Tom Stoppard's Brutal Law Of Outer Space

Sadly, Jumper, the teleportation movie coming Valentine's Day, isn't based on Jumpers, Tom Stoppard's 1972 play about murder on the moon. But it seems as though the movie may ask the same questions as one of Stoppard's craziest plays: Do our laws apply to someone who can escape from any human jurisdiction? Is morality local or universal? Deep philosophical questions, without Hayden Christensen's pouty acting, after the jump.

Tom Stoppard's Brutal Law Of Outer Space

In Stoppard's Jumpers, two astronauts on the moon realize they only have enough oxygen for one of them to make it back to Earth alive. One of them murders the other, claiming that because he's on the moon, Earth morality and laws don't apply. (The murdering astronaut is named after a real-life South Pole explorer who sacrificed his own life to save his fellow explorer.) The assertion that morality is relative and purely local shocks everyone, and people start murdering with abandon back on Earth. Says Dotty (a murder suspect, who swings on a big crescent moon at one point):

Man is on the moon, his footprint on solid ground, and he has seen us whole, all in one go, little, local — and all our absolutes, the thou-shalts and the thou-shalt-nots that seemed to be the very condition of our existence, how did they look to two moonmen with a single neck to save between them? Like the local customs of another place. When that thought drips through to the bottom, people won't just carry on. There is going to be such... breakage, such gnashing of unclean meats, such coveting of neighbors' oxen and knowing of neighbors' wives, such dishonorings of fathers and mothers, and bowings and scrapings to images graven and incarnate, such killing of goldfish, and maybe more — (Looks up, tear stained.) Because the truths that have been taken on trust, they've never had edges before, there was no vantage point to stand on and see where they stopped. (And weeps.)
It's hard to imagine that there's something "maybe more" than "killing of goldfish." Meanwhile, a bumbling philosopher named George keeps revising his rambling essay on the universality of morality: "Man: Good, Bad or Indifferent?" There is much quoting of Wittgenstein.

Tom Stoppard's Brutal Law Of Outer Space

In Jumper, meanwhile, Hayden Christensen discovers that everything is local, including human laws. He can teleport anywhere on Earth just by thinking about it, and this turns him into a hedonistic yuppie. He can rob banks with impunity, but he can also visit any vacation spot he feels like and hang out. Samuel L. Jackson's Paladins supposedly are hunting Christensen because his "jumping" damages the fabric of space and time, but that sounds like a red herring. Really, they just don't like the fact that normal human rules don't apply to Hayden. He could murder anyone, walk through the mall naked, or teleport into a baseball stadium with a dirty nuke. (In the prequel graphic novel, there's much talk about the corrupting effect of this power. Jumpers always start small, but end up going further and further because there's nothing stopping them.)

Stoppard's Jumpers is a product of the space age, and the sense that humanity was about to transcend all its old Earthbound limitations. And then we'd all be space gods, and we could rewrite all the rules to suit ourselves! Jumper, by contrast, is more a product of the globalization era. It's way easier to visit Thailand or Columbia than it was a generation ago, and you can get okay sushi in Idaho. (And some people do travel overseas to do things they'd be arrested for at home.) Compared to our grandparents, we're all jumpers. And somehow, we haven't all turned into mass-murdering goldfish destroyers. Yet.

(Note: I know that Jumper is actually based on a novel by Steven Gould. Haven't read it yet, hoping to hunt down a copy in the next few days.)