Thursday, May 12, 2016

"Sliding doors" - a crevice in time

The question of "What if" constantly haunts Man. He is probably the only creature endowed with this ability to imagine, introspect and extrapolate alternatives.  Questions like what if I had married John instead of Tom?, or what if I had accepted admission into Johnston college for a course in Literature instead of joining engineering at Livingstone, or what if I had said yes to Stephanie when she invited me to her Party and not go out with stag friends and got piss drunk? What if I was born to parents with an aristocratic lineage -  there are innumerable such trivial, vital and sometime life changing what-if's in our lives. More so, because we value chronological time very much, and pretty much look at ourselves through the prism of  time as measured by clocks and calendars. We are given to understand , or let me say, indoctrinated from childhood that our lives are to led in a linear manner, and what has happened today is irrevocably lost and buried in this inexorable movement of time, and there is no way of us to recapture, relive or alter happenings in lapsed time. I am not here to argue whether chronological time has any justification at all in reality, that's besides the point of this essay. The fact is most of us are prone or love to fantasize on what could have happened if different decisions were made in the past than what we actually did. The source of all human misery and discontent lies between "what could have been?" versus "what is".

"Sliding doors", the 1998 feature film captures this vacillation wonderfully projecting two parallel stories branching from a single inconsequential incident. Helen , played by the beautiful and talented Gwyneth Paltrow, wakes up one morning , rushes to her office, where she works as a PR officer, only to find that she has lost her job. As she picks up her stuff and walks back dejected, she runs into James Hammerton, a nice English gentleman and a stranger , in the elevator. She repeatedly keeps bumping into James at different times during the day (played by John Hannah), until each of them, in their own separate ways reach the underground rail. James manages to step into the coach as the sliding doors close, whereas Helen  misses boarding the train by a whisker. In that infinitesimal crack of a moment, Director and writer Peter Howitt  visualizes  two parallel universes, one in which Helen does not board the train, gets mugged , reaches home, and cries on her unfaithful boyfriend's shoulders and tries to resurrect her life ; and an other life where Helen reaches home, finds her Boyfriend in Bed with another girl, stomps out, falls in love with James and rebuilds a successful career. The juxtaposing of "what-ifs" in Helen's and James lives is captured well on screen

As a viewer, one is caught in both worlds. We empathize with the Helen who struggles to find something wrong in her Boyfriend's clandestine behavior, and we ache with the other disillusioned  Helen who cannot muster enough courage to get past a failure in relationship. We are made to believe that both these strands of cause and effect are equally plausible, and if given a chance can be equally true. This is called the  theory of "Mutiverse" , and was pronounced by the Wiiliam James in 1895, first in his lectures , which then was compiled into " The varieties of religious experience" - arguably , one of the most influential books of Western mystical experience ever written. And in 1952, the father of Quantum theory Edwin schrodinger gave the idea necessary scientific thrust it needed . Since then, the existence of Parlallel universes in different fields of Human experience has remained a Hotly debated topic in top scientific circles. In Literature HG wells, the consummate science fiction writer he was, wove his magic in his wonderful novel "The time machine"( coincidentally in 1895, the same year William James gave Mutiverse  its philosophical stature), and since then all forms of art have embraced this idea rather enthusiastically. In recent times, Movies like Back to the future,  Matrix, Terminator and many others have used this idea of non-linear time, and possibility of multiple outcomes in human life to give general public a taste of what happens when tradition linear time breaks down and Newtonian  rules of causation ignored. The relativity of time, space and matter is now no more a matter of esoteric academic interest, but has infiltrated into common human consciousness.

A word on Gwenyth  Paltrow before I conclude this essay. Often, In my reviews of actors, I have spoken very highly of Meryl Streep, and I still consider her as the finest actress in the last fifty years. And I am sure not many will disagree with me on that point. But of late, I have been watching many movies featuring Ms Paltrow, and I must confess that her range of emotions, natural grace, and statuesque beauty does come really close sometimes to Streep's ethereal performances. The five years between 1995 and 2000 were the golden years of Gwenyth's acting career, reaching a crescendo with "Shakespeare in love" -  which won her an Academy award. Unlike Streep, who chose her movies and roles with meticulous precision across her long career , Gwenyth lost her way a bit post 2000. A few insignificant roles and inability to handle the glare of publicity, her work suffered. But fortunately, in the recent past, she has began to find her bearings again. Which is good news for the movie fraternity. 

God bless....

Yours in mortality,

Bala

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