It's an enjoyable movie. One piece of dialogue, spoken by Matt Damon as Will Hunting, stood out for me as foreshadowing events and atmospheres we, in 2014, recognise even more clearly than cinema-goers of 1997 would have done. First, a wee bit of background: Will Hunting, though not formally trained or highly educated is a natural genius in mathematics, has a photographic memory and extremely sharp powers of perception in all spheres - except in recognising the incongruity of his own situation. He had settled for a janitor's working class existence and mildly wild-boy lifestyle, until his talent was discovered by an MIT professor. In the scene from which this dialogue is taken, Hunting has attended an interview with officials of the NSA (we know them well - or at least, they know us!) arranged for him by the professor. His speech during the interview:
Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm workin' at the N.S.A. and somebody puts a code on my desk, somethin' no one else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it, maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. And once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels are hidin'. Fifteen hundred people that I never met, I never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', 'Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area,' 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called 'cause they were out pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie over there takin' shrapnel in the ass. He comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks.
Meanwhile he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so that we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the little skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helpin' my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. They're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, maybe they even took the liberty of hirin' an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs. It ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work. He can't afford to drive, so he's walkin' to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks because the schrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorroids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State.
So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure, fuck it, while I'm at it, why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.
That dialogue was written around 17 years ago, by a couple of actor friends who, we now know, both have well-defined political views. Echoes of these were likely to be felt in this film. 17 years isn't a long time in the great scheme of things, so I shouldn't have been surprised to hear Will Hunting's speech, which seems, if anything, even more relevant today than in 1997. This isn't one of the better examples of fiction writers' involuntary prescience, a topic I've blogged about in the past, and one which continues to intrigue me.
A couple of sci-fi novels with very scary prescience are J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World and The Burning World, written in 1962 and 1964 respectively. I haven't read them yet, but the saying "read 'em and weep" will follow any thought I might have of acquiring the books.
Here are some other examples, featured as part of of an archived 2006 post of mine, Accidental Prophets, re-aired in 2008:
James Michener seems to have had amazing foresight. Several of his novels featuring a particular country, in depth, were each followed some years later by the same countries coming into prominence on the world stage. In a long interview here: he saidplans are afoot to make a movie version of Harlan Ellison's 1965 award-winning short science fiction story, 'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman. This should be interesting!
"I think that some of us have a deep seated sensitive antennae about what is going to happen. And somebody the other day, a fine professor, made an introduction of me, which I had not thought about, but which I had thought about a great deal since. At that time, in the world, there were about a half dozen trouble spots: the Near East, the Jewish-Arab relationships, South Africa, revolution in Poland, the emergence of Japan, the absorption in the United States of two outlying territories like Hawaii and Alaska and four or five other things. And he pointed out that I had written full-length books about all these areas before they came into prominence. And I did! There they are. Look at the dates. Now this cannot be because I was exceptionally brilliant. I am not brilliant. I'm something else. I don't know what the word would be, but it isn't brilliant."
Nevil Shute, author of one of my favourites, A Town Like Alice, wrote a couple of novels which later seemed to have been prophetic. No Highway published in 1948 dealt with what might happen due to metal fatigue in aircraft. His ideas came close to fact with the Comet disasters of the 1950s. Another novel, What Happened to the Corbetts also published as Ordeal was written just before the start of WorldWar2. It tells how badly aerial bombing affected a town similar to Southampton, in the south of England, and how the bombing of civilians became a major part of the war. British people of a certain age will have no trouble recognising this as fact! On the Beach, a story of the world ending as a result of the explosion of atomic bombs, thankfully has not yet proved prophetic. It could still be "pending" however, should people forget the warning bells it rang! Shute also touched on a slightly supernatural theme in a novel called Round the Bend in which an aircraft mechanic becomes the mystical leader of a religious movement.
Seeing some correspondence between Michener and Shute, I searched around for other instances of novels which, without purporting to be science fiction, portray events which later came to pass in real life.
Michener was born 1907, Shute 1899 and Robertson 1861.
There are common sense explanations for the authors' apparent ability to see into the future, these men were not deliberately trying to predict events, as far as we know.
Michener didn't foresee actual events, but was drawn or inspired to write about countries which later came to prominence for one reason or another. He was widely travelled, highly intelligent, politically minded and had lived in all the countries he wrote about. Common sense would say that he was "putting two and two together", or using intuition.
Shute was a skilled aeronautical engineer as well as novelist. He had technical knowledge more than sufficient to foresee possible outcomes where the area of his expertise was involved. "An accident waiting to happen", in the case of metal fatigue, and some extrapolation of known facts in the case of aerial warfare ?
Robertson was the son of a ship's captain and spent some time as a cabin boy himself, so the sea was "in his blood", he had no doubt heard some tall tales from the old salts he must have encountered. These, with a little embroidery, might have helped him to invent his ship Titan. His "Beyond the Spectrum" published in 1914 is harder to explain.
Those are explanations for skeptics. Someone more open-minded, and sensitive to peculiar coincidences like these, might see a different explanation. Novelists and short story writers continually tap into vast resources of imagination. For hours at a time, their minds are "elsewhere", concentrating outside of the mundane. Isn't this akin to meditation? Could it be that as they concentrate so intently in realms of the imaginary, coloured with knowledge stored in their memory banks, they somehow inadvertently seep through a time barrier or into another dimension?
Harlan Ellison's story is set in a dystopian future where strict adherence to time regulation rules everything, including life and death. It's basically a satirical diatribe on social regimentation. In the story one Everett C. Marm, disguised as Harlequin rebels, albeit a whimsical rebellion, against the time regulations and the Master Timekeeper known as Ticktockman.
“Why let them order you about? Why let them tell you to hurry and scurry like ants or maggots? Take your time! Saunter a while! Enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the breeze, let life carry you at your own pace! Don't be slaves of time, it's a helluva way to die, slowly, by degrees...down with the Ticktockman!”Let us hope that author Harlan Ellison had not tapped in to any future truth!
“And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes. And so it goes goes goes goes goes tick tock tick tock tick tock and one day we no longer let time serve us, we serve time and we are slaves of the schedule, worshipers of the sun's passing, bound into a life predicated on restrictions because the system will not function if we don't keep the schedule tight.”