Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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On September 11, 2001, search engines around the World cranked out the name of Michel Nostradamus. Whether or not Nostradamus predicted the attack on The World Trade Center in New York was debated immediately at length, until scholars assured us that the newly famous "King of Terror" prophecy and others like it, attributed to Nostradamus, were hoaxes, poor translations or misinterpretations. The process, however, tossed up an obscure David Wolper 1980 made-for-TV documentary, THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW, which as we shall see, contains an extraordinary prophecy, not perhaps by Nostradamus, but more likely by Orson Welles.
Widely sought at video rental stores for a time, the 90 minute documentary, in the style of TV's current Unsolved Mysteries, purports to reveal the future efficacy of Nostradmus's prophecies, as well as giving interpretations which predicted famous past events. As such, the film begins with a pair of eyes staring from the Milky Way, and the credits roll to some weird music by Composers William Loose and Jack Tillar. Welles appears, smoking a cigar, wearing the baronial robes he adopted in later years. He is in a study decorated with books and artifacts of the great French seer, and he plunges right in, using various props, to catch our interest and to give a short biography of Nostradamus.
Welles interests the viewer by showing a curious legend about Michel Nostradamus (1503-1566), concerning some drunken French soldiers digging up his grave in 1791, during The French Revolution. They are intrigued by a story that whoever drinks wine from the great man's skull will attain wisdom, but may die shortly afterwards. They confirm that his skeleton bears a plaque, saying 1791 [as had been noted in previous an exhumation]. A soldier is seen drinking wine from the skull of Nostradamus, dead then over 200 years, and he is immediately victim of a stray bullet.
Welles then shows us the life of Nostradamus, using actors of various ages, beginning with his birth at St. Remy, near Avignon, of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. His grandfather taught him the mystical Kabbala, and his father's people saw he was raised a Catholic. From an early age, he showed precocity and a gift, some said, for seeing the future.
On attaining manhood, Nostradamus became a physician and began to mystify people by prophesying both trivial and important events, such as the color of a pig to be slaughtered for a dinner, and the elevation of a young priest he encountered who became Pope Sixtus V. After the death of his wife and children from Plague when he was 26, Nostradamus devoted much time to writing a series of ten "centuries," each containing 100 quatrains, coded with anagrams and metaphors. These were interpreted by admirers as prophesy during his lifetime, the most famous being his prediction, in the 35th quatrain of his First century, that Henry II, reigning King of France, would die in a jousting accident.
Welles gives us a half dozen predictions which have been credited to Nostradamus through subsequent interpretations of the quatrains: The French and American Revolution, the invention of the hot air balloon by Montgolfier, The American Civil War, the abdication of Britain's Edward VIII, the Kennedy Assassination, etc. The main emphasis of THE MAN WHO SAW, however, is on quatrains foreseeing the appearance of Three Anti-Christs in European History. The first is thought to be Napoleon, and the second Adolph Hitler, for which Welles gives some uncanny evidence. The various quatrains are read by Philip L. Clarke, and Welles does the interpretation, illustrated by scenes from such feature films as A TALE OF TWO CITIES (Conway, 1935) and WAR AND PEACE (Vidor, 1956), the Zapruder and Nix home movies on the Kennedy Assassination; and a 1938 short subject, "Nostradamus," one of a series.
Robert Guenette, listed alternatively as the writer/director or the producer of THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW, confessed in an interview years later, that Orson Welles rewrote much of the film and the interpretation of later events himself. If true, it is here that the extraordinary heart of the movie lies, for it is one thing to dismiss quatrains suggesting floods, global warming, earthquakes, or an attack on New York by a Middle Easterner as hoaxes, poor translations or misinterpretations -- which is the explanation of Peter Lemesurier at the official Nostradamus Site (http://www.nostradamus-repository.org/nycfaq.html); it is another matter entirely if the interpretations are, in a sense, predictions made by Orson Welles in 1980, ten and twenty years before the events.
In the last half hour of THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW, Welles observes that although the future can be changed by logical and prudent actions, "these [Nostradamus] predictions are not at all comforting." He goes on, with the text of certain quatrains in support, to foresee widespread drought and famine harming parts of the earth, beginning in 1986. We know now, drought and famine in sub-Sahara Africa came to World attention in 1986, and continue to kill and cripple the people there, as the dessert spreads by thousands of acres a year. This development was among the first cited in a recent follow-up prepared by a commission of disinterested scientists on Global Warming, which after he had a scientific group of his own re-examine the results, even President George W. Bush accepted, if very reluctantly. (The Year 1986 was the year of Chernobyl, and toxic volcanic gas asphyxiated nearly 20,000 at Lake Nyos, Cameroons. In the same year, the opening blast of terrorist warfare against America came when a Berlin nightclub frequented by our personnel was bombed, killing two and injuring 200.)
Welles continues that a series of "natural disasters" will precede the coming of a Third World War. He specifies an earthquake which will strike, " probably San Francisco, in May 1988." Although there were strong earthquakes at Hollister, Gorman and Pasadena in California that year, the big one was one year off, in October 1989, but that was enough for NBC to dust off THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW and, with Welles dead over four years at the time, re-cycle it for Charlton Heston in 1991. And of course, we have seen a profusion of floods, fires, avalanches, explosions, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes since 1988. (In 1988, the year of the bombing of a Pan Am 747 over Lockerby, Scotland, for instance, 3000 drowned under a tidal wave in Bangladesh, and 80,000 died and 500,000 were left homeless by an earthquake in Armenia.)
He says (I'm mixing Nostradamus and Welles here) that the next big War will begin in 1994, not necessarily with a bang, and that a great warlord, the Third Anti-Christ, will emerge out of "Greater Arabia . . . in 1999 during the 7th month," a strong master of Mohammedan Law, "who shall enter Europe wearing a blue turban." (I'm not sure when, if ever, Osama bin Laden was in Europe, or if he ever wore a blue turban, but the actor playing The Warlord does look like a well-trimmed version of bin Laden) He will be "The King of Terror," spawned by "oil deposits and growing fundamentalism spreading across Islam."
Then, Welles interprets Nostradamus to forebode that "fire [approaching) the great New City from 45 degrees," which he suggests refers to New York, will attack "man-made mountains" (skyscrapers). Welles predicts that The Eiffel Tower will be next, and that the War will last 27 years. (We know Vice President Chaney has suggested "The War on Terrorism" may take decades.")
Following the War, there will be a thousand years of Peace [no word what we will look like by then], and the World will end (presumably for Humans) in 3797 A.D.
I repeat, this scenario is not necessarily entirely by Nostradamus, nor what a scholar of the prophet might conclude in retrospect, but the intuition of Orson Welles. Interested from boyhood in magic and prophecy -- CAGLIASTRO (Ratoff, 1947) was his first non-Hollywood film -- Welles turned increasingly to the movie essay form after the completion of his last personal film, F FOR FAKE (1972), an autobiographical meditation on Art. (It came out about the time Oxford Scholar Erika Cheetham wrote her book, The Prophesies of Nostradamas, on which THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW was based.) When no further funds for films like F FOR FAKE could be raised, he returned to his radio roots, narrating a myriad of school films, documentaries, and pieces of an Apocalyptic nature, such as FUTURE SHOCK, THE LAST DAYS OF THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH and our film in question.
So obscure is THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW that neither Maltin's 2001 Movie and Video Guide, VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever, nor Jonathan Rosenbaum's exhaustive 1998 edition of the Welles/Bogdanovich This is Orson Welles manages to mention it. One might suspect that these omissions will not continue in future, given the terrible recent apocalyptic events in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Remember, Orson Welles says, like Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Future, that these events can be changed by logical and prudent actions. Go rent THE MAN WHO SAW TOMORROW, and while enjoying the movie as a strange, coincidental fantasy, consider what prudent and logical actions you may take personally to help insure the War on Terrorism does not continue for 27 more years!!!!
BTW, for those who want to read about another Welles's "film essay, copy, paste and go to the following URL on your browser:
F FOR FAKE --
OR -- if you want to read a review that includes a truly amazing prediction about our situation today (one which proves what a profound American writer Herman Melville was) do the same at --
MOBY DICK --
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Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for Groups
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12
Special Effects: Well at least you can't see the strings