Sphere
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FAQ for
Sphere (1998) More at IMDbPro »

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There are two theories as to the "rules" of time travel. One says that if you can travel back in time, you can alter history and thereby affect the present. This implies that an infinite number of alternate timelines is possible, depending on actions done in the past. E.g. you could travel back in time, and assassinate Hitler, which would prevent World War II from happening and drastically re-write history.

However, the theory that Harry supports states that the future cannot be changed. The rationale behind this is that the future is already a resultant of all past events, plus all time travel attempts to manipulate that future. Simply put, when a future outcome is known, all attempts to change it are also already part of its history, meaning they have simply failed or even lead to that outcome. Applying this to the WWII example: you could try to assassinate Hitler, but you would obviously not succeed, otherwise WWII would not have taken place anyway; the fact alone that WWII took place indicates that any attempts to prevent it have failed.

In Sphere, the future outcome is that a manned spaceship from Earth will enter a black hole, travel back hundreds of years through time and crash into the ocean. With knowledge of these future facts, this tragedy should seem easy to prevent: if one were to pass this warning to the astronauts before they embark on their voyage, they could simply stay away from the black hole and avoid traveling back into time. However, if that were to happen, there would be no ship on the bottom of the sea, and there would be no one to warn the astronauts to avoid the black hole. This would cause them to enter it anyway. Which would bring the ship to the bottom of the sea and take us back to the beginning again. This is called a grandfather paradox (named after the fact that you can't travel back and kill your grandfather, because that would prevent your own creation).

So according to the theory, the future (being the ship traveling back in time, ending up in the sea) is fixed, and the astronauts somehow never got the warning. Whatever Harry, Beth and Norman are going to try, it is already part of that future and it somehow did not prevent anything. Harry initially thinks that the reason is that everyone from the expedition eventually died, so no one could ever pass on the warning. However, as they three survived, something else should happen that prevents the knowledge from being public. They are also burdened by another dilemma: all three have a very special ability to materialize their thoughts, which could be disastrous in the wrong (i.e. human) hands. The solution is to simply forget about everything: this removes their dangerous ability, absolves them from the impossible job of trying to explain everyone about the sphere, and fulfills the condition that the timeline remains intact.

So basically "the future" knew that in the end, they would choose to forget everything, thus solidifying the timeline; causing the spaceship to never receive "the warning," causing them (the spaceship) to enter the black hole, completing everything.

We know at the end that the Sphere is a conscious (or at least semi-conscious) being, because it can choose not to reflect certain objects in its surface; and it also chooses when to allow someone inside. When someone has been inside, that person receives the 'special ability' to be able to materialize thoughts. It is very plausible that the Sphere maintains a telepathic or mental one-way link with the receiver after this, of which the receiver is not consciously aware.

So after the spaceship has been destroyed, the Sphere (which must be nearly indestructable, given the intensity of the explosion) initially sits on the bottom of the sea. Norman, Beth and Harry are discussing what to do next: apart from having to justify blowing up an entire subterranean habitat and spaceship, they are burdened with an ability which could be abused in the wrong hands. They finally agree that they themselves, and every other person, are the wrong hands; humanity is simply not ready for this power, because it will destroy itself. They must let it go.

Note that it is at this moment of realization that the Sphere starts to ascend. Perhaps it has read the minds of the three survivors, and shares their conclusion that no one should know about the Sphere in order to prevent abuse. So the Sphere may make the decision to leave Earth, so that it can't be recovered from the sea and can't be abused by mankind. It may be leaving to its origins, or go to a part in space where there are other intelligent species, hoping that they will be able to receive the power.

Remember that the Sphere has been freed from the ship at the end, so it can leave at any time it wants. However, it chooses to stay for the entire decompression sequence (which takes several days) which suggests that it was not held against its will. So leaving Earth seems a very deliberate act, and since it coincides with the final conclusion by Norman, Harry and Beth, this highly suggests that the Sphere does this to protect mankind from destroying itself.

There is also another theory as to why the Sphere is leaving: perhaps it is returning to the point where it will be picked up by the spaceship in the future, in order to fulfill the future timeline (see FAQ above about why the future can't be changed). This theory is harder to sustain: it seems illogical that the Sphere would willingly go and cause this timeline, knowing to what suffering and death it had led. And it does not explain why the Sphere would sit at the bottom for days before leaving.*

*In actuality, this scenario is the proper one - for the fact the sphere waited for them to forget everything, thus causing the sphere to end its purposeful cycle, and return to the point where it continues its journey to the spaceship to repeat the whole movie over again(due to their forgetting everything, ceasing any chance of a warning for the astronauts to ever exist).

However, it could be said that the Sphere wants people to use this power for evil, or wants the people to whom it grants its power to destroy themselves. When it learns that Harry, Norman and Beth had a way to lose their powers, it shows the Sphere that there are people on the planet who could use the power the right way, or refuse the power altogether. Thus the Sphere chose to leave the planet in order to find another species or a different time line. This is the least likely theory though, as if it actually wanted people to misuse the gift, it would have stayed on Earth for someone else to find it.

In the film, the answer seems to be "yes". We see them all agree to forget, and the sphere leaves the planet, presumeably headed off to be found by some other intelligent life. In the novelization, however, it's implied - though not confirmed - that Beth chose not to forget. Harry, Norman and Beth agree to forget and remember a different ending to their story; that the oxygen scrubbers in the habitat failed and everyone died. They all seem to genuinely remember this, but Norman looks at Beth and notices that she looks "very beautiful." When he comments on this, she smiles knowingly at him and replies "thanks, Norman." The ending is purposely vague, but it does seem to hint that Beth (who had tremendous self-esteem issues) chose to keep the power and only pretend to forget.

The film is composed of 11 chapters, each given a name that we see on screen: The Surface, The Deep, The Spacecraft, The Analysis, The Sphere, The Power, The First Exchange, The Monster, Battle Stations, Further Analysis, Decompression Chamber - Day 1.

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