One of my favorite poems is “The Convergence of the Twain” by Thomas Hardy. The poem describes two events occurring at the same time but at different locations. At some future time, the events converge. One is the building of the ship, the Titanic; the other is the forming of the iceberg with which the ship will collide. Hardy writes: “Alien they seemed to be/ No mortal eye could see/ The intimate welding of their later history/ Till the Spinner of the Years/ Said ‘Now!’/And each one hears/ And consummations comes, and jars two hemispheres.”
Déjà Vu, a tense and clever thriller, does not deal with two discrete events as depicted in “The Convergence of the Twain,” but it does raise a theoretical question: would the Titanic tragedy have been avoided if someone intervened to change the run-up to the cataclysm?
Time travel has been a fascinating topic in the cinema. The manipulation of time opens up all sorts of creative doors in terms of plot, content and message. There are times in life when we want the opportunity for a do-over to correct a past mistake or to come up with a better response to a problem, and this is what transpires in Déjà Vu.
The film opens with an explosion of a ferry in New Orleans. There are 543 casualties including many sailors and their families who were headed for a Mardi Gras celebration. ATF agent Doug Carlin is recruited by an experimental FBI surveillance team to help investigate the terrorist attack.
Carlin learns that the body of Claire Kuchever, washed ashore an hour before the explosion, has been burned with a similar explosive, suggesting that she was murdered. The killer apparently wanted it to look like she was simply another victim of the ferry explosion.
Working with the surveillance team, Carlin learns about a new technology which bridges both past and present. The team has the ability to go back four days and analyze the events leading up to the catastrophe, with the hope of catching the perpetrator. Carlin, however, sees an opportunity to go back to the past to prevent the murder of Claire Kuchever, and to prevent the ferry from being blown up. How this happens is implausible, fascinating, and cinematically riveting. Carlin, frustrated that police are only able to react to crimes once they are committed, now is driven by the possibility of stopping a crime before it occurs. He wants to save Claire who is alive in the past, yet dead in the present.
When he finally confronts the terrorist, Doug Carlin tells him: “Satan reasons like a man, but God thinks of eternity.” What emerges from this statement is the notion that man only lives in the present. We only see life in the format that fits our human screen. God, however, sees the wide screen version of life, for He sees past, present, and future as one. He sees the big picture; we do not. As it says in Ethics of the Fathers, “everything is forseen by God,” which indicates that God is beyond time. Although man lives within time, God does not.
Déjà Vu explores the idea that time is relative, not a constant. Given that perspective, the question arises whether man can influence what happens in the future if his vision is limited to the present. Can man exercise free will in the face of a Creator who foresees everything? Doug Carlin’s actions suggest that he can.
Jewish tradition supports the view that although God may know the future, He limits himself deliberately and allows man to exercise free choice. The implicit message of Déjà Vu is to do good even when the outcome is uncertain. Choose life even when surrounded by death.