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Knowing the Future
December 8, 2011 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Can you think of any examples of a famous character in a film (or book) who knew the future, or knew that a big event was definitely going to happen, and couldn't cope with that knowledge?
posted by Marzipan to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Judge's ruling: by "knew a big event was going to happen," do you mean in the sense that they were clairvoyant, or more like "sooner or later they're going to find out that I robbed that bank"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 AM on December 8, 2011


I'm in the middle of reading 11.22.1963. No spoilers please :)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:50 AM on December 8, 2011


Stephen King's "The Dead Zone" (wiki, spoilers).
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cassandra from Greek mythology is the classic example, right? Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy but then cursed her by making sure no-one would believe her, I think. She predicted the fall of Troy.
posted by Cocodrillo at 6:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Sarah Connor, Terminator? Well, she coped to a degree I guess, but it landed her in an asylum
posted by MangyCarface at 6:56 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's pretty much the main theme of the film 12 Monkeys.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:57 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think you're looking for a particular sub-type of the Cassandra Truth trope, where a person knows the future only no one will believe them. Many such characters wind up not reacting very well to the knowledge, others' lack of belief, or some combination of the two.

The page is rife with examples, but notable ones include:
- Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, who is eventually diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.
- James Cole in 12 Monkeys.
- Various characters in Heroes.
- River Tam in Firefly.
- Various iterations of Merlin in Arthurian legends. Exactly how much he knows, how much people believe him, and how well he does with that very widely.

Etc.
posted by valkyryn at 6:58 AM on December 8, 2011


Seems to be the plot of Take Shelter, albeit I haven't seen it.
posted by griphus at 6:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what you mean by famous character..

But there is a story of a dragon who was given the ability to travel back and forth through time. To guard timelines and prevent others from messing with it. When he was given this power he was also shown when and how he would die, to keep him from abusing his new power.

The knowledge of how he would die haunted him and in the end he abandoned his morality. He abandoned his duty to guard the timelines and tried to change events, including attempted murder of prominent people, to prevent his death.

In the end he was killed by a band on heroes trying to stop him. It was relieved that his attempts to change time and subsequent death from those actions was exactly the future he had been shown.

It's not a book or a movie, though.
posted by royalsong at 7:01 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Christopher Walken was great in the role of the man who had the power to see the future when he touched a person in The Dead Zone. The movie is made from Stephen King's Book of the same title.
posted by Yellow at 7:05 AM on December 8, 2011


Well, in Back to the Future, Marty knew that Doc was going to get shot, so he did everything he could to stop it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:07 AM on December 8, 2011


I came into cite 12 Monkeys and Terminator, but since I'm slow this evening, I'll have to dig deeper.

It's one possible reading of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho or the film Donnie Darko.
posted by rokusan at 7:10 AM on December 8, 2011


Save the Green Planet! has a similar theme, with the main character trying to prevent an alien invasion that he is certain will happen.
posted by Dr-Baa at 7:11 AM on December 8, 2011


Cassandra from Greek mythology is the classic example, right? Apollo granted her the gift of prophecy but then cursed her by making sure no-one would believe her, I think. She predicted the fall of Troy.

Yes. There's also the prophecy of Achilles who is fated to die young if he is to achieve glory. Although he deals with his fate, it is the subject of a small part of the Iliad where he wonders if it is worthwhile.
posted by Jehan at 7:15 AM on December 8, 2011


Dr. Manhattan (warning, nudity) of Watchmen comprehended all of time simultaneously and leaves the planet temporarily.
posted by mkb at 7:24 AM on December 8, 2011


Clyde Bruckman, from the episode of the X-Files, "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose." He can predict how anyone he meets is going to die (that and ONLY that). How well would YOU cope with that?
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:25 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


See also "La Jetee" (available on YT, here), which was the inspiration for "12 Monkeys."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:27 AM on December 8, 2011


Miracle Mile, maybe?
posted by jquinby at 7:31 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Karen in Girlfriend in a Coma.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:44 AM on December 8, 2011


Prescience is Predictable, another possibly relevant TV Tropes entry.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:46 AM on December 8, 2011


Ron Currie Jr's novel Everything Matters would seem to fit your description perfectly. It's also a good book.
posted by bibliowench at 7:48 AM on December 8, 2011


Oh, wait. It's not about a famous person.
posted by bibliowench at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2011


Richard Dreyfuss's character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 7:49 AM on December 8, 2011


Donnie Darko explores this theme quite well, and rather enjoyably.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:50 AM on December 8, 2011


Oh, and I just started watching Heroes and there are a bunch of characters who know about future events, but I guess they have the power to change things so I don't know if it fits what you're looking for.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 7:53 AM on December 8, 2011


The short-lived US TV series "Flash Forward" was all about this.
posted by nkknkk at 7:57 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ron Currie Jr's novel Everything Matters would seem to fit your description perfectly. It's also a good book.

I was trying to remember the name of this book so I could mention it here. It is really quite good.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:12 AM on December 8, 2011


sounds not unlike Minority Report, where the "precogs" are non-functional as persons and just float in a wading pool...however, that's more of a parallel result of their genetic mutation, rather than a breakdown from knowing the future per se.
posted by daisystomper at 8:12 AM on December 8, 2011


The television series Early Edition was based on that premise, though he often could do something about it.
posted by arveale at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2011


In The Road (the book, haven't seen the film), the main character's wife knows that she will be violated if she tries to cross this barren post-apocalyptic landscape with her family, so instead she commits suicide.

The Nicolas Cage crapfest Next is full of moments where he knows something bad is going to happen and has to work to prevent it.

Depending on your reading of The Shining, Danny may have known what was to come at the hotel and completely withdrew because of it.

In Akira, Kiyoko has a premonition of what will happen to Tetsuo--and Tokyo--and tries to kill him to stop it.

Melancholia involves several people who find out that the world is going to end. Some cope better than others. At least one--not at all.

Sci-fi classic When Worlds Collide is about what happens when Earthlings discover that their planet is doomed. There's plenty of failure to cope amongst the hard choices that people have to make.

I think 'couldn't cope' could use some clarification. Is doing something drastic to stop the outcome enough? If you merely count all the movies where a cop knows someone else is going to be murdered and straight-up kills the bad guy to stop them, you have a very long list. Are suicide, murder, fearful inaction, etc. enough to meet the criteria? Or is one person's death not big enough to begin with?
posted by heatvision at 9:02 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


FlashForward? (The TV series or the book?)
posted by Lucinda at 9:25 AM on December 8, 2011


Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
posted by hmo at 9:30 AM on December 8, 2011


In L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Saga of Recluce, (particularly The Towers of the Sunset and The Magic Engineer, the character Ryba has visions of the future. Whether she copes well with that knowledge is debatable.
posted by xedrik at 9:31 AM on December 8, 2011


Oedipus Rex!
posted by arveale at 10:04 AM on December 8, 2011


It's TV, not film or book, but in Series 6 of the current run of Doctor Who, the main cast has knowledge of a very major and bad future event because they are there to see it. They can't say anything to the people involved who don't yet know and it effects them all, but especially Amy who is torn apart by it and has some issues dealing.

I've already said too much. I'm not going to fall into the Doctor Who spoilers trap, but the arc starts here: Wiki (spoilers) and continues on to the next episodes.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 10:05 AM on December 8, 2011


Not exact but possibly of interest: the Machine of Death anthologies are about a machine that accurately predicts the method of your death, albeit vaguely. Most of the stories are about the obsession that naturally develops from knowing in advance, and the guessing around what will lead up to it.
posted by Lifeson at 11:01 AM on December 8, 2011


If you don't mean psychic visions but just something that's bound to happen, then this comes up in several of H. P. Lovecraft's stories, that the Great Old Ones will someday return and it would be good not to be alive then. This is true to varying degrees depending on the story, and may or may not be true depending on what precisely you mean by "couldn't cope with that knowledge." Sometimes it's outright insanity, sometimes it's a powerful sense of dread, at the end of The Shadow Over Innsmouth the narrator's personality changes dramatically and you're left to wonder whether the cause is psychological or actually biological.
posted by JHarris at 12:59 PM on December 8, 2011


or knew that a big event was definitely going to happen, and couldn't cope with that knowledge?

You could say that Fail-Safe is about this concept. Similarly, several stories about nuclear war essentially embody the same concept.
posted by dhartung at 2:35 PM on December 8, 2011


The character arc of Londo Mollari in Babylon 5 broadly follows the "knows the future" to "has trouble coping with it" plot you are describing. The show does a lot of other interesting things with the notion of knowing the future/time traveling as well.
posted by caminovereda at 7:51 PM on December 8, 2011


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