cloud atlas film

why aren’t more people in love with the film cloud atlas when it:

  • has kickass female characters
  • has diversity in characters/actors
  • tackles big issues (slavery, revolution etc)
  • has some beautiful gay love
  • is basically about soulmates and reincarnation and how lives are connected through the ages
  • has stories from the past, present and future
  • has kickass cinematography 
  • has amazing underlying messages
  • has a beautiful soundtrack holy shit
  • has tom hanks
  • has ben whishaw
  • has halle berry
  • has some incredible makeup and costume work
  • is basically just a thoroughly beautiful and awesome movie
  • why isn’t this raved about more seriously
Eternal Recurrence in Jupiter Ascending and Cloud Atlas

The earlier post by floatinginthelights on Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence piqued my interest and inspired me to explore the concept in more depth. I’m not going to claim to possess rigorous knowledge of it and would welcome any clarification or correction if you’re better informed, since I’m basing this on brief extracts and the commentaries of others. However, I do feel that I am in a position where I can at least attempt to discuss Jupiter Ascending and Cloud Atlas – both Wachowski films, though the latter was co-directed with Tom Twyker and was adapted from a David Mitchell novel – in relation to the concept.

To begin, it’s important to clear up a misconception: eternal recurrence is entirely distinct as a concept from reincarnation. Both Jupiter Ascending and Cloud Atlas give nods to reincarnation, but since it’s a separate issue I will not discuss it here. To put it simply, eternal recurrence refers to the belief that – with infinite time and a finite number of events – the same situations will recur infinitely. Nietzche explained it like this:

“Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things: and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon.”

Notes on Eternal Recurrence, Nietzsche

You see the spirit, though not the letter, of this evoked in Cloud Atlas. If you haven’t seen it (which you should have – it’s rather brilliant), it features six nested stories that superficially seem to follow different characters from different times as they embark on their respective journeys. However, while all the stories are different they’re also the same. In each story, a character is fighting against cruelty, intolerance and oppression – the characters are not always aware of it, but that’s what they’re doing. Although each story ends differently, every narrative ends with a victory of a sort – a promise that the decisions made and the actions taken will ultimately mean something. And that promise comes to pass with the film’s ultimate conclusion, which is optimistic about our future. If I had to sum up Cloud Atlas, I would say it’s about the cumulative effect of our individual choices – choices that recur in frameworks that are distinct but also the same – gradually becoming apparent over many generations.

I need to pause here to point out that this optimism marks the main point of divergence between Nietzsche and the Wachowskis. Nietzsche was utterly appalled by the concept of eternal recurrence; he believed it meant that man was doomed to repeat the same mistakes and miseries over and over, powerless to escape the cycle. There is the suggestion that he reconsidered this when he realised that the concept of eternal recurrence necessarily involved endless configurations and variables, but his prevailing response to his own concept appears to have been horror. He considered love – not just acceptance, love – of the inevitability of fate to be the only way of coping with it.

It’s important to say that Nietzsche was deeply troubled. He was a proponent of nihilism, believing that there was no objective order or structure to the world. In 1889, after having suffered from intermittent mental health problems for decades, he experienced a complete mental breakdown and was committed to a clinic. He never recovered and died in 1900. When you understand that, it’s easier to understand why the concept of eternal recurrence, the concept of his own life recurring endlessly, so horrified Nietzsche.

The inevitability of misery is confronted in Cloud Atlas, and one of our six ‘leads’ (Luisa Rey) even comments that she is “Just trying to understand why we keep making the same mistakes… over and over”. Each of the stories contains sadness and injustice – it is just that they are not entirely overwhelmed by shadow. In Cloud Atlas there is always a chink of light shining through at the end, there is always hope – every story demonstrates faith in some aspect of the human condition that is lacking in Nietzsche.

In Jupiter Ascending the idea of recurrence riffs off Nietzsche’s suggestion that, with infinite time and a finite number of configurations, everything will recur. To be specific, the genome of Seraphi Abrasax recurs in Jupiter Jones. The film plays with the idea that Jupiter is more than a recurrence of Seraphi’s genes – she also echoes her predecessor’s love life (unlucky, unhappy) and her general feeling about her existence (hate). The suggestion, which is hard to detect but is certainly there, is that Jupiter marks a recurrence of Seraphi’s experiences and feelings – Jupiter is not a straightforward genetic copy, since she is emulating certain facets of her predecessor’s lived experience.

But Jupiter does not represent a recurrence of the entirety of Seraphi’s life. The circumstances of her birth, her childhood and the great majority of her experiences are entirely different – Jupiter embodies endless variables and points of divergence, the variables that even Nietzsche recognised. While certain aspects of Jupiter – her genome, her love life, her general unhappiness – suggest inevitability, almost every other facet of her highlights her free will and independence. Ultimately, the film stresses that Jupiter’s being the genetic recurrence of Seraphi does not doom her to repeating her predecessor’s mistakes and miseries. Jupiter will not be following a blueprint.

For me personally, Cloud Atlas and Jupiter Ascending are wonderful because of their glorious optimism. Both films acknowledge the darker sides of human nature – cruelty, hatred, greed – but they also acknowledge the good sides. They acknowledge that we as individuals have the power to make brave choices, the power to show kindness and courage in the face of extreme adversity and opposition. Perhaps more importantly, both films value progress and change – time is not a maelstrom formed of endlessly repeating cycles, and is instead a progression marked by gradual change and development.

I hope you enjoyed my latest great wall of text, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Any responses/counter arguments are most welcome!

The Curse of Sleeping Beauty - a dark, modern take on the classic Brothers Grimm adventure - will be released in select theaters on May 13 before hitting VOD on May 17 via XLrator Media.

Directed and co-written by Pearry Teo (executive producer of Cloud Atlas), the film stars Ethan Peck, Natalie Hall, India Eisley, James Adam Lim and Bruce Davison.

Check out the trailer and synopsis below. It has kind of a Tim Burton vibe, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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