by Wojciech Wnuk on February 7, 2013
The conception of time travelling was always fascinating to me. Even more fascinating, because of their apparent inconsistency, are time paradoxes, which could make a result of some action its own cause. It makes us think of time not as a straight line, but a curve drawn throughout history, leaving us unable to conceive the real chronology of events.
Two movies inspired me to write this text, as you can see in the title: 12 Monkeys (1995) starring Bruce Willis along with Brad Pitt and La Jetée (1962) (which inspired the first one). Before I will go on, a little warning to you, dear reader. It is not any kind of review and you should expect many ‘spoilers’ (but could it really ‘spoil’ a good film or book?).
We naturally perceive that a cause of some action is followed by its result… Followed in time. But what if the chronology gets distorted? Or maybe we should differentiate linear chronology from the one perceived by a traveller in time? The other issue is… How to explain the fact that some events in the past could emerge from the future actions? It is like a timeline becoming a circle, closing its continuity and trapping the whole world (or universe?) in a short, repeating period of time. A paradox which should disturb or even destroy the whole reality. Although, in 12 Monkeys and La Jetée it doesn’t.
In both movies, the main character is haunted by a vision from his past, a man shot at the airport, just before the calamity which killed almost whole world population, which is nuclear war in La Jetée and an pandemy of unknown virus in 12 Monkeys. In the 1995 movie, a prisoner, James Cole, is sent to the past. He has to find and prevent the organization known as the Army of 12 Monkeys from releasing the killer virus. In fact he is sent to wrong time, where he meets the future founder of the so-called ‘army’ and accidentally tells him about it as well as the virus. And the sick spiral is starting to turn…
Every sign of coming doom, known by the scientists of the future, is left by or because of James Cole’s actions. Like in the Greek tragedy: a prophecy leads a character to fulfilment of fate, which him or her wants to avoid. Although here is no prophecy, but misleading signs left by a barely sane man, who is losing his mind because of living in several time dimensions. Meeting the woman from his visions also makes him unable to firmly determine what is real… while everything he experiences is real.
Similar, but not so complex, paradox occurs in La Jetée, where the main, unnamed character after series of experiments with the travels to the past is finally sent to the future. There the emissaries of future human race are awaiting him. He is given an energy unit, which is able to reactivate the whole industry in the past. In contradiction to 12 Monkeys, here the humanity is saved… by its own future. Technology which they developed thanks to their survival, saved them in the past.
Finally, the vision from childhood, haunting the main characters of both films turns out to be the scene of their own death. In La Jetée after accomplishing his mission, the main character is given a chance to choose the time in which he wishes to live. The childhood visions of the woman, and the ones he experienced during the experiments, which had to prepare him to live in other time dimension, make him decide to go back to the moment right before the nuclear war, when he has seen her for real, as a child. When he finally is there, he sees her again, and runs toward her… Then he realizes that what he saw and what he dreamt about, was scene of his own death.
The fate is inevitable and what happened in the past, cannot be changed in the future. It is all sealed. We could perceive these time paradoxes as impossible and just a conceptual mistake. In my opinion, it may be proof that in La Jetée and 12 Monkeys the fate was unchangeable and all was decided in the beginning. Everything done to avoid it, was the only thing needed for its fulfilment.