If you could send a message to your past self, what would it be?
The new X-Men film, Days of Future Past, perfectly captures the spirit of the beloved X-Men comics, which is a hopelessly confusing continuity. The comics are always full of discrepancies put in by various writers, occasionally leading to something called a retcon, which is when they change something and say, “It was always like this. At least now it was.”
If you could send a message to your past self, what would it be?
But this movie has something for everyone: Something old, something new, something furry, and something blue.
Actually, everyone’s blue. For years, fans have been clamoring for the movies to include sentinels – giant mutant-hunting robots with machine gun arms and serious halitosis. But now that the sentinels are here, the X-Men are losing to them. Hard.
When the movie opens, it’s the far future, and sentinels have taken to killing not only mutants, but also muggles. The only people who have any chance against them, ironically, are the mutants. And there are only a handful of mutants left, such as Weather Girl, Hot and Cold, Paperweight, Eye Shadow, Portal 3, and the guy whose power is that he can charge his gun.
The future is bleak. So bleak that Magneto and Xavier, now working together, can’t stop dwelling on how badly they messed things up.
Of course, there’s no point in dwelling on the past. Unless you can change it. And they can. It turns out that one of the mutants, Juno, can send people’s minds through time into younger versions of themselves. Xavier and Magneto figure that if they can send someone back to the 1970s to stop the sentinel program from starting, they’ll have a safe timeline in which they can go back to trying to kill each other.
They decide to send the grizzled Wolverine, because he was around in the 70s and has the sideburns to prove it, to go back in time primarily to convince people that he’s from the future. The other X-Men, meanwhile, will stay behind and make a… um… last stand. Ugh. But if he’s successful, the last stand won’t matter anymore. And they’ll live in a world in which they could be free to constantly be explaining their powers to each other.
Wolverine’s goal, in the past, is to find Mystique, a mutant activist, and stop her from killing the person responsible for the sentinel program – Bolivar Trask – who, at that point, is still meeting with boards of elderly white congressmen and trying to convince them that people who are different are dangerous. Let’s have 20-foot robots with guns instead.
Either way, in the original timeline, Mystique kills Trask, starting an unforeseen chain reaction that turned Trask into a martyr and made the sentinel program even worse.
Everything we do in life has unforeseen chain reactions, and we have to factor those in before we act.
So Wolverine’s goal is to save Trask by enlisting the help of Xavier and Magneto, and asking them to rekindle their on-again, off-again friendship long enough to at the very least not make things worse. Which they proceed to do anyway.
Can the future be changed? There is a theory, quoted by Beast (one of the X-Men), that time is immutable. You can’t change things. If you try, the universe will correct itself and proceed as planned anyway.
The idea of erasing mistakes and starting over is a tempting premise, and probably one of the main appeals of video games. Who hasn’t made mistakes they want to erase? Too bad we don’t have time powers, right?
But we, as Jews, believe that we do. The future can be changed through bechirah – free will, which exists despite God knowing how things will end. And we can change the past as well. For example, the concept of teshuva – repentance, is God saying, “If you make up for the sins of the past, earnestly, I will erase them from your record and give you a brighter future.”
Just because someone stumbles once doesn’t mean he’s lost forever. Magneto, for example, eventually becomes an X-Man in the far future. We all can get another chance to define who we are.
Retcons are possible. No one is too far gone. Not even Magento. Not even the X-Men.
The X-Men are pretty far gone, though. When Wolverine finds Xavier, the latter is living with Beast in a sort of Odd-Couple scenario, with Xavier being the messy one.
Beast, meanwhile, has invented a serum that allows himself to look human again, except when he’s angry. He’s turns into what can only be described as a blue Hulk with chest hair. Charles is also hooked on the serum. It allows him to walk, mostly around his mansion in a bathrobe, but it also suppresses his telepathy, which is okay because the only person around whose mind he can read is Beast. All his other students are gone.
And Xavier has spiraled into depression. This is a far cry from the more evolved Patrick Stewart Xavier, who has always been the embodiment of hope. Hope for the future, and in this movie, hope for the Future Past. Always. Because if you think about it, no situation the X-Men have found themselves in has ever been GOOD. They’re fighting, at best, for a world in which they can be free to live in their own separate schools.
But past Xavier isn’t mentally there yet – he doesn’t see hope – and it’s up to Wolverine to help him find his inner Patrick Stewart. He has to instill hope in the man who once, in the far future, gave him hope. The future can be better. The past can be retconned.
It says in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers), “From all my teachers I learned a lot, but from my students I learned the most.” Wolverine has to give Xavier hope so that Xavier can give Wolverine hope, and so on. Which one is the student? As in the case of Mystique, the actions you take have effects you can’t even imagine. And some of those can come back to you.
You might think things are bad, but they could be worse. Just ask the guy who’s seen the future. There’s always a dark future timeline, and you get there by doing nothing but sitting around and squandering your ability to walk.
And it doesn’t matter how low you are. Xavier and Wolverine put together the most woefully underpowered X-Men team ever. There’s the guy who used to have telepathy but now has the power to walk, the guy who’s hairy and athletic about half the time and wears a fanny pack, and there’s Wolverine, who just realized that he doesn’t have adamantium claws yet. They also have Quicksilver, a petty thief who gives a new meaning to the phrase, “I’ve been running around in the kitchen all day,” and who starts stealing the movie itself until they tell him to go home.
“Bye. Don’t help us later.”
And they do need help later, when it’s sentinels versus Magneto versus Humans versus Mystique versus Trask, and our three hairy X-Men are incapacitated, with Xavier once again showing us yet another way that he lost the use of his legs. I feel like this keeps happening to him. But is all hope lost?
Choosing to do good is more effective than being made to do good
No. There’s hope for everyone. No one is too far gone, even when the future seems set in stone. There is always bechira – choice. Because choosing to do good is more effective than being made to do good. In the end, it’s up to Mystique to decide to listen to Xavier. Mystique herself changing her mind and choosing to do the right thing, rather than being forced to, is the only lasting change that will not “course correct” and will actually save the future. Choosing to do better. Teshuva.
As Xavier asks the audience at the beginning of the movie, “Can we evolve fast enough to change ourselves?”
The holiday of Shavuot is all about time. It’s the time that we chose to accept the Torah. And yes, God asked. He didn’t force us. We had to choose it, or it wouldn’t last.
Our rabbis say that we’re supposed to look at every day as if we just got the Torah that day. It doesn’t matter what you did yesterday. Just because you made mistakes doesn’t mean you should keep making mistakes. It’s a fresh start. You just got the Torah today.
They say that when G-d gave us the Torah, everyone’s soul was present. You can send your mind back there any time you want. You can always go back to that past. And mistakes of the past can always be retconned.
It’s never too late to change the future.