The philosopher Leo Strauss, in one of his most significant essays on Judaism, contrasts the modern West’s understanding of progress with the Jewish aspiration for t’shuvah, or return (often imprecisely rendered as repentance). While one view sees perfection in an imagined future, the other hopes for a return to the past. It is an extreme version of the former view, perhaps, that was at work when rioters in Portland, Oregon destroyed statues of Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Reviewing Christopher Nolan’s new time-travel film Tenet, Michael Weingrad is put in mind of that event, which occurred just a few days after he saw the film, and not far from his own home:
“The future is trying to kill us,” explains one of the characters. Nolan leaves the precise details vague; there is a gesture at the environmental damage we in the present are said to be causing. But the point is that our descendants have found us wanting and have decided to solve the problem by destroying us, their past.
In other words, Nolan gives us the metaphysics of much of the left, dramatized with explosions and spy gear. It is part of the progressive faith that the future is always better and more moral. Why, then, should the future not try to kill us, we who were inconsiderate enough to be born in the past, and who always seem to hold back the better world just around the corner?
So how do you fight the future? To some extent, you can’t. Yet Nolan gives us heroes who do not give in to historical determinism. They do not confuse their position on a timeline with morality.