What if…?

***This post contains spoilers for the movie “Mr. Nobody”. But really, as it’s a movie with no start-to-finish plot, a number of different universes and realities, and no actual timeline, I’m not entirely sure that that matters!***

I watched the weirdest movie yesterday. In fact, I watched it twice, because there were so many details I felt I must have missed the first time. I must admit, it took me until about halfway through before I figured out what the hell was going on (and even then, without a great degree of certainty), but that’s possibly just a sign that it’s not a hungover Sunday in bed kind of movie. It must be good though, because to me, a good movie is one that stays with you and makes you think. It’s been going through my mind all day.

The premise behind Mr. Nobody is that every choice, however tiny, can completely alter the course of your (or someone else’s) life. As long as you don’t make a choice, there are infinite possibilities; infinite universes each with their own stories and ends. Make the choice, and you eliminate all the others. In the movie, Nemo Nobody is a little boy who must make a choice between his divorcing parents: does he jump on to the departing train with his mother, or stay behind on the platform with his heartbroken father? The whole movie is based on what goes through his mind in those few split seconds where he is torn between his two choices. At least, I think that’s it. ;)

However, while films such as Sliding Doors did the whole “how would this one thing affect the rest of my life?” question, this one takes it further. Not only does it show how Nemo’s life would go after each choice, it goes on to show what would happen in each life based on other choices he would have to make. For example, in the story where he goes with his mother, he meets the love of his life at age 15. She sits down next to him at the beach and asks him to come swimming with her friends. Embarrassed to admit his fear of the water, he says “I don’t go swimming with idiots” and she thinks he’s a rude asshole and walks away from him. They never speak again, and he regrets his words for the rest of his life, recalling them when he runs into her by chance as an adult, and finds she’s married with children. In another version, however, he responds with honesty, and tells her he doesn’t know how to swim and is embarrassed. She is attracted by his honesty, stays with him on the beach, and they fall madly in love, yadda yadda yadda. And then of course there are several alternatives to what could happen after that, in the life he must lead without her, and the one he could have with her.

It’s fascinating to think about, actually, and a little intimidating. Often, the choices aren’t even ours to make: the “butterfly effect“. In one story, Nemo’s father causes a car accident because he is distracted by finding a fragment of eggshell in the waffle he’s eating – so, in effect, he kills someone because a stranger somewhere in a factory made a tiny oversight. In another, Nemo is briefly reunited with the girl he loves, and she writes her number for him on a scrap of paper. The second she disappears from his sight, the first heavy drop of rain falls from a cloud overhead, directly on to the piece of paper, smudging the number and making it impossible to read. Old Nemo Nobody (narrating the stories, in no particular order), says: “Do you want to know why I lost Anna? Because two months earlier, an unemployed Brazilian boiled an egg.” 

When you start to think about it, it becomes overwhelming. Particularly when, like me, you’re actually in the middle of trying to make some fairly major decisions. Where should I go next? What should I do? Should I study, or work? Should I travel in Asia, or the States? Should I start making longer term plans, or keep living for the Right Now? Every decision I make will irreversibly alter the course of my life. “As long as you don’t choose, everything remains possible.” And of course, the killer is that I don’t know what will happen. If I knew, would it be any easier to choose? Little Nemo, on the railway platform, cannot make a choice between his parents because he doesn’t know what the outcome of each choice will be. The movie lets us (and him) see the future. “Before, he was unable to make a choice because he didn’t know what would happen. Now that he knows what will happen, he is unable to make a choice.”

But it’s not just the big decisions that have an impact, and I think that’s the reassuring thing. Yes, I could make a bad decision about my immediate future, and end up broke, or in a country I hate, or doing a job I can’t stand, or without any friends. But equally, I could decide to sit here finishing this blog post instead of going straight home after work, arriving at my apartment 10 minutes later than I should have, and step on a banana skin that someone dropped just a couple of minutes ago, sending me flying into the path of a car that wouldn’t have been anywhere near me if I’d just gone home when I was supposed to. I could decide to have a slice of toast instead of a bowl of cereal tomorrow morning, and be electrocuted by the toaster that is faulty unknown to me because of some error made by a worker having a bad day in a factory in China. I could let someone go in front of me in line at a shop, and miss meeting the love of my life by a few seconds.

My whole life is a series of choices, and while it’s certainly wise to think about the ones that will definitely change things in a big way, there are no “wrong” choices. There are just choices that determine what happens next. I loved this line from the movie, which sums it up beautifully:

“Every path is the right path. Everything could’ve been anything else. And it would have just as much meaning.” 

In all of Nemo’s “lives”, he experiences love, heartbreak, pain, and struggles. I suppose that’s the point. Whatever you choose will cause your life to go differently, but it won’t be wrong. It will just be. You can’t go back and change it, you can just accept what it is and then make the next choice. The people you meet and the things that happen to you as a result will have just as much meaning as whatever would have been the result of any of the other choices you could have made. You can’t know what those would have been – you can only know what you have.

Anyway. That was a rambling, out-of-nowhere post, but it’s been floating around in my head all day! So many decisions to be made, so many worries about the future, so many hopes and fears and dreams… all at the mercy of every single little choice I make.

Scary. Or exhilarating. Or both.

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One thought on “What if…?

  1. kk says:

    That wasn’t rambling at all. I thought it was succinct and beautifully summarised. All of our choices will have meaning and it is how we deal with the end result of those choices that shape our lives.

    And, yes, scary and exhiliarating – enjoy your ride!

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