Cloud Atlas, both the film scripted by The Wachowskis (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), and the book by David Mitchell, have so much to offer from excitement to dire prediction, from brilliant story-telling to deep knowledge.
For one, watching the film on the big screen was a roller-coaster ride of an experience in itself. When I wasn’t one hundred percent engrossed and present, it was because I was reflecting on the fact that I was so captured (enraptured) by the film, that I didn’t have time or the inclination to stop to think or analyse. Waste of time (mind) you say? I agree!
Having read the book first, I had great expectations! Ah… but these are fun aren’t they? A line in the book that tickled me didn’t feature in the film. One of the heroines, Sonmi, reveals that she succeeded in downloading the works of “two Optimists… Orwell and Huxley.” Either the author is enjoying delicious irony, as here we have two of our most famous (Western) dystopian writers, or we are to believe that their texts have been rewritten. In any case, to explore dystopia such as in Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four or Cloud Atlas, can also become a practice in seeing present (and possible future) injustices for what they are, and heeding the warnings of those who speak the “True True”.
Being a part of the Art of Living, being in the company of Truth, makes me think sometimes, that I am not only lucky, but rather carrying a burden, i.e. that I must be part of the solutions and that I must help improve something. What is that something? Well for one, there is that seed inside that says “things are not OK”. Are we just to burn this seed? For me, we are to work tirelessly in the ‘real world’ on behalf of the Good, the Truth, the Just, the Beautiful (i.e. the Earth). In the film, we are reminded (by the same actor who plays Agent Smith in The Matrix Trilogy, and again plays one of two ‘evil spirits’ who show up in the six stories of the film) that on the one hand, one’s life is “no more than one drop in a limitless ocean.” However, we learn from our heroes that our little lives in any case have meaning as they are inseparable from the whole: “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
In the review of the film Siddhartha in The Art of Living blog, dated 4 Nov 2012, we read that “Just as the water of the river flows into the ocean and is returned by rain, all forms of life, their birth and death are interconnected in a timeless and infinite cycle.” The same message pervades Cloud Atlas. Many of the actors play six different characters, in six distinct periods of time, as they reincarnate into lives that can not be separated from their previous (or future) ones. Viewers (can) enjoy an incredibly creative insight into the twists and turns of Karma, in which the villain in one epoch is the hero in another. Naturally, this reminds me as well of the Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day. Similarly, except on a very different timescale, by the sixth reincarnation (and story), the Tom Hanks character has transformed from murderous thief to superhero. We are reminded that our every action has repercussions.
Not only do we return again and again to act out our dramas, as we “cross and recross our old tracks like figure skaters,” the whole play of existence and all its actors are apart of us and we are apart of everything. We learn from one of our heroes in the film that “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.” This gives me an incredible sense of the meaningfulness of it all, and of my own life, as it is wrapped up in everyone else’s, throughout time. And thus, as Hugo Weaving reports in an interview about the film, an inner strength wells up: “the sense of having the courage to stand up and be who you are.” As well, this line made me ponder on the nearness of the written words, womb and tomb. Does the one lead to the other? If so, then where is the place for fear of death? There isn’t any surely!
While Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, our spiritual master in the Art of Living, espouses “total acceptance and celebration of life,” I can’t help but to see and to sometimes overly dwell on the negative that I see in the world. I’ll leave you with one more quote from the book, a tribute to irony and the dystopians already mentioned: “Our will to power, our science, and those [very] faculties that elevated us from apes, to savages, to modern man, are the same faculties that’ll snuff out Homo sapiens before this century is out!” In light of the planet’s current trajectory (climate change heating out of control, a never-ending war footing), it’s perhaps easy to agree with this negative prognosis for our collective future. However, we have some ‘tricks’ to fight against this dark possibility: Sudarshan Kriya, Knowledge, the Master, in short, The Art of Living. My goals for 2013 are to constantly remind myself about these positives and thus, hopefully, not to help the negative to manifest.