While I was enjoying the modern marvel of "Watch Instantly" films with my Netflix account tonight, I took in two movies that I believe carry more profound statements about the human condition than the "Summer Blockbuster" status they were saddled with.
First I watched "Surrogates", where almost the entire populace has taken to interacting with the world outside of their homes through robotic proxies. It is a movie that I had been meaning to see for some time but never got around to it, the theme of becoming dependent on intermediaries to interact with the outside world on your behalf is something that the perceptive, open minded individual can already see happening to some degree today. When people try to resume an actual fleshly interaction with the outside world, they suffer from anxiety over the worry of what can happen to them.
Many people interact often through facebook or their cell phones much more comfortably than they do in person. Online, they can be more direct, more confident, the way they would like to be in real life.
The false protection the couple hundred miles of copper wire and fiber optic cable give them functions much in the same way that alcohol can function for someone that has trouble approaching difficult situations.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not some anti-technology evangelist looking to go back to two cups with a taught string to relay messages. I love technology, gadgets and the seamless communication opportunities that they enable.
I'm simply spitballing about the inherit dangers that accompany all of this, and I feel it's important to consider the implications.
It can be used to replace normal human interaction, can be employed as a coping mechanism, and ultimately strip us of our humanity if allowed to do so.
What does this have to do with free will? Well, some of the characters steer some pretty strange behavior through their "Surrogates". One could say that the removal of fear has "set them free" to live the exciting, adventurous way that they choose without the risk of injury or death.
Of course, their-in lies the paradox. If you are not actually at risk, how adventurous can your life be? If you spend the entire day controlling a robot to act on your behalf, relying on it's interpreted sensory perceptions of the outside world, you're not much better then a brain in a vat with wires coming out of it.
That brings me to the second movie that I watched-"Gamer". Gerard Butler's character Kable basically serves as a "Surrogate" to Simon, a 17 year old boy that has used daddies bank account to purchase a human life to play Black Ops with.
The concept is ingenious. You get the mortality of the convicts in the "game" butting up against the desensitized youth that cares more about their convict making them look good than them as a human being.
Simon even says at one point, "They're convicts, they had it coming anyways".
Kable replies, "What about me?"
So essentially what he's saying is that, "they're all criminals, but I'm willing to put you on a pedestal because you're helping me get what I want, fame". His connection to Kable further distances him from the lives of the other convicts as they explode into human effluence around him.
Kable has no free will until halfway through the movie, when the "Humanz" Hacker group uploads a bit of software to Simon's hard drives and frees Kable.
I love movies like this because under the explosions, special effects and CGI, they make you really think.
Just what is free will?
You recognize it when it's completely gone, as in Kable's case, but there are more subtle measures of control that can limit free will.
Going back to "Surrogates", the people are extremely reckless and impulsive when controlling their robots. Undoubtedly they feel that the cybernetic components are a part of them, and that they are actually doing these things themselves.
That's the illusion, the glamour of what is designed to shield them from the fact that they are no different than a guy with a remote control in his hand telling a machine what to do and calling it life.
You have the choice to control as you will, but the simple fact that you are controlling a machine that is not a part of you, the actual spiritual "you" that has evolved from birth to adulthood clouds your judgement and enables choices that you would not make were the consequences more natural.
At one point one of his wifes friends allows Bruce Willis' character to literally beat the synthetic flesh from his face as he mocks him.
Not likely to happen in that flesh were not a latex composite.
In Gamer, Kable's wife is forced into actions that she would not choose for herself out of need for money in order to get her daughter back. Unbeknown to her, her daughter was taken as part of a grand scheme and she will not be allowed to get her back regardless of the level of depravity she succumbs to.
Free Will taken, Free Will subverted through deceit and more subtle means of manipulation.
Some would argue that the choices you make are already decided, that you are the person that you are and the choices that you make will never change. They would say that just because you cannot see every consequence of your actions, they are still your actions and Free Will is an illusion. It's called nihilism, essentially that nothing you do bears any great significance because it's all preordained.
Those people would say that we are all slaves to our destiny. It's an interesting theory, but not one that I subscribe to. I think every choice you make in life is the by product of genetic predisposition combined with the stimulus taken in over time.
If you are a violent person by nature, then environment can shade you in a different direction, but not correct the condition. It's much like how a good card player can sometimes salvage a bad hand, but he will never beat a player that is dealt a Royal Flush.
And what does this have to do with writing, you ask? Yes, everything that I post here on this blog has to do with writing, as that is what I do here, that is the purpose of this site.
Fictional characters have no free will apart from the will that you give them in your own mind, though at times it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes the characters can almost "speak" to you, telling you what they would do. This is nothing more than an extension of the writers will, but if the phenomenon can cause a writer to steer from what he wants to accomplish, to cause more problems for him or herself in plot and setting, how can that be considered the writers will?
I chuckle when I compare that with a commonly accepted theory that God gives us free will, then condemns those of us that don't act as he would choose. Once you set the wheels in motion, it seems, you aren't always responsible for what comes of it.
Sometimes it can completely screw up your outline, so you are forced to either choose a different motivating factor for that character or derail the narrative and take the story off the tracks.
But can a fictional character have free will? Are any of us any more than the puppets to the chaotic arithmetic of reality?
I think that the important thing is to ask these questions, not necessarily to think that you can answer them.