Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas July 17, 2013

On the flight back from the UK, I had the chance to watch the movie Cloud Atlas. It really was spectacular, in many different ways. The story, told in different time periods which turn out to be interconnected, is enthralling, and the imagery of the two very different periods in the future is stunning.

God is brought into things very early, by the intriguing question: If God made the world, then how do we know what we can change and what is inviolable?

The movie’s answer seems to be that it is not forces for good that would persuade us that an unjust social system is sacrosanct. To change things, to not let the powerful get away with trampling on the powerless, we need to have the courage to act in ways that could cost us dearly.

And so the idea, voiced by one of the characters, that “The weak are meat the strong do eat” is challenged and overturned. We may be merely a drop in the ocean, “But what is an ocean but a multitude of drops?”

A pivotal point in human history – although not one that leads to the elimination of evil or some sort of final victory for good – is the life of Sonmi451, whose “revelation” is considered sacred, and who herself comes to be viewed as a god by some simple people, who may in fact be the descendants of replicants like her. Her martyrdom seems like it could be futile at one point. But because we also have a story set in the future, we learn that it ultimately is not.

Among her words are this statement: “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime; and every kindness we birth our future.”

Have you seen Cloud Atlas? If so, what did you think of it?

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  • Guest

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I’ve read the book. I thought it was well-written and interesting (except for one section, which was apparently badly written on purpose as a stylistic choice). I did find it confusing and at the end it made no more sense to me than at the beginning, but I enjoyed the journey.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Liked the movie, loved the book. Subsidiarity writ large.

  • Noah Smith

    Its been sometime since I’d read the book but the film seemed quite faithful. The cinematography and score are sublime. I didn’t think much of the decision to have the same actors play different characters. I spent half the time staring in disbelief at the makeup.

  • Judi Rohrig

    I think the film is a masterpiece. Having the actors take on different roles really drove home Somni451’s message of being “bound to others, past and present.” The film was simply masterfully constructed, a symphony of words and music. Give it time and others will see this.

  • spin

    Trite pretentious bloatware. It has the credibility of a Kevin Costner narration. Hanks was more convincing selling the silliness of the “Da Vinci Code”. (That points to a lack of clear direction.) Seen while on a plane. Afterwards I watched “Warm Bodies”, which was leaner and far more entertaining.

  • James Pate

    I watched it just now, since it was what we got for Netflix. I had a hard time following the movie, and I thought that it was too long. When I read the wikipedia articles about the movie and the book, however, and I saw how things fit together, I ended up appreciating the movie much more (albeit after watching it).

  • friendly reader

    I absolutely adore the book – and for about its first half, the movie does a fairly good job of balancing the six stories that are told Russian-doll style in the book, while also staying very faithful to the stories.

    Then it starts to change things. Some of them are just the necessary elimination of characters – each of these stories would probably take 45-50 minutes to tell as-written, and that would make for an even longer movie. But some of the changes…

    This movie keeps insisting on giving happy endings, usually centered around the idea of Wuv. Not “love” as it is in the book – compassion and self-sacrifice – but romance. Many of the storylines either focus more on a romantic angle than they did in the book (the diary, the letters, Sonmi-451 confession), or introduce one whole-cloth (the final future story).

    And there aren’t many true happy endings in the book. The far future is very bleak – there’s no “look! they’re all happy on another planet!” Sonmi-451’s story has a dark twist at the end that was completely cut from the movie to emphasize the romance and give it a happier ending.

    But you don’t need the Hollywood happy endings and “love conquers all” message in the book because the book – thanks to how it’s told – ends where it begins, and it ends with a two page summation that is a direct challenge to the reader to take what you’ve learned from reading these six stories and set about making the world a better place. It makes me cry every time I read it.

    The movie… I give them points for trying, and it’s aesthetically gorgeous (music and visuals) and well-acted (though the yellow-face is problematic, and Hanks was way too hammy in the diary section). But to me it felt like a hollow, Hollywood-ized version of a much more challenging and better-written book.

    So please, please read the book – if you liked the movie at all, you’ll probably love the book.

    • Nick Gotts

      Yes, I’d agree with pretty much all of that. Movie: good, but with too much sugar; book brilliant.

  • Funny, but on a long flight from New Zealand to the mainland, I thought the in-flight movie, “The Santa Clause” was an intellectually provocative film. Isn’t there a Buddhist influence in the plot of “Cloud Atlas?” Are we afraid to mention that here?

    • friendly reader

      “Buddhist influence”? Not exactly – there is an idea of reincarnation, which the author considers to be an expression of “the universality of human nature,” and in the movie they have Sonmi-451 say stuff about death just being a door or something, it’s not in the book. There’s a Buddhist character in the book, briefly (she’s cut from the movie for time), but as a religious studies major I wouldn’t say there’s anything inherently Buddhist about it – New Age-y, perhaps, though that’s the movie more than the book.

      The final moral message in the book works as a Christian message just as well as a Buddhist message.

  • Sil

    I loved this movie, and have watched it twice. To have the directors create a movie about such a epic theme and to deliver it without attempting to dumb it down for the mass audience, is so utterly appreciated. There are so few of these movies made today, I am forever grateful to see them appear.

    It’s a wonderful concept and the thought that we may know one another once again in a linked future is a charming one. So many religions depend on the consequences of our actions in the afterlife moderating our actions in the present, that to see that concept brought to the screen as simply the result of our kindness or cruelty, without the millstone of religion, is just a pleasure to watch unfold.