The meaning of the film “Cloud Atlas”
Three hours and six intertwining storylines. It is not only difficult to disassemble all the details of the “Cloud Atlas” in one article – it is impossible. In this analysis, I will touch on the three main ideas of the film: reincarnation, immortality, and the struggle for freedom. I will not compare the film and the book, dwell in detail on all the rolls between the time lines – the article is already quite long. You might want to interrupt somewhere in the middle and bookmark it so you can come back later.
So, the movie takes place in six consecutive timelines. The story of Adam Ewing takes place in 1849, the drama by Robert Frobisher in 1936, the investigation of Louise Rey in 1973, the misadventures of Timothy Cavendish in 2012, the feat of Sonmi 451 in 2144, and Zahri and Meronim meet in 2321. In this article, I will use the year as a guide to make it easier to switch between timelines.
The idea of reincarnation and soul development
The main idea of ”Cloud Atlas” is that the human soul is immortal. All heroes played by one actor are reincarnations of one soul. The soul has no gender or race, so in some stories the actors appear in unexpected roles. For example, Korean girl Bae Doo Na plays a European girl Tilda and a Mexican woman in an underground factory, while Ben Whishaw and Hugo Weaving reincarnate as women.
Souls striving for freedom develop over time and are embodied in more and more powerful characters. Other souls gravitate towards greed and violence – their earthly incarnations are more and more disgusting with each story. Let’s trace the path of every soul in the Cloud Atlas universe. I will not dwell on insignificant episodic roles, I will analyze only the most important ones.
Tom Hanks Heroes
1849 : Dr. Henry Goose, a greedy and deceitful character. Attempts to poison Adam Ewing in order to get hold of his gold. Dies from being hit by the chest in which the same gold is stored.
1936: The receptionist who takes away the last money and vest of his lover from Robert Frobisher.
1973 : nuclear physicist Isaac Sachs. Falls in love with Louise Rey at first sight and decides to help her, but Lloyd Hooks’s people do not let him do it. Isaac’s plane explodes in the air.
2321 : Zahri the shepherd, the protagonist of this story. In the beginning – a cowardly and distrustful character. His fears are personalized as Old Georgie. In the finale, he gets rid of fears and conquers Meronim, a woman from a more developed tribe.
The path of this soul: from greed and lies to selflessness and willingness to save others at the cost of their lives. Halle Berry’s heroines help this soul to become a better person. The final incarnation of this soul, Zahri, has a special role in the film – he is the narrator, and his narration frames all the stories of “Cloud Atlas”.
Halle Berry’s heroines
1849: Black slave woman on the plantation.
1936: Jewess Jocasta, young wife of the aged composer Vivian Ayres.
1973: The story’s protagonist, journalist Louise Rey. At the risk of his own life, he conducts an investigation into the murder of Rufus Sixsmith. Publishes Sixsmith’s nuclear reactor test report and saves thousands of lives.
2144: A male surgeon who removes the collar from Sunmi-451 after she escapes from Papa Song.
2321: Meronim, female from the Seer colony. She decides to climb Mount Mauna Sol, despite the fact that she is discouraged by both other Seers and the Dwellers of the Dales. Thanks to the Meronim, the inhabitants of the Earth move to a planet more suitable for life.
The path of this soul: from a powerless being (black during slavery, Jewish during the reign of Nazism) to a free and courageous woman. Louise Rey’s journalistic feat saves all people who could die in a reactor explosion. Meronim rescues the entire surviving population of the Earth.
Ben Whishaw’s Heroes
1936: Young composer Robert Frobisher, protagonist of the story. Gets an infamous relationship with men. Later, he enters into a relationship with the wife of his employer, Jocasta, and then tries to seduce him. Creates the Cloud Atlas Sextet.
2012: Georgetta, wife of Denholm Cavendish. She was the mistress of Timothy Cavendish, her husband’s brother.
The path of this soul: it is difficult to say where this soul is heading. Ben Whishaw’s heroes cannot control their sexuality, and this creates problems for themselves and others. Frobisher’s bisexuality forces him to leave the university and gives Ayrs a reason for blackmail. When Denholme sends his brother to a nursing home, he explains his act as revenge for Georgette’s betrayal.
However, Robert Frobisher has a special role in the Cloud Atlas universe – he writes music that will sound in different variations in all time periods.
Heroines Bae Doo Na
1849: Tilda, daughter of the slave trader Haskell Moore. Afraid of her father. In the finale, she marries Adam Ewing and together with him joins the abolitionist movement (fighters for the abolition of slavery).
1973: Mexican woman working in an underground factory. Kills the pursuer Louise Rey.
2144: The protagonist of the story, Sunmi-451. Belongs to the lowest social class – fabricators. Through his acquaintance with the revolutionary, He Zhu gains the ability to think critically and make decisions. She performs a feat, knowing that at the end she will be executed.
2321: Bae Doo Na does not appear in the camera, but the local tribes revere her heroine Sunmi-451 as a deity. Her words are written in the sacred books.
The path of this soul: outwardly, the heroines of Bae Du Na are weak and powerless, but each of them is ready to show courage. Tilda opposes the tyrant father, the Mexican raises her hand against the man who insulted her. The final incarnation of this soul, Sunmi-451, becomes a symbol of freedom for all revolutionaries of New Seoul and a goddess for post-apocalyptic tribes.
Jim Sturgess’s Heroes
1849: The protagonist of the story, Adam Ewing. At first, he has no opinion and agrees to work for the father of his bride, the slave trader Haskell Moore. However, what he saw on the plantation terrifies Adam. After the fugitive slave Autua saves Adam’s life, Adam decides to become an abolitionist and burns the contract between Moore and the planter Horrocks.
2144: He Zhu, member of the New Seoul Revolutionary Movement. Hae Joo helps Sunmi-451 escape from Papa Song Cafe and become a free-minded person.
The path of this soul: from a timid youth to a selfless freedom fighter. The eternal companions of this soul are the heroine of Bae Du Na.
Heroes of James D’Arcy
1936, 1973: Rufus Sixsmith, lover of Robert Frobisher, nuclear physicist.
2144: The archivist who records the life story of Sunmi-451.
The Path of That Soul: At first glance, Sixsmith and the Archivist are passive listeners to the stories of Frobisher and Sunmi. However, after meeting with Louise, Ray Sixsmith decides to publish the results of the check of the atomic reactor. This leads to his death, but Louise manages to find and publish Sixsmith’s report.
In the finale of Sunmi-451’s story, it is hinted that the Archivist has also ceased to be a passive listener and embraced the insurgents’ ideas:
Sunmi-451: If I had continued to remain invisible, the truth would not have been revealed.Archivist: But what if no one believes this truth?Sunmi-451: But one already believed.
Heroes of Hugo Weaving
1849: slave trader Haskell Moore.
1936: Nazi Tadeusz Kesselring. In love with Jocasta, but cannot be with her, since she is Jewish.
1973: hitman. Works for Lloyd Hooks. Must eliminate everyone who knows the truth about the reactor.
2012: Sister Knox nursing home worker. He is cruel to old people.
2321: Zahri’s inner voice. Zahri appears in the guise of Old Georgie – that’s how the locals call the devil.
The path of this soul: Hugo Weaving’s heroes are invariably on the side of evil and oppress the weak. At the end of the path, the soul sinks so much that it is no longer reborn into a person. Old Georgie exists only in Zahri’s imagination and disappears when Zahri becomes brave and begins to trust Meronim.
Hugh Grant’s Heroes
1849: Giles Horrocks plantation owner.
1973: Lloyd Hooks, nuclear reactor owner.
2012: Denholme Cavendish. Sends his brother Timothy to a nursing home.
2144: Sir Ree, manager of the Papa Song cafe. Sleeps with Yuna-939 and then kills her.
2321: leader of the Kon tribe, cannibal.
The path of this soul: all of Hugh Grant’s heroes are perfectly characterized by the phrase ” The weak are meat and the strong do eat ” (Original: The weak are meat and the strong do eat ). In its final incarnation, this soul becomes a real cannibal, a savage who eats the weak in the most literal sense.
Jim Broadbent’s Heroes
1849: captain of the ship, rough and tough man. Justifies slavery, taunts Adam Ewing and Autua.
1936: composer Vivian Ayres. Blackmails Robert Frobisher and wants to appropriate his work.
2012: Publisher Timothy Cavendish, protagonist of the story. At first, pathetic and cowardly, in the finale he decides on a bold trick to save him from a nursing home. Finds his former lover Ursula and reunites with her.
The path of this soul: over time, this soul loses its power and from an arrogant tyrant is reborn into a ridiculous loser.
Keith David’s Heroes
1849: Kupaka, black servant in the Horrocks household.
1973: Joe Napier, head of nuclear reactor security. He goes over to the side of Louise Rey and starts helping her.
2144: General Apis, head of the revolutionary troops.
The path of this soul: from a powerless slave to a rebel leader.
The idea of immortality in creativity
“Cloud Atlas” is a film about the immortality of the soul. After the death of the hero, his soul is transferred to a new body and thus lives forever. But each specific person can also become immortal – through creativity.
1849 Adam Ewing writes a book about his misadventures, The Pacific Diary. In 1936, Robert Frobisher would read this book and beg Sixsmith to find and send him a new edition (Frobisher’s copy was damaged and half of the book was lost).
1936. Robert Frobisher creates the Cloud Atlas sextet, which will be searched for by Louise Rey in 1973. In addition, this composition sounds in different variations in every story. In addition to the sextet, Frobisher leaves behind fascinating letters that Rufus Sixsmith reads and reread throughout his life, and later – Louise Rey and Sixsmith’s niece.
The Cloud Atlas sextet, written by Frobisher, is featured in every story in the film.
1973. Louise Rey’s little neighbor named Javier Gomez witnesses a journalist’s investigation. When Javier grows up, he will write a documentary book about Louise’s life. In 2012, Timothy Cavendish will be reading this book on the train.
2012. Timothy Cavendish is writing a comedy film based on his adventures in a nursing home. According to this scenario, a movie will be filmed, which will be watched by Sunmi-451 and He Joo in 2144.
2144. Revelation Sunmi -451 is recorded and disseminated as a holy book. Her views become religion for the whole tribe.
Sunmi-451: I believe death is just a gate. When they close, others open up.
2321. Zakhri does not write down what happened to him and Meronim, but remembers the story in detail and in old age retells it in detail to his grandchildren.
Everything that happened to Zahri and Meronim will turn into a story that Zahri will tell her grandchildren
Almost all of the works that I have listed above are autobiographical. Even the Cloud Atlas sextet is inspired by the life experience of Robert Frobisher, inspired by close communication with the composer Ayres. The exception is the book by Javier Gomez – this is not an autobiography, but a biography of Louise Rey.
Cloud Atlas shows that you don’t need anything more than genuine life experience to create a gripping artwork. Each of the characters simply records what happens to him (except for Louise Rey, Javier Gomez records the events of her life). And yet everyone has a compelling story that inspires readers or listeners.
Even the comic story of Timothy Cavendish can change the world. The words “I will not tolerate criminal infringement of my rights”, which Timothy utters in the film, become iconic for Yuna-939 and Sunmi-451. These words awaken Yuna’s self-awareness (and bring her to death), and Sunmi inspire revolution.
The idea of opposition between the strong and the weak
The weak are meat and the strong do eat (“In one sitting the strong will eat the weak”), – this phrase sounds from the screen more than once. The plots of all the stories can be reduced to one common idea – the uprising of the weak against the strong. Moreover, the weak always win this battle.
1849. The weak ones in this story are the black slaves, and also Adam Ewing and Tilda are those who oppose slavery. The strong are slave owners and slave traders.
In the finale, the weak gain the upper hand: the slave Autua is saved from death, Tilda is freed from the tyranny of her father and, together with her husband, joins the abolitionist movement (supporters of the abolition of slavery).
Weak and cowardly at the beginning of the story, Zahri overcomes her fear and distrust of Meronim in the finale.
1936. The Weakest in This Story — Robert Frobisher. He is persecuted because of his bisexuality. Strong is the composer Ayres, who uses Frobisher’s infamous reputation to take over his work.
Frobisher wins, albeit incompletely: he manages to finish the work, which was the most important thing in his life, and publish it under his own name. However, he has to commit suicide to escape prosecution for the murder of Ayres.
1973. The weakest in this story is Louise Rae. Compared to the heroes of other short stories, she looks relatively free, but the owner of the reactor Lloyd Hooks allows himself humiliating remarks about her, since she is a woman.
In the finale, Louise wins: she escapes from an assassin, finds and publishes Sixsmith’s report on the nuclear reactor.
2012. The weak in this story are the old people, including the main character Timothy Cavendish. The miserable situation of the residents of the nursing home is especially evident in the scene when the old conspiratorial woman calls the family of the allegedly deceased woman. Awakened in the middle of the night, the son refuses to come for the mother’s body, but having heard the word “will”, he immediately gets ready for the road.
Weak old people get the better of their young oppressors: a company of conspirators escapes from a nursing home, and Timothy finds his former lover Ursula.
“Weak” Sunmi turned out to be stronger than purebreds. Her courage delighted the Archivist
2144. The strong are purebred, the weak are manufactured goods , including the main character Sunmi-451 and her deceased friend Yuna-939.
Sunmi wins a moral victory over the dominant ideology. Although she is sent to execution, before she dies, she infects thousands of people with the ideas of the rebels. Her heroism delights the Archivist, even though he works for the government.
2321. The weak in this story are the Dwellers of the Dales, including Zakhri, the strong are the horse tribe.
In the final, Zahri, together with the Seers, goes to another planet, and the horses remain on the dying Earth.
At first it seems that the protagonist of every story has no chance of winning: the power is not on their side. But the strength of the weak lies in their courage, in the ability to go towards their goal (and this goal is always the same – freedom) even in a hopeless situation. The mood of all the main characters of “Cloud Atlas” can be expressed in the words of Adam Ewing:
Haskell Moore: All of this will be nothing more than a pitiful drop in the ocean.
Adam Ewing: But what is the ocean if not many drops?