“We cross and recross our tracks like figure skaters …” ~ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas 2012 timeline
“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.” ~ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas 2044 timeline
The reason I watch movies, is the same reason I read books. Because I want to learn something. I want to see life through someone else’s eyes. I want to see how other people face their challenges and learn (or don’t learn) from their mistakes.
In the last post I didn’t get to write as much as I wanted to about the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas and why it made me want to read the book. One of the things I love about both the book and movie is the idea that every life is important no matter how small. And that each soul has the opportunity to grow and progress as they live through many lifetimes.
If you’re an avid reader you know that authors have more leeway, in terms of how they tell their story, than movie makers do. This has always been obvious to me, but I’m surprised at how many people don’t seem to understand that movies and books are different forms of art. A movie is approximately two hours long. So unless you’re creating a mini-series in which you can include more plot points, the screen writer and director must choose the parts of the book that are most relevant to the main idea and leave the rest behind.
Probably the most important short cut to movie storytelling is the use of the camera. It is showing the audience what to pay attention to. Of course, I didn’t realize this when I first began watching. The camera is the omniscient point of view. Sometimes it zooms in on things we’re supposed to notice, or it spins, or shows us a scene from a great height.
When I saw Cloud Atlas for the first time, I knew enough by then to pay attention to what the camera wanted me to notice. When it focused on a comet shaped birthmark on the main characters in each timeline, I knew that was an important plot point. But it wasn’t until the third time this happens in the 1973 storyline, that I began to understand why. Sixsmith, a character we first meet in the story in 1936, comments on the birthmark on Luisa’s shoulder and tells her that he once knew someone with a very similar mark. That’s when I got the idea that this mark is not only telling me who the main character of that timeline is, but that perhaps each new body with the birthmark is inhabited by the same soul.
The idea of reincarnation is subtly reinforced by the fact that the filmmakers use the same actors to play various characters in many of the timelines. In some storylines, a man will play a woman, or visa versa, or they will play a person of one race in one storyline, then a person of another race in another. Once I identified the actors and the roles they played in each storyline, it was interesting to see if that “soul” evolved or not.
One of the strongest ideas of both the book and the movie are the opposing viewpoints that indicate the main theme. The first is a more crude version of a very old idea, “The weak are meat, the strong do eat.” Several characters state this idea in various ways throughout the movie, while other characters oppose this point of view stating that love, truth, and compassion are all more important. I think readers and movie audiences are led to ask “What is true strength? Are the powerful more important than the weak?” We get the answer as each main character is triumphant in their particular timeline.
Adam Ewing’s story from the 1849 timeline sums up the theme in the most profound way. Adam, after arriving home to San Francisco from a mission to acquire slaves for his father-in-law, informs him that he and his wife Tilda are going East to work in the Abolitionist movement. His father-in-law goes on a long tirade, “… Naïve, dreaming Adam. He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain and his family must pay it along with him! And only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean!” To which Adam replies, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
That idea makes me weep. There are so many people who think their life means nothing in the grand scheme of things. But we all make contributions to human evolution, even those of us who are considered evil make a contribution, because those are the ones who compel us take a good look at ourselves. And hopefully we say, “I’m not going to be like that! I’m going to be better.”
Cloud Atlas is not the first book or movie to show us that every single person’s life is important even if the names of those people are forgotten by future generations. That’s what I loved about the movie. It’s THAT idea that made me want to go read the book. Both mediums made me feel like I have a contribution to make to the world no matter how small. And I’m the one who decides what that contribution will be.
I hope you find great movie/book connections that inspire you. I believe that reading books and watching movies are wonderful ways to gain a greater understanding about what makes us human.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate your comments and likes.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2018
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel, and is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks, or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical book, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.