group enters theater; Hard Cut
to protagonist running out shouting the page quote. You have to have an idea what blaspheming is, but if you do...
- Anachronism Stew: Unless the main character was so cloistered that he didn't know anything about his own society, (which is implied to be the case), his comments about the ubiquitousness of prostitution or the starving children on every street corner in the future ring false, since in his time they were worse.
- Antiquated Linguistics
- Author Filibuster
- Censorship Bureau: Moral codes, especially man-made moral codes, are a major theme of this film.
- Character Filibuster: Frequently. At least some of them are literal sermons.
- Corrupt Church
- Culture Blind: The protagonist appears to be blissfully unaware of how society really works in both in the past and the future.
- Deus ex Machina (perhaps literally)
- Discretion Shot
- Family-Unfriendly Aesop: Russell's original manuscript was actually rather progressive (for him), as it advocated being a good person and doing good deeds because it's the morally right thing to do, rather than doing so because of your religious faith. In the end, he's convinced by the "evil" future where people actually follow this and have become more non-secular as a result, that you can only be a good person if you accept the Lord.
- Fish out of Temporal Water
- The Fundamentalist: The protagonist often comes across as one.
- The Future Is Shocking: The entire purpose of the film is to have its protagonist, a 19th century theology professor, be shocked at how immoral the present day is.
- Hey, It's That Guy!:
- Insistent Terminology/Single-Issue Wonk: the reason Russell's book couldn't get unanimous approval was that it advocated good morality but didn't insist that Jesus Christ be connected to it. To Anderson, this is worse than nothing because Jesus is the authority behind the moral code.
- Mad Scientist — he's mad by the time we meet him, anyway.
- Masquerade — Russell Carlisle is told not to let anyone know when he's from.
- Moral Dissonance: this is a film about, among other things, the evil of films and TV in general.
- Indeed, it's an example of The Moral Substitute. It was offered for purchase on televangelist Jack Van Impe's show, as are similar low-budget faith-based films. They're sold to viewers through mail order, screened for church groups, and/or aired on channels like Trinity Broadcasting Network rather than given wide theatrical release.
- Mundane Fantastic: it's a time travel film, but the time travel is the only Sci Fi element there.
- My God, What Have I Done?
- Next Sunday A.D.
- New Media Are Evil: The decline of civilization is blamed on The Hays Code in films, because it made films seem okay when they weren't.
- Schizo Tech (solar-powered time machine)
- Selective Obliviousness: When the question is "will you try out the secret time machine?" Anderson simply will not take "no" for an answer.
- Serious Business: Seminary approval. The book would have been published either way, but getting the approval is considered so critical that Carlisle doesn't want to send the manuscript in without it.
- Take Our Word for It: if it is evil and it can be shown entirely visually, it will not be shown — even when that requires creative filming.
- The Theme Park Version: Because a fundamentalist Christian film can't show the full reality of modern (im)morality.
- Time Machine: Solar-powered!
- Time Travel
- Values Dissonance: The point of the trip through time, even In-Universe.