Cloud Atlas- A film review

I realize the movie has been out for a while now, but we finally just saw it. Overall, I liked it. It did ramble on and if you are one of those people who need their stories in clear linear fashion, this is *SO* not the movie for you! Yes the story bounced around, but I think it was pivotal to the story. All of them.

I was struck by several things while watching the movie. First and foremost, the very, very clever usage of language. We are all very used to retroactive linguistic drift. We hear it with every period movie we see. We understand it; even expect it as a mark of the film’s authenticity. It is essentially a rather taken for granted feature of movies that take place in the past. What we do not expect and often take for granted in a completely different way is FUTURE linguistic drift. Language changes over time. It is a fact. New words are added, old words are lost, words are borrowed and condensed; grammatical structure morphs and changes to reflect the changes. This phenomenon is known as linguistic drift.

I was blown away by the finesse of the linguistic drift used in Cloud Atlas. The language used in Neo Seoul was familiar, yes, but the drift was present and very deftly handled. The drift exhibited “after the fall” was BRILLIANT!! You could absolutely follow it, but it was a stretch. The usage of the word “cog” to mean “know” was a subtly handled bit of work. It is simultaneously elevated and simplified diction. Cog from the elevated word “cognition” but simplified to represent the devolution of society that the diction currently reflected. Smart, smart smart, linguistics all around and great diction. Wonderfully done!

Some of the other plot elements that I liked were the interlinked concepts of greed and interrelatedness. The usage of a button that moved through the centuries that the movie encompasses represents greed, slavery, freedom and continuity in one vibrant green little package. The literal incarnation of the green eyed monster was also brilliantly done. It is when the button is claimed in one story as a shiny that the green eyes monster appears as a physical manifestation (well, more of a hallucination really) and it is only when the button is lost that the character becomes free of the green eyed monster. The button in that became the personification of greed, selfishness and slavery to greed. When the button is lost (in the midst of a struggle) the loss of it symbolizes freedom and selflessness.

The recurrent themes of slavery and freedom, in literal and figurative terms, are prominent throughout the various stories. First of African slaves, Then from society as a homosexual, as a scientist afraid of the corporate boss, being locked in a nursing home and held prisoner, slave to money, a cloned replicant in Neo Seoul (the movie was a LITTLE heavy handed here with the rebellion being called the “Union” and the slaver society being called “Consumers;” Consumer = Confederacy) then ultimately a slave to fear and greed; slavery in its many forms and triumph over it were recurrent.

The whole Neo Seoul story was, to me, the most interesting. It dealt with global warming run amok, and the “Consumers” underhanded commentary was genius. The ultimate level of society was the consumer… who was trashing the planet. Self-absorbed, self-important, apathetic, selfish and I would argue sociopathic society branded as consumerism. I’d buy that!

Selflessness, I believe, is the true theme of the movie. One of the characters who is elevated to deity status in later centuries, Sonmi451, states, to me, the most poignant line in the whole movie “The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time. Our lives are not our own, from womb to tomb, we’re bound to others, past and present.” I found it haunting, the thought that our deeds and actions ripple through time.

An act of kindness in 1849 rippled through the years and had an effect in 2321. The message was do what is right for others, not yourself. Sonmi451 could have chosen to do what was safest for her, condemning thousands of her sister replicants to death, destruction and lies, but she didn’t. She chose to do what was right to her own doom. Several of the characters in the stories ultimately chose to do what was right by others and those acts rippled on, in essence making them immortal.

I really felt that the movie had some very strong Buddhist and Hindu undertones. My husband saw the Anishinaabe Seventh Generation prophesy. In short, live for others, not yourself, take no part in greed, live a happy, simple life without want.

I rather like the idea of acts of kindness traveling forward through time. Far too many people like to think about the negative things in their past; too much time looking back on negative and then recreating it because of the fixation. Looking forward to the future and seeing everyday acts of kindness as ones that will ripple forward… I am reminded of Native American author Susan Power. On her Facebook page, she frequently writes about random acts of kindness in her past that have left a lasting impression on her. She frequently does small random acts of kindness for strangers in (I think) recognition of the impact that the tiny acts had on her life and wanting to pay it forward.

Now that my literary analysis is partially complete (it was so complex I’m not even done unpacking it yet) the cinematography was amazing. The makeup…. The same actors were featured in every story with different makeup. It really underscores how “race” is just a social construct. Asian actress Doona Bae was made up to be a European strawberry blonde and a Mexican woman and largely pulled off. Halle Berry was made to look Caucasian, Moriori, Asian, . Hugo Weaving was an authentic looking (if terribly ugly) woman and a cannibal. I love Hugo Weaving. It is nice to see him get some work that gives him some range, even if he is always an evil bastard.

If you had to sum this movie up in a few lines, I would do it like this:

“Your actions change the lives around you and are passed down for generations. Don’t live for personal possessions and personal gain, live your life for the happiness of others, be selfless, kind and make the right choices and the world will be a better place for you and future generations”

It is one of those movies that will have to be watched a few times to catch everything.

If you love intellectual exercises with not so hidden moral messages, this is the movie for you!


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