Thoughts on Cloud Atlas

People don’t like it. Yet I’m not sure if I can write about it, because if I do, I’ll be dumped in the, “IQ Snobs” category (which is apparently a personality type, given how so many “average joes” use it to identify someone with a liberal arts education). It’s apparently easy to compartmentalize the Other I guess (again, using capital O-ther makes me a Snob because real people don’t do that).

They spent 100mil on the project, only grossed 10mil in the Box Office, and the majority of the reviews I’ve seen (imdb, for one) says it’s pretentious garbage.

I think people just want to hate it.

In fact, I found it so incredibly easy to follow, that was going to be my only complaint: directors created a Good character, a Bad character, and an Undecided character for each storyline, then ran with it to flesh out and develop a philosophical thesis. Near the beginning of the movie, a character says, and I paraphrase, just like Love and Fear, Belief has its own way of moving things forward.

Maybe I’ve simply spent my life too focused on understanding myself and how I fit into the world, because this is what I call a “self-aware” movie. It knows itself. It adheres to my worldview, my philosophy, and my mindset: people are God. Spirituality aside, religion aside, this movie is brilliant.

So with this movie picking up a bad overall review, I’m upset. Angered, even. The complaints range from “terrible acting” to “gratuitous violence” to “pointless boredom” and “meandering plot” and everything inbetween. Someone even complained about the stilted one-liners. I personally cried about 1/3 in to the movie due to one of those statements, because it hit so hard and from a vulnerable direction that I nearly lost my breath. It’s tough to do that to me, a seasoned critic and dedicated self-searcher.

Plot was amazing. It’s a story that surrounds several people that are reincarnated over and over throughout history, and in telling their stories, also tells the story of civilization’s struggle–a repeated battle for survival, and a violent mistake that occurs over and over again. Pieces and oddities and aspects of each story connect to the next in specific ways–as if the knowledge of the person who made it is imprinted to the piece in question, be it a diary, a series of letters, a symphony, or a broadcast–so it feels the people in each time period answer their own questions and are able to pass them forward.

Plot is complex. Behind identifying characters, which seemed one of the hardest things for the casual observer to do, the thesis this movie develops (and yes, truly, it is a work worthy of academic study) is one the average person won’t understand if he doesn’t care. It is a topic of late-night conversation between my wife and I. It is one topic of a budding movement in America and ancient in Pagan belief systems. It’s a belief that, just like in the movie, has surfaced, died, and resurfaced again and again throughout the world’s history–this world and not a scifi big-screen creation. Anyone can walk away from this storyline. Nobody can walk away from the real-world parallels that truly exist and shape this world even when we ignorant try to brush it away as UnAmerican.

The Characterization fascinated me. Every story seemed inspired. Hanks’ performance was incredible. Quick note: the final storyline, one of a distant future, Hanks’ family speaks in what one critic called “pigdin English created for the story.” It isn’t pigdin. It’s a southern dialect that’s still spoken in the deep South, with a few words added to the vocabulary. “Some demon prayin’ on you?” “Suss ‘im out.” My favorite storyline invovled New Seoul (of course) and the final story (mostly because of the Jack-esque character that plagues Hanks’ character, the “demon” everyone’s afraid of).

Makeup was incredible. The directors got a lot of heat by changing Halle Berry’s myriad characters from African to Indian to White Jewish, etc., along with every other important character to the movie. I found it refreshing and perfect for the movie, making the character’s race (and in some cases, gender) wholly unimportant to the person inside. Lana Wachowski, co-director with her brother, stated the movie was most about role and gender-bending: the individual’s skin is unimportant, and what ultimately played the role was the person inside. New Seoul’s characters’ were brilliant–evolved just enough to look nearly elfin in difference while holding onto racial identifiers. (Spoiler in the next sentence) Powerful, too, because Lana’s statement of gender unimportance is shoved home when the Replicant, a perfect human replication used in a form of slavery, sees a factory reminiscent of 1930’s pig slaughterhouses, only using–you guessed it–Replicant corpses to “feed” the living  ones. Scary scifi stuff.

People stated the violence was gratuitous. I believe the violence was exactly how violence is in the real world. When a man blows his head off, his head blows off. It doesn’t get sleepy and the eyes don’t close in a peaceful rendition of a perfect death. The violence in this movie was artfully applied, and in low doses. Unfortunately this movie deals extensively with the Human Condition, which means death, war, violence, and abuse is part of the game. Kill Bill was gratuitous violence. Jet Li’s The One was gratuitous. The Matrix was gratuitous. This was people struggling to survive.

This is a complex movie that probably requires some advanced study in philosophy, pagan religious practices, and/or, you know, a “pointless” liberal arts degree. It develops a story that bounces seemingly chaotically through several historical periods of time.

It is a humanist’s story.

Another quick note: some critic also stated the movie is “clearly anti-Christian.” Given my knowledge of Christianity and my understanding of Jesus’ message, this movie is about as Christian a movie as you can get. You won’t get Jesus Reborn reading from the book of New Mark, but that doesn’t mean it’s propaganda against the Bible or its messages. Again, this statement angers me. No. No it isn’t clearly anti-Christian. In any way, shape, form, or function. Any person who states otherwise adds his own bias to the soup. (Another quick note: one of the characters is asked, straight-up, if she believes in the afterlife, heaven, or hell, and she says as a reply, “I believe death is a door closing, and birth is another one opening.” This message falls mostly within a Buddhist or Hindu pagan belief, though it doesn’t say anything about the overall message of the movie.)

I’d absolutely love to hear others’ thoughts on the movie. It’s currently in my top two favorite movies ever made, with the top spot possibly being The Fountain.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Chris

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