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In Mr. Nobody, the concept of time-travel is blended with the butterfly effect.

In the movie, when the old man tells his story as a child, he says that he chose his mommy and daddy because they would tell him about the butterfly effect.

Later, the child says he can predict future. So, did he really have the butterfly effect? And if he had it, then why is it shown that he will be in a future where he will be dying at the instant the universe will reverse??

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"So, did he really had the butterfly effect?" - Could you please explain better what you understand as "butterfly effect" here? –  Napoleon Wilson Mar 6 '13 at 8:23
I think, as the child says, he can predict future, and his power to goto another time domains where he can see himself as being into the effect of what choice he is taking presently, is the butterfly effect, as I suppose –  ashutosh Mar 6 '13 at 9:22
@ashutosh - The "butterfly effect" is not an ability or superpower, it's a term for 'small changes can lead to big differences'. –  Oliver_C Mar 6 '13 at 15:22

11 Answers 11

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I believe that the movie has nothing to do with time travel and, as Oliver_C mentioned in a comment, the butterfly effect is not an ability, it is just cause-effect gone to extremes ("Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?").

The following lines are solely based on my own interpretation of the movie, hence no external links or proof will be provided. It is no need to say that spoilers will follow.

The whole movie is about the tough decision a child is facing when having to decide whether to live with his mother or with his father. It is not easy to choose something like this, especially when you're a child. This is about 90% of the movie: the child is actually standing between his parents trying very hard to make the best decision. In his mind, there are a lot of possibilities. THIS is what we actually see: it is not time travel, nor seeing the future, but the child's imagination. He tries to picture his whole life with each of the parents in order to be able to choose whatever should seem better.

We cannot be sure whether one of the stories actually occur. Absolutely nothing is certain - everything is pure imagination. It is like day-dreaming: you picture something and then one thing leads to another and you find yourself wondering what's it like to be old and having grandchildren. Still, in the movie, this "daydreaming" part is not as pleasant as it should be, it happens under a lot of stress and all this thoughts probably occur in just a few minutes.

To my mind, this is the movie's theme: the toughest decision a child has to make - choosing only one of his parents, that is deciding his own future.

In the end, after being asked which story is the true one, the old man refuses to pick one. He states that all of them are equally true and that is no right, nor wrong answer. This has multiple meanings.

In the first place, I don't think his intention was to actually tell the story of his life. When you are the eldest person in the world and dying, I don't believe that your main intention is to tell the people how your life has been. It seems a better decision to tell the whole world a message. After so many years of experience, the question shouldn't be "What have you done so far?" but "What have you learned? What would you tell to all the young people?". Nobody should actually care about the ups and downs in another person's life. The title is Mr Nobody, meaning that he was no extraordinary person, he was just nobody, like everybody else. Returning to the original question and it's interesting answer, I believe that the message is the following: we shouldn't consume ourselves trying to figure out what is the correct decision in life. Life is about living, one thing will lead to the other and you cannot predict what will follow. As you have seen in the movie, apparently bad decisions have led to happy moments, while doing always the right thing might get you bored, dissatisfied and maybe finally killed. That is why there is no right, nor wrong decision in life. They are all just options.

In the second place, there might be a reference to quantum mechanics. You can read more about various theories here about the many-worlds interpretation and here about the Copenhagen interpretation. The very popular experiment with Schroedinger's cat might also be a good example. To sum the theories up: when facing multiple possibilities, before making a choice/some sort of measurement, every possible outcome is actually an alternate universe. Now, one theory states that every time a decision/measurement is made, many other parallel universes are created. This way every possibility actually gets materialized, only it happens in parallel universes. Other theories state that upon deciding/measuring results, all parallel universes collapse into a single one, but before measurement everything is equally real. Hopefully I haven't mixed them up and understood this ideas good enough.

All in all, it is my opinion that all the tiny actions with unexpected huge reactions are not necessarily true. Everything is narrated by the main character and he couldn't have known what was happening in other parts of the world (see the episode with the guy working at a shoe factory being fired). What is more, all the possible lives are made of various decisions that have interesting effects in time. All these are references to the butterfly effect but, as I have said earlier, nothing is necessarily true. Everything is possible.

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I think I slightly disagree with it being entirely imagined in the normal sense. I think the boy had some sort of ability that normal people don't have. I don't claim to have have it completely understood, I am still digesting this. But... Consider the beginning, where the angel forgets to touch his lip and make him forget. It is said that he is left with the ability to see his entire life before him. I think in this movie is the idea of being able to see the future, but the future is not one solid deterministic thing. Instead, he is able to see the multitude of possibilities before him. –  Joe Edgar Apr 6 '14 at 15:51
Otherwise, I largely agree with you. One major theme is choice (but not in the typical choice vs determinism sense). It emphasizes the huge impacts that choices have on our entire lives, while showing that even if we knew how big those impacts would be, we would still be left with just as difficult a decision. Knowing the future, in that sense, is worthless. This kind of leads to a message of just living your life, enjoying its beauty and doing the best you can. At the end the old man seems to think all of those possible lives were equally beautiful, and wonders how could he choose one. –  Joe Edgar Apr 6 '14 at 15:56

The movie has many interpretations for its sequence of events, and I believe it is meant to be that way. It's your CHOICE to decide on what you want to believe. This is what makes the movie so great. This is one of my many interpretations of how the sequence of events unfold.

He is the nine year old boy that can see the future not the old man who can't recall his past. The old man is him in the future when he stands there in the middle of the tracks(reference to crossroads) thinking over his options and doesn’t make a choice on whom to go with. Technically the old mans reality can't and never will exist, because a decision has to be made. But, there has to be some sort of interim before a decision is made and that is the old man. It is just a void space. All other outcomes have the potential to exist based on his choice. He can’t simply stand on the tracks for the rest of his life and turn into the old man. You can’t be someone or exist if you never make a choice AKA nobody. This is why he has no past to connect him with. This is why the old man recalls so many different memories, because it’s really the boy playing out his options. He can only be in this void space until the universe ends and collapses in on itself and that is as much time he is allowed to decide. Him making it to the end of time without making a choice as the old man is symbolic of saying a choice needs to be made, because eventually time will run out. When that time runs out and a decision hasn't been decided the choice will be made for him (The train is to far to catch or his father runs and grabs him). When he says its the best day of his life on his deathbed, he is referring to that moment on the tracks as the little boy. He is able to experience and envision his life in so many different ways in just one instance of time, and no other moment in his life would be as powerful as this one. He is also able to choose which path he wants to take. Which leads to all of his possible choices being valuable and significant to his life experience. Moments before the end of his time he calls out Anna and ultimately that's his choice he decided to go with. He then dies and no longer exists as the old man, because the old man only exists without a choice. Then time rewinds (actually his vision of the future plays back as if it was being absorbed back to the boys mind) to bring him back to standing on the tracks. You see him laugh when his vision is rewinding. He’s laughing because he now knows what decision he finally wants to make as he stands there in the middle of the crossroads. He decides to choose neither parents and ends up on the doc with Anna. Eventually time goes by they separate, and he meets her at the lighthouse while she stands in the circle he drew.

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Ok I have a separate theory that is a bit different from the others I have read online.

My problem with most interpretations is that they leave out Nemo’s ability to see the future (at least to a limited extent) and the importance of the big crunch event in the end. In my theory, these two circumstances creates a paradox, and in turn a very situational superhero, like in the case with Neo in the Matrix. I also dislike the idea of "it was all just a dream!" or "it was an imagination. Nothing happened and noone exists". It feels too cliché for the visual greatness of this movie. I know that there are a scene in the end, where the city is taken apart piece by piece and Nemo explains to the reporter that they do not exist outside of the architects mind, being the boy at the train station. While I do agree that the boy can serve as an architect in some sense, I do not want to take the rest of the dialog literally.

The paradox in mind is created as the young Nemo is faced with the impossible choice at the train station. I am aware that this does not make perfect scientific sense, but bear with me anyway. As Nemo is faced with the choice, he can see all the ways his life will turn out depending on which way he chooses. But, as the old Nemo declares in the end, this does not help him to make a desicion. The reason is, since none of Nemo’s timelines seem to be perfect, everyone one way or another ending in tragedy or a dissatisfactory state, he will, once knowing about the outcome, choose another alternative. But instead of the idea of a nonexsisting Nemo making it to the old age and remembering the many life paths, the old Nemo is a human Shrödinger’s cat. As no one in the futuristic world have any record of his existence, the man is the cat in the box, where every outcome is just as plausible and must be imagined as ‘true’. As the old Nemo has unclear and contradictory memories of his own life, he either have lived all of them, or has forgotten which is right, meaning that they all gain the same meaning.

Another thing is that Nemo has the power to communicate with himself through the different timelines. I do not fully understand the mechanics of the argyle reality, but apparently the knowledge of the big crunch, achieved by another version of Anna in the Mars timeline, is transferred from old nemo to a younger version some way through this world. This knowledge is of large importance for my theory and has not been covered by many other theories that I have seen. Knowing that Nemo has to stay alive until a certain time, in order to get “a second shot”, as Anna put it. It could very well be that the Argyle reality does not really exist, however. It could be a representation of a dream state, imaginary visualization by the boy at the train station, I do not know.

As the big crunch happens, time starts going backwards. At the deathbed, Nemo states that “this is the best day of my life”. His last words are “Anna”, who is the one his happy incarnations have been about all the time. The big crunch allows the possibility for Nemo not so much to relive his life, as to make his past life turn out in the most happy way. The old nemo may not know how his live really turned out, or rather, it turned out in every way. But given the fact of his many possibilities, due to the paradox, he can choose his beginning with knowledge of the best ending. When time goes backwards there will be no crossroads, no more decisions that has been his prison up to this point. All he has to do is to follow the thread in the opposite direction. This also solves the paradox, as suddenly there is only one way that he can have lived his life; backwards makes forwards. Note that this is only working for Nemo, as any other lives would already have its path staked out perfectly and no uncertainties about the timelines would exist. Notice how the nurses in the end scene are seemingly just played backwards while old Nemo chuckles happily.

A few flaws with my theory: Out of logic reasons, one would suspect that he would have to make it till old age, and therefore, the timelines where he dies young would have to be discarded.

I am also aware that in a real life, the young Nemo would have to make one desicion at the train station; the option to not choose is never there. But while I am not a professor in quantum physics, I do believe that this depends on your point of view. While the young Nemo may have a choice, the elderly Nemo in a world where no one knows about his past could very well exist with the theoretical position that Nemo may never have made a choice, and that therefore, all options are possible. If not scientifically accurate, I would say it is very poetical. If nothing else, it gives me a good feeling to think of that Nemo gets the best life, the one where he meets Anna in the end.

As someone else noted: “Anna” is the same spelled backwards and forwards. There are more examples of this in the film.

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Nemo has 20/20 hindsight...angels of oblivion are his own mythic characters to convey or personify the the fact that he can transcend time of his own life because hes live it already, so he can determine the outcome like a captain of his own voyage, hence the name Nemo (Captain Nemo).

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They are all the right choices is the bottom line of the movie. His having to choose an outcome of his decision is what creates such an issue in his mind. Every possibility has joy and strife. That is why the end of the movie is as it is. Knowing what will happen in BOTH choices can be both wonderful AND terrible.

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The Butterfly Effect is a metaphor for a real scientific phenomenon. There are many really systems like weather, the Kepler problem in planetary movement, etc, where a tiny change at the beginning can lead to an enormous effect later on.

In Mr. Nobody, one tiny initial change is that Nemo's father forgets to set the handbrake. This causes ever larger effects — the car crashes into the baby carriage, his parents divorce, etc. Other "butterfly effects" occur throughout the movie, for example what he says to Anna when they meet on the beach.

As for time travel, there's no direct relationship between the two. It's more that a time travel movie allows you to more directly explore the concept of chaos and initial conditions leading to counter-intuitive results.

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The following analysis is based off my opinion and personal interpretation, therefore may be pictured differently by other people. Also spoilers will follow, duh.

Mr nobody isn’t about any particular person. In fact it is about nobody. It simply is about the impossibility of choice that we have to make throughout our lives based completely off our imagination, not on any facts or certainty, as it is impossible to tell what will happen in the future. People may argue that theoretically it is possible to tell what will happen in the future. Taking into account every tiny little variable, every possible factor in every possible environment will theoretically allow us to calculate the future. The knowledge of every single factor of every single environment of every single molecule of water would potentially allow us to calculate exactly where and when rain will condense and thus fall. In order to simply this thought, the film Mr nobody simply explained that the child Nemo was able to tell the future simply because he wasn’t touched on the lips by the angles of oblivion.

Nemo, a child “faced with an impossible decision is unable to choose because he does not know what will happen, however when he knows what will happen he still is unable to choose”. The paradox of choice covers about 90% of what this movie is about. Nemo, a name which in latin translates into ‘nobody’, imagines some of the possible outcomes caused by his life changing choice of choosing a parent. This is stated directly “we only exist in the imagination of a 9 year old boy”. The movie does not cover every single possible path in life, just a few, because there is an infinite amount of outcomes as highlighted by the repetition of the train tracks converging and separating. None of these stories ever happened, which is why the old Nemo states “we do not exist”. These stories are simply the possible paths the 9 year old nemo could live depending on what choices he made throughout his life, but ultimately and most significantly, the one at the train station. The journalist in the future world asks the old Nemo to tell him his past and who he is, however nemo gives him “contradictory” explanations of possible lives he could have lived based on his choices. The journalist is only focused on the ‘what’; only on the accomplishments or failures of life, the wanting of knowledge. Nobody should actually care about the ups and downs in another person's life. The title is Mr Nobody, meaning that he was no extraordinary person, he was just nobody, like everybody else. The message ultimately is that we shouldn't consume ourselves trying to figure out what is the correct decision in life. Life is about living, one thing will lead to the other and you cannot predict what will follow. The journalist, and effectively the journalists entire society, ceases to ‘live’ (have become immortal) due to the fact that they are not willing to accept this notion of life. The old nemo isn’t “scared of death, im scared I haven’t lived enough”. As you have seen in the movie, apparently bad decisions have led to happy moments (Elise at the birthday party), while doing always the right thing might get you bored, dissatisfied and maybe finally killed (life with jean), and even following your heart and your one true love can lead to a life of misery and heartbreak (separation of Anna). That is why there is no right, nor wrong decision in life. They are all just options. “Every path is the right life” as Old nemo says, there is no right or wrong life, every one is correct. “Everything could have been anything else and it would have just as much meaning”.

Life is about choice. “You have to make the right choice. As long as you don't choose, everything remains possible” as little nemo says at the beginning of the movie. However old Nemo ironically says at the end of the movie “Every path is the right path. Everything could've been anything else. And it would have just as much meaning.” This begs to convey the message that choices make up life. Choices make up who you are, what you are, your life as a whole. The impossibility of making choices because of the fear of not achieving the best life is irrelevant and empty. It doesn’t matter what the choice is, because there is no right or wrong choice due to the face that no life is necessarily better or worse than any other, just made up of different experiences. Hence our lives come down to experience. What do you want to experience in life? That should be the goal. And unlike Nemo’s life with Jean where he dictates his every action in order to reach a goal (to have a big yellow house with a red convertible), the goal in life is to experience life. Choices lead to experiences, experiences make up one’s life.

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There is a seeming all-knowing quality to 118 year old Nemo, isn't there? How does he know that his own choice of pants to purchase cost a Brazilian his job and caused the very rain that erased Anna's numbers? It is not the only time that this knowledge-beyond-normal-knowing of what caused things to be the way they are, or rather could be (all Butterfly Effect moments) is exhibited.

We are left with a choice: Is it because he was never touched by the angels of oblivion, and never forgot knowing all possible futures? Or is it only that he is an extremely imaginative child? Or maybe a comatose adolescent with a lot of time on his active mind? Or maybe all the above?

The possible philosophical questions here run deep.

What is the nature of life itself? Of consciousness? Of cause and effect? If there is cause and effect, Butterfly effect must happen. But what if there isn't? What if all possible outcomes exist simultaneously side-by-side at the same time, because time itself is not any more real than the measure of the width of something? What if Nemo is the one who sees time like we see distance? Could he then choose which direction to walk in for that distance?

Nemo is Neo. This is the Matrix. Nemo alone has freed himself from the constraints of the machine of the universe. And like Neo, when in a space of nothing where any choice is possible, he chooses love first and foremost with reliability.

A bum on a bench at a lighthouse with hope of true love has a better existence than a wealthy and successful man in a loveless marriage. And may just live to be the oldest mortal.

But where is the Butterfly Effect in this? Even though there are ample examples in the piece of people being impacted by seemingly small things beyond their control, it really seems to be more what they make of it than the event itself that decides their fate. What Father made a freak accident mean was more critical to the failure of his marriage than the accident itself.

Watch the film again, and listen for the various places where people speak of things they have decided. Always, these forceful statements of decision are cutting off possible choices they could make now or in the future, and stand at odds with choice itself. The distinction between the two is clearly different in the mind of the director.

My only real issue with it is the one flaw I can see with choosing not to choose: eventually not choosing becomes your choice. In the end, we must inevitablly choose, and so must Nemo.

I'm just not fully clear on what he did finally choose.

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Nemo was { psychic } he was never touched by an angel on the lip . At the end he tells the reporter that they were both creation in a nine year old boy's mind . The older version does not exist he is a projection of a projection of the only path that survived to be that age in this life. Everything in the movie at the point of the train-station is in Nemo's mind - I know this sounds crazy but Nemo was never born. In fact that's why it's called Mr. Nobody - He was still in deciding phase of picking a family.

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well this is solely based on my interpretation of the movie and i will try to say it as broad as possible. the old nemo is real and every sub-stories in the movie will lead into this. the middle-aged nemo is not. it is just the imagination of his younger self. the young nemo is the realest story here.

my ending the real story is that he decided not to choose between his father and mother as stated in the movie. and the woman he actually met and married is anna which is why it is the name that the old nemo say or to be precised, REMEMBER. compare to the two ladies, young nemo already had a real interaction with the real anna. it is during the scene where young-anna dive into the swimming pool. and because he did not choose between his parents, he became a homeless man or a pool maintenance guy. i don't know which one, then jump to the ecstatic reunion between the two. how they fall in love with one another is the question. when the middle-aged nemo is living in i think an abandon house, he has a picture of anna. which was probably taken when they were teenagers, not sure if they go to the same school or maybe nemo never really have the chance to go to school. then the old nemo stated that when he was teenager or 15 to be precised. he was in love.

that's my explanation.

and here is one maybe the movie will simply let us decide which story do we prefer, all are equally real, or equally not. :)

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So far, I like most of the reviews that I have read.. All the reviews are very plausible explanations but I've noticed that nobody mentions the fact that this person, before being born, wasn't touched by the Angels of Oblivion on the top of the mouth. He was missed so he retained all of his memories. For this reason, he remembers picking out his parents... maybe then, the reason he knows everything is because he has lived all of those lives, each time that the universe expands and contracts it's as though life is being repeated but also, they are all happening concurrently because time is something that we have made up. In realty, if it can even be called that,there is no concept of time and in a way, that's more like a higher being, like God, almost. How He can be everywhere at once, it's just that it's too far over our heads to even understand.. Kinda like, if we learned to use our brains to its fullest potential. If so we would be able to levitate, travel through time, etc.. Or maybe he did make a choice and that is why the date when he dies is so significant. Maybe, his life as he lived it, the life that ended with him being an old man in the year 2090 is the life that he chose and so in order to have it happen again, he has to, in a way, cheat. Just as he unknowingly cheated at the beginning by not having his memories erased.. The more I think about this, the more possibilities pop into my head.. before I have even finished one possible explanation, others take control of my mind.. . never mind.. i don't want to think about this anymore..But, I love that soundtrack. Your Precious Love and the song about how everyday, it's getting better, rolling faster than a roller coaster.. lol

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