The King of Summer: 11.22.63 (2016)
Stephen King's 11.22.63 is a classic wish fulfillment story: what if you could go back in time and stop a tragedy? A scientific impossibility and a metaphysical nightmare, sure, but an endlessly intriguing proposition nonetheless. The Hulu miniseries based on King's novel of the same name takes this pipe dream and runs with it, showing all the positives and negatives of what would come if the general idea of time travel became reality.
Jake Epping (James Franco) is a high school History teacher half heartedly trying to teach uninspired students. At the diner in Lisbon, Massachusetts where he spends a lot of his free time, Jake finds the owner Al (Chris Cooper) bloodied and deathly sick when just seconds earlier he was alive and well. Al explains that in the closet of the diner there's a portal that leads directly to October 21st, 1960. Spend as much time as you want and only two minutes will pass in present day. Al's not been making these trips just to get cheap high quality meat for the diner, he's also made it his life's work to go back in time and stop the assassination of John. F Kennedy, but he's failed. He needs Jake to take his place and change history.
Jake reluctantly takes the responsibility and heads back in time with the provisions Al's spent his life collecting; period appropriate money, the evidence he's gained so far, and a book containing every major sporting event of the time for betting (he needs quick cash, all of his time needs to be spent investigating). Jake makes a bet and wins big, and sets off for Dallas. Jake has a full two years before the assassination to do reconnaissance on the man who he believes did it, Lee Harvey Oswald. It sounds like a mighty long time to learn everything he'd need to know, especially considering he can reset as much as he wants, but there's a big problem. Every time Jake inches a step towards his goal, a force stops his progress, almost as if time is pushing back against the changes.
The roadblocks are usually an attempt on Jake's life like a chandelier nearly falling on his head and vengeful bookies, but there are much subtler messages such as Jake's increasing relationships with Bill Turcotte (George MacKay, in a truly great performance) as Jake's companion trusted with helping on the mission who becomes a well meaning liability when things get rough and with the sweet librarian Sadie Dunhill (Sarah Gordon) who becomes a reason for him to settle down and stop his quest that could very well get him killed. There's even a babbling homeless man who seems to follow him every step of the way, a literal manifestation of time warning Jake to back off. These roadblocks are a not so subtle reminder that we can't change the past, and even if we could in the way that Jake does, it's probably not a great idea.
Hindsight is 20/20, but few people foresee that had JFK lived, current America would be a decrepit, oppressive wasteland. That's the world that Jake returns to after living out Al's dream, one that he can't rush to reset fast enough. Not only is the world at large a mess due to Jake's meddling, his friend Harry the school janitor's life is somehow even more depressing. When Harry was a boy, his father murdered the rest of his family. Jake stops this from happening and when he returns to the present day he finds out that instead of the promising career and education he was working hard to achieve, Harry is now homeless and his family died anyway. No matter how bad events in your life seem, you have no clue what would have happened had they gone differently. To wish that they had gone differently is to wish to be a different person entirely.
Had JFK lived would the world right now actually be a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Probably not, but that's not the point. Theorize all you want, but until the day somebody invents a time machine, anything besides what we are living is fantasy. We keep moving forward and learning from our mistakes or we die.