From Where I Sit: Read ‘Cloud Atlas,’ then see the movie

By: Tom Rupp, Special to the Telegraph
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I coined a saying a long time ago that expresses the philosophy that although faces may change, the same things tend to happen over and over again. This philosophy states – “it’s the same script with different actors.” That is, things seem to have a way of reoccurring, even if it is with different people.

Many of us have the experience of meeting someone we think we have met before, seeing something we have seen before, and so on.

So when I first saw the five minute trailer for the movie “Cloud Atlas,” I bought the book and read it before the film came out. It’s the story of six interconnected stories over hundreds of years, structured like a palindrome.

To underscore this idea, it says things such as – “and the stupid cycle begins all over again,” “I recall a yesterday and see a tomorrow,” “it’s a small world, it keeps re-crossing itself,” and “souls cross ages like clouds cross skies.”

The book received positive reviews. The movie didn’t fare as well. Critics panned it for its “fortune-cookie philosophizing” (Bob Mondello, NPR) and its “pop spiritualism and comic book grandiosity, Zen for dummies” (Steven Rea, Inquirer).

I think critics too often suffer from grandiosity. It would be more beneficial to attempt to be an observer and reviewer than a critic.

Perhaps the critics were onto something however, because I counted at least five people who walked out of the showing of the movie version of “Cloud Atlas” that we attended. It happened within the first 20 minutes of the nearly three hour movie.

I felt like saying, “Come on people, do you have to be spoon fed everything? Do you have to have everything spelled out for you?” If you give it time, this book/movie attempts to display the “dance of good and evil over time” and that “evil never stops changing shapes and faces” (Nick LaSalle). These are the ongoing themes of the real world. Perhaps this is why a character near the end of the book declares, “No state of tyranny reigns forever.”

As Bruce Springsteen observed in his recent Rolling Stone interview, “Life is locked in an eternal dance with time.”

My recommendation would be to read the book first and then see the movie as well. It provided a thoughtful, reflective context as I considered Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” and what Tennyson calls “eternal process moving on.”

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