Our futures stretch out in front of us much like a path engulfed by fog. While decisions we make here and now can help us to guess what may lie down the road, we can never know for sure what we’ll find there. There will be births and deaths, the finding of meaning and the loss of it, illnesses will come and go and economic changes will impact our lives in ways that we may not even realise.
In the face of such uncertainty we might say to ourselves that at least the past isn’t risky. It is over. Done. Finished. And yet, for good or for bad, the reality is a little different.
We tend to think that cause is used up in effect. In other words, cause and effect work in a linear way with the cause coming first and the effect coming after. And yet in the world of subjective experience things are a little different. This can be seen most clearly in language itself. At its most simple, the last words in a sentence can radically change the meaning that we had ascribed to the previous words. Here, what comes after, can effect how we interpret what came before. In this way what comes later retroactively impacts what came previously.
One of the ways that we see this play out is when talking about a breakup. Sometimes we can talk in such a way that it would appear that there was nothing good about the person we had lived with. Of course the relationship might have been fraught with difficulties from the outset, however we often find that it is the subsequent actions that have transformed the way that we understand what took place previously, thus fundamentally changing our interpretation of the past.
Is this not what we see in the French film 5×2 directed by François Ozon? By employing an inverted chronological structure the film begins at the troubled end of a relationship and then moves backwards. Ending with the couples chance meeting at a beach resort. In this way the viewer is invited to interpret what went before in light of what happened at the end, thus exposing how later events impact how we read previous ones.
While the idea of the future being able to rob the past can be scary it can also be a liberating reality. For many of us have had lives full of pain. There might be years, even decades, that we feel were wasted. It can feel as if the past is past and that regret is all we will ever feel. Yet the past can be changed. Something can happen today that causes us to radically reinterpret it. Perhaps, in light of the new reality, we start to view it like a prophecy pointing to toward the present, or a period of waiting or preparing. The point is that there is no way of nailing a single meaning to historical situations. To live is to risk. To risk the past as much as the future.