Analyzing Cloud Atlas (The Movie) Part Two | Do you want the “true-true”?

Plot Synopsis >>>

I quote the official synopsis listed on IMDB:

“An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”

There are six stories in Cloud Atlas and chronologically, they go like this:

#1
1849 – The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
Pacific journal of adam ewingIn this story set against California’s Gold Rush, a young lawyer from San Francisco Adam Ewing is the central character. While attending a business trip on an island; he witnesses a brutal event involving a slave, and promptly faints. Dr. Henry Goose, an evil associate, claims there is a parasitic worm living in Adam. In actual fact, Henry plots to slowly poison Adam so as to rob him of his possessions. Meanwhile, the slave crosses path again with Adam and friendship develops.

#2
1936 – Letters from Zedelghem
Letters from ZedelghemA bisexual English musician; Robert Frobisher leaves his lover, Rufus Sixsmith for fame and fortune. Robert travels to Edinburgh to work as an amanuensis (one who is employed to take dictation or to copy manuscript) for famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs. Robert hopes that working under Vyvyan will give him the opportunity to create his own masterpiece, Cloud Atlas Sextet. A sexual tryst transpires between Vyvyan’s wife and Robert, at one point he attempts to seduce Vyvyan as well. Ambitious endeavors end in tragedy.

#3
1973 – Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
The First Luisa Rey MysteryTaking place in San Francisco; journalist Luisa Rey meets Rufus Sixsmith, who is now a nuclear physicist and much older. He tips her off about a conspiracy involving nuclear reactors run by an evil man Lloyd Hooks. But Rufus is killed before he can give Luisa a report that will incriminate Lloyd. Luisa risks her life to infiltrate Lloyd’s science lab and she meets Isaac Sachs, a scientist who helps and falls in love with her.

#4
2012 – The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
CLOUD ATLASTimothy Cavendish is an unlikable book publisher who makes a fortune when his ruffian author is jailed for killing a book critic. The author sends his men to collect payment from book sales, but Timothy has squandered the money. Through a fortuitous turn of events involving a resentful older brother, Timothy hides in a nursing home, unaware that the home ill-treats its elderly patients.

#5
2144 – An Orison of Sonmi451
An Orison of Sonmi451Sonmi is a genetically engineered clone with a really short wig and a really tight mini skirt serving customers in a fast-food restaurant. She is suddenly freed from a meaningless life of servitude by handsome rebel named Hae-Joo Chang. They escape but are soon recaptured. In a bildungsroman transformation; Sonmi becomes an oracle of sorts; preaching about truths, love, big corporations and slavery.

#6
2321 – Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After
Sloosha’s CrossinOn a wild primitive island called “The Valley”; Zachry lives a somewhat peaceful life with sister and niece, Catkin. Most of humanity have been wiped out during “The Fall” and people live in fear of a cannibalistic tribe, The Kona. He meets Meronym, member from another society in search of a communications station named “Cloud Atlas”. Meronym seeks contact from other humans living on other planets, and Zachry helps her navigate the island. All the while, he fights a hallucinatory demon named Old Georgie, who’s constantly telling him to kill Meronym.

What we start off with; are six stories and themes by virtue of the novelist.

Theme, Premise and Core Message >>>

Theme
Metaphysical Philosophy, Causal Determinism, Definition of Consciousness (Transcendence), Parallel Universes… with a splash of dramatic big screen romance (fated lovers) and action (feuding, eternal enemies) thrown in.

Premise and Ideologies
Evidence is found in monologues (voice overs) and dialogues:

1) Isaac Sachs discusses determinism
2) Robert Frobisher discusses the right to suicide
3) Sonmi discusses consciousness in the realm of quantum physics
4) Sonmi discusses the evil big corporations and capitalism
5) Madame Horrox scorns God and questions his ideas on “the nature of women”—obviously a mouthpiece against gender constructs and transgender-ism.

Quotes to Illustrate

The convoluted mess in Cloud Atlas can be summed up with voice overs (monologues) by three key protagonists:

Freewill vs. Determinism

Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks in Story 3)

Isaac Sachs in the airplane (Tom Hanks in Story 3)

Belief, like fear or love is forced to be understood as we understand the theory of relativity and principles of uncertainty—phenomenon that determine the course of our lives.

Yesterday my life was headed in one direction. Today it is headed in another. Yesterday I believed I would never have done what I did today.

These forces that often remake time and space, that can shape and alter who we imagine ourselves to be, begin long before we are born, and continue after we perish.

Our lives and our choices… like quantum trajectories are understood moment-to-moment.

At each point of intersection, each encounter suggests a new potential direction.

Proposition: I have fallen in love with Luisa Rey. Is this possible? I just met her, and yet… I feel like something important has happened to me.

In essence, Cloud Atlas is a metafilm about metaphysical philosophy. It validates itself through monologues about Freewill vs. Determinism.

Why the execution falls flat >>>

After three long hours of visual and auditory verbiage about “phenomenon (singular) that determine (plural) the course of our lives”, I posit that the screenplay:

1) Has a stance in causal determinism (cause-effect)
2) Is better off staying away from grammar nazis—since it refers to the “theory of relativity AND principles of uncertainty”, the correct choice of noun should be PHENOMENA (plural) and not PHENOMENON (singular).

If phenomenon, it follows that “phenomenon determines”.

If phenomena, it follows that “phenomena determine.”

But never mind that now, I am just bored… and nitpicking because for a science fiction film charged with such deliberate philosophizing, I expected more with 1) grammar when churning out the script for such an important sequence, 2) vigilance in post-production when Tom Hanks reads and records that voice over.

Also, the insipid circular reasoning didn’t stop at causality. It continues masturbating into quantum physics…

Consciousness and Parallel Universes

Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw from Story 2)

Robert Frobisher shortly before suicide (Ben Whishaw from Story 2)

Wish I could make you see this brightness. Don’t worry, all is well. All is so perfectly, damnably well.

I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended.

[Insert montage of separated lovers uniting: Robert and Lufus + Sonmi getting naughty with Joo-Chang in cowgirl pose]

*cringe*

One may transcend any convention, if only one can first conceive of doing so.

*wow*

Moments like this I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own

[Insert cowgirl pose and Sonmi orgasming]

*facepalm*

and I know that separation is an illusion.

*no shit*

My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.

Sonmi before her execution (Doona Bae in Story 5)

Sonmi before her execution (Doona Bae in Story 5)

To be is to perceive. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other.

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.

Why the execution falls flat >>>

Isaac’s so called “quantum trajectories” is basic logical reasoning. I really can’t be bothered to dismantle all the tripe and fluff involved in Cloud Atlas’s screenplay (above quotes) because the gist of it is: we know about determinism because the concept of free will is logically indefensible and lazy. See David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality and Beginning of Infinity for more information.

And quantum physics does not (and never did) imply that free will exists in any sort of way. These “artistic abstractions” in Cloud Atlas are giving us absolutely nothing new insofar as Freewill vs. Determinism is concerned.

Either Isaac’s choices are governed by hard rigid rules (classical physics), or they are influenced by chance (quantum physics). And in neither case can it ever come down to choice (free will)—even Zachry’s niece with a developing prefrontal cortex knows it.

isaac-sachsIsaac, as an individual will always be subject to the functions of the world he exists in. Freedom in such a place is impossible because freedom is being defined as “functioning without predetermined rules or events.”

Now; there is a possibility for both determinism and free will to coexist, but only if every consciousness is in fact one single consciousness experiencing a variety of “lives” where those lives have already been pre-determined.

He may also only function if 1) all choices or “lives” are experienced simultaneously by that consciousness (see comet birthmark) and 2) if each of those lives or strands of experiences are finite, but the number of lives are infinite.

abbessEither way; in classical determinism, Isaac can never know every particle and that gives him Laplace’s Demon—which he can only possess, if he isn’t a part of the reality he observes. Since it is irrelevant if he isn’t (part of the reality he observes). Isaac can never ever have free will.

*checkmate*

Even if Isaac does possess free will, he depends completely on a determined universe since choice demands predictability to have any function. In a random universe, all choices are pointless since the effects never or seldom correlates with his choices (infinite random effects > a single finite choice).

Whatever.

Why the film isn’t abstract >>>

Sonmi and Robert’s “insights” about time and illusions are extensions of Isaac’s original question. Basically free will is impossible unless Isaac is conjuring the universe as he lives, or he is (and everybody else are) all part of the same consciousness experiencing different strands of existence simultaneously [this is the whole shebang of Sonmi’s blabbering].

It makes simple, logical sense and herein lies the clincher: anyone who has had time or opportunity to dwell on these basic metaphysical theories and concepts will wonder why the film is deliberately more complex than necessary.

sonmiWhat’s even stranger is—unlike cinematic “artists” or directors who attempt to explain the “whys” with coherent or at least sensible rhetoric and narrative (Synecdoche New York); all Cloud Atlas manages to do is regurgitate pop-philosophy, and “conclude” with vague gibbering without substantiating with an understandable premise USING CINEMATIC LANGUAGE.

This film is not the least bit original, inventive or thought provoking—it is disappointing and offensive when anyone implies intellectual / artistic inferiority in audiences who dislike it. It will also receive a two in the next portion of this analysis because:

1) it consumes three hours with hardly any payoff
2) mind rape

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continued >>>
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3 responses to “Analyzing Cloud Atlas (The Movie) Part Two | Do you want the “true-true”?

  1. I like that you’ve tried to take the philosophical concepts in the film and look at them more closely, but I found it enjoyable for other reasons. I liked the sense of pace that switching quickly between narratives gave and I also liked the main theme of overcoming oppression and slavery etc.

    The stuff about determinism and reincarnation was thought-provoking but for me personally it wasn’t the most important aspect.
    In particular, I interpreted the stuff about boundaries being illusions to be more about the social/mental boundaries people erect – i.e. men shouldn’t love other men, black slaves shouldn’t be equal to white people… – and I really liked that sequence. The film was beautifully directed, in my opinion, too.

    I understand that the logic in parts of the film is circular… but as with most works of fiction, if you dissect the film that studiously you’ll obviously find errors.

    An interesting read, however!

    • I hear you on how themes about overcoming oppression are noble and relevant. They add to the viewing experience.

      But examining Cloud Atlas from the perspective of logic came about only because of two reasons: the film’s exhaustive, non-negotiable emphasis on “truth being singular, its versions are mistruths”; and the condescending tone/reactions from its filmmakers towards negative opinions (quoted in part one). I think viewers can understand Cloud Atlas and still dislike it (many have and so did I). One could insist that the inquiry into cause-effect is ultimately arcane but this [obviously] works against what the film seems to be striving.

      While I understand narratives in formalistic paradigms rely on dramatic context/ideas, and exercise free rein to do so because they are creative works of fiction — many films have made big points about the human condition, existentialism etc. (Synecdoche New York does this on a similarly ambitious, even more flamboyant scope) — yet Cloud Atlas is the one that stands out as a trite contraption because:
      1) Everything is written down. Shown, seen, said, heard, paraded and hammered down the frame. The question is why? Like Jean-Luc Godard once asked, “If a show is all written down, what is the point of filming it? What use is cinema if it trails after literature?”

      2) Exposition begins on one tangent (serious sci-fi) only to make a 360° turn into pathos (fantasy-romance and drama). One wonders, what exactly is the narrative logic Cloud Atlas chases? Stylistic posturing of all kinds (make-up, effects, corny dialogue) and very little heart, even lesser in humility (ironic considering the film’s purported ideology).

      Sometimes it really is just what it is and nothing more — this is the reason why many fantasy films excite, entertain and delight. I’m surprised and slightly annoyed that its filmmakers insist otherwise when elements of Cloud Atlas point to the contrary.

      With that said, admittedly I’d failed to mention one good thing about the film (hey I’m human, consider it bias :P) — Robert Frobisher’s segment. It was very well-written and featured strong performances. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I’m glad you enjoyed the film.

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