Is everything that has happened -- and everything that ever will happen -- predetermined? Are the 17.4 million shoelaces that are going to unexpectedly snap tomorrow morning part of some immutable cosmic plan, or just a demonstration of the inconvenient nature of shoelaces? More important, is man's claim to have free will nothing more than a self-delusion that is pleasing if somewhat frightening? Essentially, that is the question at the heart of a 2009 Alex Proyas film, "Knowing."
John Koestler, played by Nicholas Cage, is a college professor who, true to Hollywood representations of professors, worships exclusively at the altar of random occurrence, until ... something happens. He discovers that a series of numbers written on a 50-year-old sheet of paper correlates to major disasters that have occurred around the world. All of the disasters happened after these numbers were written. What's worse, the numbers tell him that the granddaddy of all disasters is right around the corner. In other words, the end is nigh, and Cage had better start believing in predestination in a hurry -- and then see what he can do about changing it.
Predestination and Hollywood
"Knowing" is not the first movie with predestination, or -- as critic Roger Ebert calls it -- "determinism," at its root. Movies, such as "Donnie Darko," "The Adjustment Bureau," "The Mothman Prophecies" and Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report" all have their main characters up to their ears in "What will be, will be." However, these characters often discover that their attempts to forestall or eliminate the future event actually create the conditions necessary for the event to occur. This predestination paradox has been used as a plot device in literature and film for time immemorial.
Oedipus and Predestination
In the Greek tragedy "Oedipus the King," when Laius learns of the prophecy that his son Oedipus will one day kill him and marry his wife (Oedipus' mother), Laius leaves the infant Oedipus in the wilderness to die. However, the baby is found and adopted by a shepherd, and he eventually grows into manhood. When Oedipus hears the prophesy, he tries to prevent it by leaving the area. However, in his travels he kills a man and marries the man's widow. Unaware that he was adopted, Oedipus had no idea that the man he killed was his natural father and that his new wife is his mother.
Predestination vs. Free Will
Man has been struggling with the seemingly irreconcilable concepts of predestination and free will for centuries. However, both Thomas Aquinas and Calvin melded the two ideas by writing that although God is responsible for a man's salvation and knows who will be saved, it is possible for man to derail his own grace. According to Rutgers University's Soc.Religion.Christian studies group, 16th-century Catholics accused Protestants of being too fatalistic by overemphasizing predestination and underplaying man's responsibility for living a godly life.
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