Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Break Conventions (Limiting Beliefs)

Note: Spoilers ahead (duh!)

Cloud Atlas is an adoption of the novel by David Mitchell, bearing the same name. It is a story about how our words and actions, either through kindness or atrocity, impact the future. The idea is one of reincarnation, with the same character re-birthed throughout the ages. One character goes from a killer to the hero. Another finally finds her voice and speaks out against social injustices. Yet, others stay the same or become more ruthless and evil with each birth.

Six seemingly disparate stories run throughout the movie. With each telling, we gradually see the threads that start to connect the six stories, sometimes with the same actor but living in a different lifetime. More importantly, Cloud Atlas tells a story of moral, ideology, and philosophy, as it explores limits and constraints.

  • Limits on human freedom–Slavery
  • Limits on sexual orientation–Frobisher is a gay man living in the early 20th century
  • Limits imposed by our own minds
  • Limits imposed by culture
  • Limits imposed by law
  • Limits imposed by society
  • Limits imposed by our own fears

Furthermore, it examines the meaning of having a higher purpose in life, something the Wachowskis have examined previously in the Matrix movies. These higher purposes are the following:

  • Having the courage to stand up and oppose slavery, both in the past and in the far future–Adam Ewing, Hae-Joo Chang
  • Having the courage to fight societal constraints (sexual taboos)–Robert Frobisher
  • Having the courage to stand up, make one’s voice be heard, and make a difference–Luisa Rey, Cavendish, Sonmi-451
  • Having the courage to physically resist and defend oneself against horrible atrocities–Zachry, Meronym
  • Having the courage to keep a historical record, even if the content is controversial or illegal–Sixsmith, Archivist

Here are the characters as they progressed through each life.

  • Tom Hanks–Goes from a killer to a hero
  • Halle Berry/Doona Bae–Finally manages to find her voice and stand up to mass injustices, even if it meant dying for what she believes in.
  • Jim Sturgress–Fights slavery and oppression of one form or another time and again.
  • Ben Whisman–Composer. The half-finished journal of Adam Ewing (Sturgress) spurs him to compose the Cloud Atlas Sextet, a piece that touches us for the ages, much like the Classical composers back in the 1700s, whose music still touches the hearts of millions to this day. His personal letters to Sixsmith (D’Arcy) inspire 1973 Halle Berry and D’Arcy to take action against a corrupt corporation–to do the right thing–even if it meant risking their own lives.
  • James D’Arcy–Archivist who preserves a written record that is passed onto future generations (the Frobisher letters, Sonmi-451’s interrogration).
  • Hugo Weaving–Enforcer and maintainer of the status quo
  • Hugh Grant–Only gets more evil with each life

The implications of rising up against the status quo is prevalent throughout this movie in the fight against slavery, sexual taboos, the corruption of a nuclear corporation, and the cannibalistic barbarians that terrorizes Zachry and his tribe.

It’s a Wonderful Life

We may think that our actions are inconsequential. But in the grant scheme of things, we are making a difference, no matter how small (archivist, letters) it may be or how big it may be (the Fabricant slave uprising.)

My dear reader: Though I may never know who you are, what your background is, and where you are coming from, I at least am partially able to relate to you and hope that the advice on my site makes a difference in your lives, no matter how small.

Find a Higher Purpose

It’s also important for you to find a higher purpose, to participant in something greater than yourselves, so that you will dedicate your beliefs and your energies to making a difference in the world. In the past, that was religion. Nowadays, it’s called grassroots movements, committees, and organizations. We all in one sense or another want to know that what we are doing somehow impacts the world. Some do it negatively. Others do it positively. So, I encourage you to join a cause and fight against whatever you perceive as a social, moral, or legal injustice. Sometimes, you may face odds so great that it seems unfathomable how you might fight it. Erin Brockovich started her fight against PG&E by herself, laboring until she was able to convince more people of the wrongs that were taking place in Hinkley, CA. And so it may be that you will be alone in your fight until you can convince more people to join your cause.

Embrace Your Fears

One of the underlying themes to each purpose that each character dedicates him or herself to is facing and embracing fear. For instance, Ewing came to understand that his fear of blacks are unfounded and that they are just people. Even though society has placed limitations on the relationship between Sixsmith and him, Frobisher realizes that boundaries are just conventions, all boundaries are conventions waiting to be transcended if one can first conceive of doing so (conventions such as slavery, sexual taboos). Both Luisa Rey and Sixsmith risked their lives to expose the corruption of a nuclear corporation bent on hiding a report that documents the safety risks of its reactor that will ultimately fail and cause catastrophic failure, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands. Both Sonmi-451 and Chang believed that slavery is so evil an institution that they ultimately sacrificed themselves pursuing that belief in that fighting for freedom. Zachry finally embraces his fears and fights the cannibals.

When one conceives it is possible, they have faced a part of their fears.

Know that whatever fears you have that someone out there likely already has had those very same fears. Study them and learn what they did to overcome those fears. Model yourself after them. If you can conceive breaking those barriers, you are already half way there.

To close, I’d like to finish with several quotes from the movie’s ending. The first is “I owe my life to a self-freed slave…” I think it was particularly meaningful that Ewing said, “self-freed” rather than “freed”, for once you are able to free yourself from conventions that you think bound you to be who you are, you are free now to become who you want to be.

The second quote is when Tilda (Doona Bae) said, “I have been afraid of you my whole life, father (Hugo Weaving).” Hugo Weaving’s characters represent the status quo and the enforcement of the status quo. She finalize summons the courage to break the status quo, to upend the natural order of things.

And so you must, too, do this. Once you start learning how, you will start to let go of your fears. Once you start doing this, you will be on your way to discovering inner peace, fulfillment, and happiness. For one thing, stop assuming that happiness is a byproduct of successful; instead, make a conscious choice to be happy. As another example, we tend to assume that people are only successful because they “got lucky”. What if you turned it around and say that you are only as successful as you decide to be? What we do not see are the mountains of failure and rejection this person faced, the heartaches and hardships he fought to overcome, the loss of willpower and defeatism he experienced, and ultimately all the hard work he put in to finally be successful.

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  1. I enjoyed this post. A friend of mine believes we are here for our all knowing soul to *experience* things, and the way we act influences how we set ourselves up for the next time around.

    For me, I certainly believe the way we act has far reaching conseqeuences, both for ourselves as well as others, thanks for the reminder!

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