Predestination or the DeLorean? - friday 2003-07-11 0513 last modified 2003-07-20 0118
Categories: Christianity, Writing, Film
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(You shouldn't read this if you haven't seen 12 Monkeys, Back to the Future I-III, and Terminator 3 and plan to be surprised when you do.)

Movies tend to subscribe to two main theories about time travel. Back to the Future supposes that any time travel can irrevocably screw the time-space continuum while 12 Monkeys posits that the future's effects on the past are already accounted for in what we have already seen. The Terminator series, however, takes a different tack.

Doc Brown invents a time machine in the Back to the Future series, fulfilling his dream to jump into the future and see what wonders science hath wrought. By accident and tragedy, his teenage friend Marty McFly is instead sent back thirty years, where he proceeds to interrupt his parents' courtship. The future begins to change, slowly, with Marty's own existence threatened by his actions in the past. The rest of the series follows in the same tradition: Doc and Marty's presence in the future allows the antagonist Biff to give his past self a major aid in gambling; their presence in the Old West is intended to fix one of Doc's missteps which Marty learns of during his time in his parents' youth-era. Free will.

Bruce Willis' character in 12 Monkeys is sent to the past to repair a global catastrophe which wiped out most of the human race and rendered the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. The rulers of this future dystopia believe a terrorist organization calling themselves the 12 Monkeys was responsible, and Bruce, who hops back and then forward to report to his superiors several times, uncovers a little bit of reality with each jump (while also falling in love with a clinical psychologist who thinks him insane). Each revelation radically shifts his understanding of what brought about global death, but the actions he takes as a result of his knowledge turn out to fit exactly into the past his present knows about. In fact, his childhood memory of a man being killed in the airport is actually him being gunned down as he attempts to kill the man responsible for releasing the mutant virus. Predestination.

The first two Terminator movies tend to subscribe to Back to the Future's model of time, that machines sent from the future to wipe out their enemies in the past will result in an alternate future where they triumph, not the humans. But the third in the series begins to reveal a slightly different model of time. It is inevitable, yet the choices you make are yours. Schwarzenegger's cybernetic assassin already knows what will happen in the future and works to sustain that future, but his charges make those choices with him. Clearly, they would have made the same types of choices without the interruption of Terminators in their timeline. This view of choice and time continues throughout the film. John Connor is free to keep himself safe from the coming global thermonuclear destruction however he wishes, but he will be kept safe. There will be a judgement day, whether the Connor family postponed it or not. He will marry Katherine Brewster, whether as a high school sweetheart or someone he was thrown together with right before the Earth is scarred. Inevitability and choice. Fate and free will.

Maybe that's how the universe would work if robot killers came from the future.

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