I didn’t know what to expect from Cloud Atlas. I knew that the movie was about intersecting lives across different periods of time and that it starred Tom Hanks in lots of different makeup. After seeing Cloud Atlas I know what it’s about but I’ve had a really difficult time explaining it to other people. The movie touches on deep themes like life, death, love, freedom, oppression and the impact a single life can make in our present and our future.
I have some thoughts about the movie but, as I said, I’m still trying to figure how to best communicate them. I’ll try to keep things as spoiler-free as possible but, even if you knew the entire plot of the movie, it’s still worth seeing.
Life and Death
Cloud Atlas definitely takes an eastern approach to life. Themes of reincarnation run through the movie, highlighted by the fact that the actors play different characters across the different time periods. The choices of one character don’t directly affect his or her next life, but there is an influence. If someone is a bad guy in one life, unless he makes some serious changes, he ends up being a bad guy again. If someone looks for truth in one life, that search continues into another life. Obviously I don’t believe in reincarnation but resurrection. The lives we have are the only ones we’re going to live. Instead of hoping that we can do better next time, we need to live the best lives we can right now.
We need to live our best lives right now because our lives matter. That theme carries through Cloud Atlas and it is one of my favorites. Since the movie looks at different lives across hundreds of years, we get an opportunity to see how the small choices of someone in the 19th century affect people in the 20th century and beyond. We are all going to leave a legacy; our choices will influence those around us whether we want them to or not. It’s up to us to decide what kind of legacy we’re going to leave. We can live lives that leave a legacy of grace, love and kingdom growth or we can live lives that leave a legacy of judgment, hate and self-centeredness. If we choose to leave a God-honoring legacy, we may not see the full results. The 19th century abolitionist in Cloud Atlas didn’t see the full impact of his choices. We can trust, though, that a God-centered legacy will bear fruit long after we’re dead and far beyond what we can imagine.
Another theme prevalent through Cloud Atlas is freedom. Throughout the timelines characters are struggling for freedom from slavery, fascist governments, retirement homes and personal demons. The freedom that the characters experience is moving but it pales in comparison to the freedom we have in Christ. True freedom isn’t found in the ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want. True freedom is found in surrendering our lives to Christ and living for him. Our culture views freedom as living our lives free from any constraints placed on us by others. That kind of freedom leaves us enslaved to our own self-centered thoughts and desires. True freedom is found when we allow our old selves to be nailed to the cross with Christ and raised renewed with our resurrected Lord. That allows us to live lives free from sin, death and selfishness and enables us to live lives of grace, love and service.
Cloud Atlas was a great movie. It was rated R and definitely had some NSFC (Not Safe For Church) material. The themes it addressed, though, pushed me to examine my own life and how I’m living it. I don’t know if I would suggest it to everyone but if you are open to an exploration of deeper themes in a sci-fi epic, then Cloud Atlas might be for you.
What did you think about Cloud Atlas?