Sunday, October 28, 2012

the power of Cloud Atlas

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.”

If you believe this, Cloud Atlas is a powerful experience. Epic and audacious. Exciting, mystifying, moving. I'm not surprised that it's polarized audiences: this is not a movie that you're used to seeing, and to really connect with it you'll need to discard your cynicism. If you can do that, this movie can give you ideas that might even eradicate cynicism from your palette altogether. Maybe we need more of that. We absolutely need more movies like this. 

The Wachowskis are back--not in the same way they exploded into the zeitgeist with The Matrix, a perfect sci-fi action thriller--but in the way they blew our minds by molding entertainment around ideas, reaching deeper and farther than most filmmakers making big budget movies would be able to go. Cloud Atlas interweaves the stories of six different characters, set in different times and places throughout the past, present and future, connecting them with symbols and sounds and souls. Each story is from a different genre: there's a mystery thriller, a sci-fi adventure, a comedic farce, a tragic love story. There are incredible acting performances from a troupe of accomplished actors all playing multiple roles. It's a puzzle box of connections that taps into the mythic power of images, music, and editing. 

I haven't read David Mitchell's novel. It's been on my Kindle for months and now I can't wait to read it. It must be even more profound. We acquired language to solve our basic problems, without realizing that language itself is a problem--truth is something we can't describe but can only understand when we're in its presence. The creators of this humanist symphony show us truth. The argument here is that we will be presented with choices throughout our lives. Each choice represents potentiality. Not simply for the direction of our own lives, but the direction of our collective future. They hammer this into us again and again until we know it in our bones. 

My initial reaction leaving the theater was conflicted. That was a great movie, I knew that. But I didn't feel like it was "the best movie ever", like some of its critical adherents have been claiming. I had to think about it further. I was supposed to go to a friend's Halloween party, but I went home. I found myself reading reviews, Internet chatter, listening to the Cloud Atlas sextet again and again. I felt sad, for some reason, and I couldn't shake it. I went to sleep early and dreamed about the movie. I can't get the music out of my mind.

This movie reminded me that we are significant and matter in ways we can't understand. It's easy to think the world is meaningless. We have access to all this knowledge that dispels a lot of the magic and myth our ancestors believed in. But we are not omnipotent, we are limited by our minds. We are part of a complex system outside our understanding. Atoms drifting in the solar winds, somewhere in space and time.

See this movie in the theaters and talk about it. It may be challenging but it won't be boring--three hours long but always entertaining. Even if you end up not liking it, I think you'll be glad you gave it a chance.


  1. "This movie reminded me that we are significant and matter in ways we can't understand. It's easy to think the world is meaningless."

    Someone else told me once that we are actually insignificant; also in ways that we can't understand though. How ever will I determine who's right?! If only there was some method to evaluate truth in claims :(

  2. Haha, that is the eternal question right? For me, I'll take meaning over no meaning right now. The world seems to be on the razor's edge, and I suppose it's seemed that way to people throughout history, but why not keep a sense of optimism in the face of unknowing? It seems advantageous. Hope>despair.

    1. Well, optimism is advantageous in the sense that it feels nicer than despair; but truth-seeking isn't a strategy game ;) Anyone can imagine meaning in life (as every religion and their followers have done) - but confusing this with truth is fundamentally dishonest heh. If you're interested in truth, be prepared for the fact that quite often it's shitty :>

      Also, even without 'meaning', the universe is fkn awesome

    2. @Yaksha true story, optimism is not truth. However, I think optimism is still essential to maintain. The Wachowskis are all about freedom--the belief that we can control our actions and decisions and when that control is removed from us, we should stand on the side of supporting the struggle to gain or regain it. Because even if we take everything away and optimism and despair are two sides of the same coin, we can still know our choices have some kind of effect on our collective future--the effect may be outside our understanding, but it's still us in control.

      CA goes into this way further than I can--I think my rambling is much less eloquent, but that's the "truth" they're really digging at.

  3. Nice review Jay, After Grantland's review I was questioning if I wanted to invest the 3 hours in watching this but I trust you more than Grantland so I'll take the plunge. :)

  4. Thanks, let me know what you think!