Mr. Nobody Analysis
Do our choices matter? According to Nemo Nobody, our choices are what determine who we are. Our choices set our lives in a certain direction and ultimately lead us to our present selves. This idea draws from the butterfly effect. One decision leads to another which then leads to another, and so on. This creates a struggle for humans to make difficult decisions. Nemo states, “We cannot go back. That is why is it hard to choose.” Once a decision is made, we must live with the consequences. What if we could “go back” and experience the consequences of every choice of a decision?
According to Connie Rosati, one of the philosophers examined in our course, immortality could be a way that allows humans to make every decision with every outcome, and is one of the reasons why immortality is so appealing to human beings. If we had unlimited time to make every choice however we wanted, we would no longer experience the regret that we sometimes feel after making a decision.
In Mr. Nobody, one of the biggest decisions for Nemo comes when his parents get a divorce. He is faced with the impossible choice of whether to stay with his dad or go with his mom. At this point in the movie, Nemo’s life splits off into different “realities.” One reality where he stays with his father, and one where he boards the train and leaves with his mother. Nemo lives out both of these lives where he experiences different things. Some things only being experienced depending on which parent he chose to live with. It appears that Nemo has different levels of happiness in each reality, but as it seems, no one reality has more meaning than the other.
In one of Nemo’s realities, he decides at age 15 how he wants his life to turn out. He tells himself that he will leave nothing to chance and not stop until his desires are met. However, once Nemo achieves his goals, he finds himself bored. He feels that he knows himself too well and that nothing is exciting anymore, as if nothing has meaning anymore. One philosopher named Thomas Nagel calls this feeling “the absurd.” The absurd is when one takes things very seriously, but in reality knowing that nothing really matters. Nemo took his life so seriously that he followed the plan he had set for himself at age 15. Once reaching age 34 though, Nemo realises that the life he has built for himself is not truly what he wants or what is important to him. Longing for excitement, Nemo begins to base his decisions on a coin toss. He brings back the factor of chance into his decisions. This action is a decision in itself. Nemo is deciding to incorporate chance in his decisions. This coin toss method ultimately results in Nemo’s death, but stands to prove the point that our choices lead to irreversible consequences.
Near the end of the movie, it is revealed that each of the lives that Nemo had lived were all in fact made up. He had imagined these lives at age 9 when trying to determine whether to live with his mother or his father. We, as viewers, get to see his different lives with different levels of happiness and different lifestyles, and make our own decision about which life we think is the best one. The truth remains though, that each life is just as good and meaningful as the next The quote, “Every path is the right path. Everything could have been anything else and it would have just as much meaning” sums up the movie perfectly. No one life was better, or more meaningful than the others, they were simply different.
The conclusion to be made about this idea is that ultimately our decisions are not necessarily connected to meaning. Be free with your decisions in knowing that you can still live a meaningful life with however you make your choices.
How Choice Creates the Need for Meaning
Mr. Nobody is a film, first and foremost, about the nature of choice. Although this might seem tangentially related to meaning, autonomy is central to what is or isn’t meaningful to many philosophers. I personally believe, and will argue in this short essay, that choice, or the belief in choice, creates our need for meaning.
A central theme of Mr. Nobody is that once someone makes a choice s/he restricts reality to simply the version of events where s/he made that particular choice. Until one makes a choice anything is possible. This is based on the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which an infinite number of parallel universes exist, one in which each possible choice is made. Making a choice determines which of those possible universes is the one you live in. Combined with the idea of the butterfly effect, that a small change can have enormous consequences, this makes every choice seem almost monumentally significant and difficult to decide. The film demonstrates this, whether Nemo chooses to live with his father or his mother has a huge impact on his life, but so does whether he’s a few seconds earlier or later to meet a woman he likes.
To the American philosopher Thomas Nagel, this whole situation is absurd because in reality what choice we make is determined by arbitrary cultural factors. I am inclined to agree with him on a practical basis. I am impacted by my environment before I can consciously make choices, these lead to the development of my personality and ideas, and my personality and ideas are me, so even if I’m making a free choice “I” am created by arbitrary cultural factors. However, I still feel as if I’m making choices and that these are important. I also agree with Nagel that these two perspectives combined make my life absurd. However, I also believe that the belief that my choices are significant can explain something more fundamental, something that is often simply chalked up to human nature; the need to have a meaningful life in the first place.
Before we make a choice, anything is possible, but we have to make a choice because not choosing is still a choice. Additionally, as dark as it may sound, we always have the choice to commit suicide. Excluding some instinctual, basic desires, such as the desire to stay alive, we have very little to base these choices on. We can consider the factual consequences of our choices, what actually might happen, as young Nemo does when deciding whether to live with his father or his mother. But, as the film shows, there can be so many possible consequences that it is overwhelming. More importantly, though, we still need to make value judgements about the consequences as we did for the original choices, so this doesn’t solve the problem. This is essentially my idea, that we need some kind of value judgement to decide which choice to make, we need some kind of purpose or meaning to tell us which of these choices to make, as even a small choice could determine the fate of the universe through the butterfly effect.
The film seems to explicitly bring up the idea that choice creates the need for meaning and gives in answer that “Every path is the right path. Everything could’ve been anything else and it would have had just as much meaning.” This is similar to the view of philosopher Richard Taylor, who believes that meaning is totally subjective. While this can be seen as uplifting, it’s also interesting to note that it also allows absurdity to still exist with true, free choice. Rather than our expectation being that we have choices that are immensely important and the reality being that we don’t have choice, our expectation is now that our choices are immensely important when in reality whichever choice we make is arbitrary.
Philosophy in Mr. Nobody
We can see from the movie, Nemo hesitated to make a lot of choices: father or mother, Anna or Elise or Jean, rich man or poor man, desperate life or boring life. Instead of making choices by himself, a lot of times, he just flipped a coin and chose one of the sides. If some unexpected things out of his control happen, he has the power to delete this path and chooses alternatives instead. However, he said confusing words before he died: “each path is equally valuable as other alternatives.” He leaves us with a big question here: “does choice make no difference to our lives, or is anything wrong for us to measure the internal “things” in each choice?”
In order to answer the above question, the first priority is to answer what is the meaningful life. Nemo puts a lot of effort into seeking a meaningful life with many different choices. In other words, if we could find the meaningfulness of life, the choices would be easy to make as there is an anchor for us to make a comparison that otherwise we could not. However, the answer we are going to find is much more difficult compared to any questions above.
If one would be able to answer the question, he would at least meet a demanding requirement that he has the entire experiences of anything and then evaluate them by making reasonable and rational comparisons, and finally gain the answer. This whole process is similar to Nemo because Nemo had the talent to predict anything that could be possible in the near future after he made a choice. The first experienced candidate would be the universe. After the expansion of the universe, lives were created. If meaningfulness were ever created, it would be created only after the universe. However, according to Camus’s view the universe cannot tell us the answer because the universe is silent or its language is far beyond our understanding at least for now. So, the universe could not give us any clues. The next candidate would be God as it is a symbol of omnipotence. Nevertheless, this would also be problematic simply because meaningfulness should not be exclusive as the people who don’t believe in god also have the right to access to meaningful lives.
As this logics goes further, we would find that lives are meaningless. Whatever choices one make, whatever kind of life one leads, whatever initial environment one lives in, whatever kind of pleasure or suffering one had been though, would be pointless as nobody knows what meaningfulness is. According Wielenberg, this pessimistic conclusion fits the pointless existence argument he mentioned in his article. The pointless existence mainly states that we need a supernatural being to determine what is good/meaningful. If we follow this logic, immortality would be the only plausible cure as we must live long enough to know the answer of what is meaningful. And death seems to be bad as it deprives the opportunity of living meaningfully. Regardless of fact that whether we couldn’t live as immortal being, we can imagine that all of our desires would be completed one day because we have plenty time to decide what we are longing for, and to fulfill those things. However, soon we would find that our lives would become boring and the meaningfulness of lives just exists in a certain period of time, and it doesn’t correlate to the length of life. Then, we can conclude that immortality cannot promise meaningfulness, and meaningfulness can happen even in a short period of time.
This gives us a lot of hope as there is possibility that we could reach meaningfulness during our own lifetime. However, this thinking may highlight the importance of making the right choices because we only live in a limited time. Back to the question: “does choice make no difference to our lives?” The answer would be no if we ignore the ending in the movie that each path is just meaningful as the others. If we assume that each choice would have ripple-effect to achieve the meaningfulness in the future, we would be better to consider all of the consequences the choices may lead just like Nemo did in the movie. This process turned out undesired as the movie indicated. So, what may causes this dilemma? In a TED presentation called how to make hard choice, Ms. Ruth Chang stated that the hard choices we made in our daily lives are in a totally different world from the scientific one. In other words, most of the hard choices don’t only have three options including some better than others, some equal or worse than others. And the reason that these choice are hard to make is that they convey value inside of themselves. The value includes our love toward family, the responsibility, the moral standards and the things which cannot be measured by number, by equations in a scientific way. Now, it may more or less make sense that Nemo thought life was meaningless initially because he always wanted to find the best alternatives, and to make the right choices to live a meaningful and desired life. So do we. This rational thinking would be an obstacle for us to gain meaningfulness as in order to make each choice rationally, we always seek the external reasons to support our choices. Everything that we depend on would turn us into the slaves of reasons. For instance, Nemo chose Jean instead of Elise only because he wanted to make Elis jealous of him instead of whether he really loves Jean or not. Hence, we should follow our heart fully to make a choice, and we should depend on our internal feelings rather than the external reasons. This is coincident to the ending of this movie: Nemo chooses his own path after he realized that neither of the original choices were what he really want, and all of hard choices he made, all of the paths he went through were just equally meaningful as each other with just different wonderful contents within.
Meaningful lives often bring us a lot of fears as we are afraid that we are not smart enough to make a right choice each time. Moreover, we may regret some of the choices we made in the past. From my point of view, there is still one thing we should celebrate. Most choices we made are from our heart, and we have not fallen to the drifters in our lives. That’s to say, meaningfulness remains somewhere in the future because we are just who we are, and we want to be whom we want to be.
This clip succinctly explains how the fact that we make choices forces us to take our lives seriously. It also brings up how the idea of value judgements are introduced into our lives by the fact that we have to make choices as well. A lot of what the film goes on to show through its action is stated in this early scene.
In this scene, the main character, Nemo, can be heard narrating over footage of irreversible actions. He then relates these actions to decisions by noting that once a decision has been made, the consequences of that decision are permanent. This idea explains why humans struggle to make difficult decisions. We want to choose, as Nemo puts it, the “right” choice because once we make our choice we cannot go back, we cannot reverse the consequences. As the clip progresses, Nemo is seen trying to decide between two desserts, but he puts so much weight on picking the right dessert that he ultimately chooses not to choose. This, to Nemo, allows every option to remain possible. If humans never make decisions, everything remains a possibility.
I chose this scene because Nemo points out the core idea that “each path is just right as much as others.” Moreover, from the journalist’s question we would know that he is rational but he just makes choices based on reasons which are used to justify why his choice would be the right. And in the perfect ending where Nemo died with happiness, I think Nemo is also the mirror of himself who serves as one of possibilities in the imagination of the 9 year-old boy. Although this would not tell us how many plausible ways to really get meaningfulness in our lives, this gives us a hint that finally we will be satisfied with what we did when we were young overall even though there were times when we wanted to make a different choice and see what would happen.