The fragility of timelines

Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau may not strike you as similar films, but consider this: They both address, in their own way, the fragility of timelines.

Here’s what I mean: Here in this space and time, there seems to be only one timeline. What you did yesterday is unchangeable. What you’ll do tomorrow is up to you. But how “fragile” is the timeline? That is, do small changes in day-to-day decisions have major effects on what happens next?

It’s easy to answer “no.” I get a cup of tea instead of a bottle of water at lunch — how will that affect anything important in my life?

But it’s also possible to answer “yes.” A young guy from Alabama has a choice of jobs and picks the one at the Newport News shipyard. He meets a nurse from Gladehill, Virginia who’s there on a temporary assignment. They marry, their paths change, and three new human beings exist who otherwise would not have. (This actually happened to my mom and dad. I’m one of the three.)

This second example makes timelines seem fragile to me. How would an Alabama guy have met that particular Virginia girl if he had taken a job closer to home? Would the timeline have sent him to Virginia somehow, so that they would have met anyway? We who are Christian believe that God is in control of the timeline, but how do free will and destiny interact on the timeline?

These ideas came to mind as I thought about The Adjustment Bureau. In this film, an ambitious politician (played by Matt Damon) needs to save the world, but apparently he won’t if he finds a particular woman (played by Emily Blunt). They were made for each other; together they will find happiness; but if they do he won’t save the world. Mysterious operatives called “the Adjustment Bureau” know the timelines and they try to keep the two apart.

Source Code is a very different film but timelines are important there too. Thanks to some fancy technology, our hero (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) relives the same eight minutes over and over — the last eight minutes before a train is bombed and many people are killed. From these repeated timelines, our hero can possibly relay information to military authorities who might save some lives. In Source Code, the timelines are fragile. In some of the timelines the train wouldn’t explode at all. And, how could I forget? Our hero becomes romantically involved with a woman (played by Michelle Monaghan) whose life will end in the explosion unless he intervenes.

Both films embody love stories. That’s no coincidence, because our relationships are by far the most interesting things that happen along our timelines.  Farther down the timeline, will you care more about your career, your car or your relationships? I think I know the answer.

Here are reviews of The Adjustment Bureau and Source Code that I found interesting. Meanwhile, I’ll see you on the timeline.