Cloud Atlas is a celebration of karma that promises an earthly heaven for everyone who recognizes the equality of all human beings. But for all its eastern mysticism, it’s a thoroughly western creed that Hindus and Buddhists would find equally perplexing.
Release Date: February 28
The film is based on the best-selling David Mitchell novel about a collection of characters that are constantly relating to each other as they are reincarnated across time. There are six separate storylines set in a range of times and locations, from the 17th century South Pacific to a distant post-apocalyptic future. None of the characters are aware of their past connections but as their stories unfold a familiar theme emerges: our actions not only define the sort of world we enjoy, but the future we will inhabit.
Cloud Atlas boasts an enviable cast for any production – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon, just to name a few. It’s also easy to see why so many actors might be attracted to the production. Over the millennia it embraces, Hanks gets to play a ship’s surgeon, a nuclear physicist, a Cockney author and a futuristic savage. However the cast’s benefit also happens to be the film’s weakness. No amount of makeup can make Afro-Americans look white or Caucasians look Asian, and clearly Hanks was not up to the British accents required.
The biggest annoyance from a Christian perspective, though, is the hodge-podge of sentiment and borrowed philosophy that form the story’s foundation. There are clearly some things we can get behind, like the insistence that there is an unbreakable link between our present actions and our spiritual fate. As the vat-grown Korean pleasure servant Somni 451 warns:
“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we belong to others, and by each crime and every kindness we birth our future.”
But Somni doesn’t have any final destination in mind, like Heaven or Hell but simply the endless chain of lives that will follow. So the evil that Hugo Weaving’s character employs shapes his destiny as he is reborn as one villain after another. And likewise the characters that embrace good deeds and equality are born into lives that continually reunite them with the ones they love.
However, religiously speaking, this amounts to little more than wishful thinking. If Mitchell or the producers of Cloud Atlas had actually bothered to ask a Hindu or a Buddhist about what they thought of their quaint version of reincarnation, they would have received a horrified reaction.
According to both religions the wheel of karma is a terrible existence that their adherents are desperately trying to escape. They realize that the world is overwhelmingly characterized by illusion and suffering, and the only real hope is to get beyond it – a point on which Christians might heartily concur. But sadly, Cloud Atlas reflects a soft-soap philosophy that amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking. It lays no greater requirement on people than to be generally good to each other, and offers no remedy for evil beyond ‘try and try again’. Nor does it provide a single skerrick of proof in religious tradition or history that, “… death is just a doorway through which we pass … we will soon be reunited with those we love, whom we are bound to for all eternity.”
Rather, Jesus, the only man who has ever made a prolonged investigation of death from both sides of the grave, warns that there is no hope of peace without him: “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”