Cloud Atlas: there’s more to it than that hook…

Can people really be reincarnated? And if so, what if those lives were somehow connected to each other, even if only in a passing way?

Can people really be reincarnated? And if so, what if those lives were somehow connected to each other, even if only in a passing way?

I would hazard a guess that a number of viewers, especially those who haven’t read the original novel, might have been mainly interested in the reincarnation hook. Personally, I had no idea what this show was going to be about: I only went to check it out because a friend really wanted to see it. And boy, were the first 30 minutes or so confusing or what! Seeing several actors in different roles over several different time periods, and trying to work out if they were all meant to be reincarnations in each time (turns out they weren’t, for the most part), had my head in a bit of a spin until some of the stories started wrapping up, making clear the overarching theme threaded through each of them.

Not everyone will describe it in the same way, but I’d say that it was about humanity. How, through all the years, there are people who will oppress others, exploiting them and doing everything they can to get or stay ahead. Getting rich off the slave trade in the 19th century; riding on the talents of poor (homosexual) artistes; allowing an accident so as to preserve a waning industry; putting unwanted relatives away in a home; using clones as cheap and expendable labour; preying on a weaker people for food and entertainment. What all of these had in common are attitudes that people have had over the years, that made them uncaring, corrupt, exploitative, even cruel. The sad thing is that these attitudes all comprised the ‘common sense’ logic of each era woven into this canvas – a sobering thought. Is this really what we’re going to be like for all eternity? Although there were some distractions throughout the film, that’s what I found myself reflecting on as we made our way home that night.

Those distractions though…I’ll admit that it was fun at first to try and pick out who each of the characters was played by. Not that I picked too many of them – Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and Tom Hanks were really obvious, but for most of the others, I definitely failed to identify at least one of their incarnations. One other thing that had me rolling my eyes was how they tried to turn Western actors into Asian ones…it really just didn’t work. (Although I thought they did pretty well in making Bae Doona look like she belonged in 19th century America…) Then came the shock in the aftermath: looking into this film when I got home was the very first inkling I had that the Wachowski brothers were now the Wachowski siblings…my jaw was probably on the floor for the rest of the night! Unfortunately, these distractions have turned out to be more memorable than that overall theme I discussed above. Nothing can be done about it though.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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