Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Screenplays Have To Do With Parallel Universes

In a recent interview on the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast, theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku, gave a brief and rather mind-boggling outline of the concept of parallel universes.

I’m hopeless at physics, but I kind of understood the theoretical possibility of there being multiple universes, billions of them, in which other versions of us live, but with whom we can never communicate.

Remember that movie, Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow? Two different versions of her life, depending on whether she caught the train or not? A bit like that except literally, not hypothetically.

I recognized something of what Dr. Kaku was talking about from the process of writing and rewriting a screenplay.

Your screenplay is the universe you have created. Every time you change something in the script, whether it’s one word of dialogue, an important plot twist or even an entire character, your script always moves on, leaving behind a script that is a different universe because of that change.

The script you continue to work on is like the universe we live in and are aware of. The other versions of the script, the ones that are shed like snake skins along the way, continue to exist separately somewhere else. Sometimes you imagine what might have happened to a character or a scene you cut. It comes like a flash of recognition, or a memory—or a déjà vu, whatever that is—but actually you can only live in the script you’re writing.

Of course, as Kaku points out, the possibility of us communicating with the parallel universes that came into existence along the way to the one we’re living in now, is purely theoretical. If such an encounter were to occur at all, it would only be possible after the natural lifetime of this universe expires. So don’t hold your breath.

Anyway, to my mind it’s a pleasant concept, the idea that the versions of my scripts that didn’t happen, just drift merrily off into endless space where in some parallel universe, different versions of me, sitting at exactly the same desk, pick them up and write their own version of the screenplay.

Perhaps a nice way of mitigating the sometimes painfully laborious and detailed work of getting the 15,000 or so words of your screenplay just right.

Oh, and if you read about some poor screenwriter being dragged away in a straightjacket, kicking and screaming about other dimensions and the paradox of time travel … that’ll be me.

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