Theodicy: Free Will

One of the themes explored in Stranger than Fiction is theodicy. One of the six types of theodicy includes free will, which this film calls into question. While it first appears that Harold Crick is a mostly normal man who makes his own decisions on what he does on a daily basis, the viewers soon learn that everything that occurs in Crick’s life is a product of author Karen Eiffel’s work. Crick is at the mercy of Eiffel’s mind; even the circumstances that Crick finds himself in that are beyond his control are caused by Eiffel. While Stranger than Fiction is not a religious movie, the phenomena that is the idea of a third person controlling the events in our lives and the choices we make is one debated in many religions. Even though in the film Eiffel is not meant to represent God, there are many religious perspectives on whether or not our actions are products of our free will, or if they are predestined. For me, this is an extremely mind boggling idea, because most religions also believe in an afterlife, which often includes a heaven and hell. The idea that our actions could be predestination or a product of anything other than our own free will is an intriguing topic because to me there doesn’t seem to be any reasonable way to justify predestining someone to commit bad deeds and go to hell if it is beyond their control. This is an especially bizarre thought to me especially because most religions portray their Gods to merciful.

Radhakrishnan is an example of someone who believes that people do not have free will, but rather are products of their elemental nature. He claims that “unless an individual employs his whole nature, searches the possibilities and selects one that commends itself to his whole self, his act is not really free”. He argues that one’s will is “only the self in its active side and freedom of the will really means freedom of the self”, and self-determination is not the same thing as free will. He makes the claim that self-determination could be a product of someone’s nature, that they were going to make the decision they did regardless out of “obedience to an element in his nature”. He is arguing that in self-determination, the same outcome will occur no matter if the initiative to do so came from within the individual, or from a third party.

Radhakrishnan’s arguments are clear, but they rely on the idea that humans are purely elemental in nature and we function mechanically.  While Stranger than Fiction and Radhakrishnan pose very thought provoking questions to their audiences, I personally disagree with the idea that our actions could be the result of anything beyond our own control. I believe this to be true because I believe that we are all the products of our environments. People are influenced greatly by the people who raise them, how they are disciplined, the culture they grow up in, etc. Another reason I believe that we have free will is because people have the ability to change should they choose to. If Radhakrishnan’s arguments were true, this would not be the case, and people would be bound by their inherent nature.

Narrative

Stranger than Fiction is largely based on the theme of narrative; the overarching idea for the movie itself is that Eiffel’s story is Crick’s life. While initially viewing this film, I thought that this movie was what Paul Ricoeur defines as being a “configurational narrative”, meaning that the plot line was non-chronological, leaving the viewers to instead find significance from scattered events. I first thought this because of the way the scenes were cut and the way the movie jumped rather abruptly from one plot line to another. However, after having watched the movie one full time through, I was able to better identify it with Ricoeur’s “episodic narrative”, in which a narrative is told in chronological order, one episode at a time (in this case, one scene at a time). The character of Harold Crick continues to develop as the story goes on, embodying Neil Postman’s idea that personal narrative is necessary for an individual’s development and for finding purpose in one’s life. As Crick’s own personal narrative unfolds, he seeks out purpose in his own life and creates connections where before he had none.

While watching this film, I noticed many parallels between this Crick’s story and Truman from The Truman Show”. Both men were unaware that their lives were being dictated by an unseen force: Eiffel for Crick, and Kristoff for Truman. Both men raised suspicions that this was the case as their lives progressed before having to go out of their ways to discover that their suspicions were, in fact, true. Finally, both men sought to have more purpose and meaning in their lives after discovering what they did about themselves. Both films raised questions in my mind about how we ourselves can determine what events make up our own personal narratives, and what it takes for us to seek more meaningful lives.

Death

Stranger than Fiction explores death as one of its main themes.  In the beginning of the film, Crick is leading a repetitive, seemingly meaningless life, until he hears the voice of his narrator implying his future death. It is upon hearing this that he makes it a point to seek help. After meeting Professor Hilbert led Crick to believe that his death was unavoidable, his life suddenly took on much more meaning and purpose. Rather than continue his monotonous lifestyle, Crick pursued his interests, like learning to play the guitar and pursuing a love interest. As a viewer, these changes stood out to me, and raised some interesting questions.

While Stranger than Fiction does not identify with any one particular religion, Death is a theme identified by nearly every religion. Crick’s change in lifestyle perpetuates the idea that if we know our time is limited, we will want to find our purpose in life and make our time spent on earth more meaningful. This stood out to me as a viewer, because Crick made purposeful changes in his life believing death was in his future. However, death is in everyone’s future; every day we are all a little closer to death, so why is it that everyone is not making strides to have more purposeful lives despite knowing that death is unavoidable? Furthermore, the nature of the relationship between Eiffel and Crick reflected one similar to that of the nature between God and people in Christianity. Crick’s life was predestined, written by Eiffel. While Crick may have believed that he dictated his own life and made his own conscious decisions, in reality, everything he did was already being mapped out by Eiffel as part of a picture that he was not aware of. This film is especially intriguing because it features Crick attempting to change Eiffel’s mind about killing him. This posed some internal questions to me of whether or not our lives are truly predestined, and if they are, do we have the ability to communicate with a higher power and change his mind about our destinies? Are our lives really destined if we can change them? Stranger than Fiction explores the theme of death from several different perspectives, and prodded me to think about these questions about the religious theme of death long after I had finished watching the movie.