I guess my view of the prophecies of Michel de Nostradamus – the 16th century French prophet who is said to have written down accurate predictions of at least 2000 years of forthcoming human events – holds about as much weight for me as The Da Vinci Code. There are a lot of holes in the Nostradamus’ predictions so I tend to chalk it up as nothing more than an interesting curiosity.
The people behind the documentary The Man Who Saw Tomorrow don’t see it that way. Here is a movie that offers a tiny bit of biography about the supposed prophet, and then cobbles together footage from every source under the sun in an effort to prove his accuracy. Did he have fore-knowledge of the future? Did he, while sitting in his secluded attic room in the 16th century accurately predict The French Revolution? Napoleon? The American Revolution? The Civil War? Hitler? World War II? The Atomic Bomb? The Kennedy Assassination? The Moon Landing? Is he also right in his prediction about World War III and the end of the world? Well, I don’t happen to think so, but I am confused about whether the movie does. It spends 90 minutes reiterating that Nostradamus wrote down 2000 years worth of prophecies that came true and then adds a tag at the end to tell us that the producers of this film are actually less convinced of his accuracy than I am. At least they’re honest.
Hosted by Orson Welles, who sits in his stuffy office behind a desk smoking a cigar, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow attempts to lay out all of the major turning points of history by way of Nostradamus’ writing. Before diving head-long into his predictions, we learn that Nostradamus was a hard-working student who had ambitions to be a doctor, but after losing his family in the plague, turned his ambitions toward writing down his predictions in something called “quatrains’, and hid his verses in anagrams and secret code in an effort to avoid being prosecuted for witchcraft. Early on, we learn, he kissed the robes of a young Franciscan friar who would someday be Pope Sixtus V. He predicted that a king would die in a jousting tournament by having his eye poked out. Later he was invited to the home of a dignitary where he accurately predicted which pig they would be eating for dinner. Yeah . . . okay.
The historical predictions put forth by Nostradamus are interesting, but the methods in which the movie presents them are, in a word, baffling. Nothing is off limits here. There is footage of the Kennedy assassination, the holocaust, The Moon Landing, the revolution in Iran. Then, for events where there is no footage, sometimes actors are used in recreations and other times we get footage from old movies like War and Peace. Sprinkled into the mix also are old newsreels, short films, documentary footage, color illustrations and cheap special effects shots from old science fiction movies.
The only center of logic in this chaotic mess is a very brief interview with former astronaut Edgar Mitchell who argues that the future is nothing more than our summation of present events. I would have liked to have heard more from him and less from Jean Dixon, who appears absurdly satisfied that she predicted the deaths of both Jack and Bobby Kennedy. That’s before Welles informs us that we can see Nostradamus’ accuracy if we simply keep one eye on the quatrains and the other on our daily newspaper. For me, that’s just too much work. I think I’ll just let the future surprise me.
The movie also insists over and over that Nostradamus laid out a historical time line that revealed three men who would try to take over the world – Anti-Christs he called them. The first was Napoleon, the second was Hitler and the third is said to be a future tyrant who will come from the Middle East. This man, it is said, will plunge the world into a catastrophic war that will last 4 and 20 years, whatever that means.
That prediction lays out the film’s final act in which Nostradamus apparently predicted that a Middle Eastern Warrior in a blue turban would start World War III at or about May of 1988. That leads to an embarrassingly silly scene with cheap sets right out of “Battlestar Galactica”, with the governments of both The Middle East and The United States firing nukes at each other until civilization is obliterated. After that, the movie helpfully reminds us that Nostradamus predicted a thousand years of peace before the world ends in the year 3797. Yet, even with all of his predictions, Nostradamus forgot to mention exactly how the world would come to an end. I guess he wanted to save that spoiler for us to discover.
The Man Who Saw Tomorrow is nothing more than a curiosity. Any attempt to take it seriously requires the kinds of fruitless insights than are often attached to things like The Da Vinci Code, Roswell or Bigfoot. I’m no skeptic but I had to smile at most of this. It is a professionally made film that probably takes its subject more seriously than it deserves. I find the predictions of Nostradamus to be a curious but not essential element to human history. He seemed to have a good track record even if he did predict that Ted Kennedy would become President of the United States in 1984. Hey, nobody’s perfect.