The Cloud Atlas of the Human Heart

Jan is a great fan of David Mitchell and really hoped to see the film adaptation of his Cloud Atlas from before it came out. The film was written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.

While we seem just too rarely to get out to movies, I have to admit I appreciate doing so when we do. Usually. This definitely fit into the glad we went category. It has been met with mixed reviews, although I understand when it was released at the Toronto Film Festival, it received a ten minute standing ovation from the audience. I join in that ovation.

The official plot synopsis says the film is “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”

This is done with six interlocking stories ranging from the nineteenth century to some unknown future time a hundred plus years after some “Fall,” giving us three hours well worth spending.

I liked it enough that I really wanted it to be a “Buddhist” movie. But, it isn’t. It might, however, be a “Unitarian Universalist” movie. That is a movie marked through and through with hope and a call to compassion and a profound insight into our interrelatedness. And I’m content with that…

There are two contending views, the one articulated early in the film. “The weak are meat, the strong do eat.” And the film depicts plenty of this philosophy including a literalist interpretation of that motto. It is something that persists throughout the various worlds, or moments of the world depicted in the film.

Against this are those wisdom teachings of interconnectedness. “From womb to tomb we are bound to others past and present, and by each crime and every kindness we give birth to our future.” And constantly arising heroic acts in the face of terrible things, small and large.

This spirit of hope and courage in the face of contradiction, the weak are meat view, sort of prevails, or, at least it persists.

And for me that seems what we can hope for.

And in some sense it feels enough…

Certainly that’s what we actually see in life.

And this film shows what that can look like in all its kaleidyscopic confusion, sad and beautiful…

  • Fred L Hammond

    I enjoyed the movie. I have not read the novel but I now intend to as I believe there are themes that I want to reflect on further. I was struck by the repeating themes you mentioned as well as one other… the notion that there is a natural order of things that one cannot fight against–yet we do anyway. To some the fight seems like a useless activity much akin to Sisyphus’ rolling the stone up a mountain. To others it is that ripple of kindness that rings out wider and wider until it spans the whole ocean. Thank you for your thoughts on this as they too ripple out into the universe to some unknown good in the future. Blessings…

  • shaktinah

    Thanks for your perspective. I’ve only seen negative reviews but your description made it sound interesting. What would have made it a “Buddhist” movie?

  • jamesford

    Dear Shaktinah,
    I would rather put it this way.
    Many saw Buddhist themes in the Matrix films, at least the first one. Me, I saw Buddhist like elements, but the themes really seemed to me to derive from Gnosticism.
    Here, I think the treatment of interconnectedness, which evokes a Buddhist sense is more likely inspired by what I’d call a “high end” New Age perspective.
    Part of what takes me in that direction is how the actors play various parts throughout. Giving a reincarnation echo. I understand from my spouse who read the book this is not part of the book. Rather the connecting theme between each of the six parts is a book or a film or, in one case, a sacred text (with a video version that enters eventually).
    This raises a conflict for me. I really really liked how they crossed characters, including gender and race. But it also made that connections more romantic, which worked in the film, so I’m not complaining, but diminished the Buddhistesque connections. From my understanding of such things, Tibetan tulkus not withstanding…
    But following into the weeds here is to miss the rather more important point: this is a good movie which raises some very real spiritual questions about who we are and what we can be.

  • Bryan

    James: I too enjoyed the movie but from the perspective of ‘heart’.

    It opened a small crack in my heart, the kind that ‘lets the light shine through’.

    BTW: I read your book on a recent vacation to Big Sur (we stayed in Deetjin’s Inn which figures in a number of Buddhist-inspired tomes of the 50′s and early 60′s) and found your tale heart-warming.

    Hands palm-to-palm,


  • Arte

    This is one of those rare movies that I can take an 83-year-old woman and her 16-year-old granddaughter too and know they will find common ground. Both enjoyed the story lines and how they were eventually woven somewhat together. My daughter was very much caught up in the story of the composer and my mother of course enjoyed the “rebellion of the elders”. We all very much enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out who was who under the magnificent make up jobs and highly suggest that you stick around the see the whole list of credits. My only regret was not seeing it in a more modern theater with a larger screen than the one we visited.

  • Jarek

    I agree that the film is very interesting. Its opening or traing to opening minds.
    It was for me one of those films whitch I want to remember the same way as I remember the first part of Matrix.
    I enjoy it a lot.