"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Mr. Nobody and the Complexity of Entropy

"Everything could have been anything else, and it would have had just this much meaning." - Tennessee Williams (maybe - the film says so, but I can't find it anywhere, and I'm a big fan of Williams)

ETA - a reader, Kurt, e-mailed me with the short story it's from:  "The Malediction".

Mr. Nobody came out two years ago, and I haven't heard much about it. Roger Ebert didn't even review it. I'm not sure why not. It's quite an existentialist trip. It's like Inception mixed with Slaughterhouse Five, The Butterfly Effect, Eternal Sunshine, and a little Monty Python thrown in near the end with a nod throughout to the very old cartoon strip, Little Nemo. There's also bits that reminded me of the book Johnny's Got His Gun. It's all very weird and wonderful. All the actors are excellent.

Suspend disbelief and just get lost in it. (No spoilers below.)

The main character's name is Nemo Nobody, which translates from the latin to Nobody Nobody. He's the everyman. He's really old and explaining his life to a reporter, so the movie is in flashbacks, BUT he has lived along several different paths. He refuses to choose which path was the right one, the actual one, which frustrates the journalist who's trying to nail it all down in a soundbite for the public. But as long as you don't choose, everything remains possible.

The problem with that last line is that not choosing is in itself a choice, of course. At one point he tries to choose everything, will his life to go in one direction, but that doesn't work either. We have to be open to our options, and choose when we're able, but the choices are typically already made in our heads before we begin to act on them. We can't avoid our own thoughts. We have to choose authentically. Everything we do has an effect even when we stand still. It certainly was the case for Nemo. There clearly was a right choice, or a better choice at least - one that kept him near the girl he loved; the one who loved him back.

Much of the film wavers between three possible love relationships. One with mutual love, and two with one-sided love. One-sided love just doesn't work. One person cannot love enough for two no matter how hard they both try to pretend it's all good. This is an important lesson. So many people waste so much time trying to get people to like them. It is or it isn't. Pick again.

I was just reading about entropy the night before seeing the film. Coincidence? The movie defines entropy as a movement of all of life towards a state of dissipation and increasing disorder. It's from the second law of thermodynamics which says that, in a nutshell, heat always flows towards cold so nothing can ever be perfectly stable; something, somewhere, will take the heat and squander it. So every isolated system grows more disordered with time. From The Canon, entropy is "a measure of how much energy in a system is not available to do work. The energy is there, but it might as well not be. Where there is energy, entropy is sure to follow, with crowbar in hand...[because] order by definition, has restrictions and limitations, while disorder knows no bounds." That bit is reminiscent of Nietzsche's Apollo and Dionysus theory, and why the Greeks were wrong. Then Angier ends that chapter of her book like this:
But before we get carried away by a formaldehyde gloom, let's remember that, whatever its eventual fate, the universe still has an awful lot of time left to play, and that it is a comic genius and an aesthete that defies its innate sloth, its entropic drift, with sustained symphonies of disciplined beauty. The universe loves patterns, and it can't seem to stop finding new styles of light and character, and functional forms and dysfunctional forms just for the fun of it. From formlessness came the cloud of glory we named atom, from ashes and dust came stars so formally formed that we can tell by their light how long they will shine and when and how they will die. Atoms were not content to stay in their element, as lonely elements, but instead linked arms with other elements, becoming the molecules of which our world is forged, and the chemistry was right to scoff int he face of the law, and declare, Let's go get a life.
Or, in the film, "We can know when stars will die, but not what we will do in the next two minutes."

It's also got bits about mental illness, which I related to - about chasing the bear away, but it's so frustrating because we can't find this bear, and it won't go away on its own. On the surface, the film is essentially about parents who make a really bad decision to allow their child to choose between them when they split. That was the catalyst in Nowhere Boy also. I'm glad that tactic is largely out of date now - or I hope it is. Children shouldn't be made to feel responsible for everything that happens from a decision so enormously life-altering as picking between parents. They're just little!


Anonymous said...

This was amazing. Thank u.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for reading!

Starr Hardgrove said...

Great thoughts. I perceived that it might have something to do with the theory of the multiverse. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

Tm Kierans said...

Lovely piece...and no it was not coincidence that you were reading about entropy...it was a synchroncity x

Marie Snyder said...