Eternal Sunshine of the Spokane Mind

On the role of fate, chance and choice in life and how to go from there

On Saturday, I watched Run Lola Run. On Sunday, I watched the Super Bowl. Together, they helped me understand the supposed workings of this world – of the role that chance, fate and determination play in the living of one’s life.

The German film Run Lola Run (Tykwer 1998) begins by comparing the living of life to playing a game and asks the question, “Is life a series of determined fateful encounters or can one use one’s free will to carve out their own path?” As we focus on this question, the film opens on Lola, who has twenty minutes to find one hundred thousand marks for her small-time criminal boyfriend, Manni. Three times, Lola is able to relive a failed attempt to retrieve the money. In each scenario, as Lola bumps into people in her rushed twenty minutes, we are given insight into these people’s lives – each future different as Lola encounters them at a slightly different time and place. Some people, however, seem to be destined to live out their initial fate no matter how differently Lola encounters them. The film’s answer to its initial question is that life is a rather complicated combination of fate, chance and choice.

This was my second time watching the film – a frenzied action film that makes it impossible to be doing anything else except to closely watch the movie to see how large of an effect microscopic temporal changes can have on the characters’ lives. Also it’s a German film, so you have to check out the subtitles to keep up. As the credits began to roll, I thought about the philosophy that the movie purported: that life is really a toss up between fate and free will, some outcomes can be avoided, while others cannot. All in all, a film where the main character is able to hop backwards in time and change her own and others’ lives makes for a message that is a bit hard to fully wrap my head around as I exit the filmmaker’s world and re-enter the real world. I went to sleep still pondering the meaning of the movie and all of its implications – for, if some things are irrevocably fated, how should one know when to stop fighting this fate and focus on the things that can be changed?

After a rather philosophical night, I awoke Sunday morning ready to eat some Velveeta cheese dip, analyse the famous Super Bowl advertisements and watch some guys bump into each other and throw a (hopefully properly inflated) ball. After a couple hours, a few chipfulls of cheese dip and an oddly depressing Nationwide commercial, the Seahawks were primed to win the Super Bowl. A call, a throw, a tenth of a second and an ill-placed player brought that outcome crashing to the ground. And in the hands of a Patriot, no less.

Though those couple hours after the game were filled with what-ifs and why-thats, after my emotions subsided, I began to realise that nothing quite illustrated the points of Run Lola Run like the football game that we had just watched. A perfect, if not disappointing, mix of fate, chance and choice was at the root of it all. Sure, it’s all orchestrated and strategy plays into the game, but in the end, why did that Patriot run one way and not the other? Why was the call made to pass and not to hand off? Why did that ball go exactly there when, were it thrown a tenth of a second earlier or later, it would have been a decidedly different outcome?

Herein lies the point of the film, which football helped me to understand (this makes sense, as the beginning of the film draws parallels to life and game). Life, as a large empty skeleton, happens as it should, as it is fated to. Life’s occurrences, the bits that add substance to the skeletal structure, are co-created by chance and choice – things happen and we are faced with a choice about how to push onward. As Lola got three chances to rewrite her story, so are we given multiple opportunities to push toward the outcome we desire.

Life may be the larger skeleton of it all, but it is us who are given the opportunity to decide what to do with such a large and empty space.

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