Cloud Atlas Profoundly Visualizes “We are our History”

Posted: July 2, 2013 by extremehistory in Uncategorized
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People often ask us what we mean by “Extreme” history and we have a variety of different responses. At its core, however, extreme history refers to the consequences of our actions. There are consequences to every choice we make, large or small, that manifests within our lifetimes and beyond. Some small act or choice in one lifetime may grow and expand into something monumental in subsequent generations. It is often these monumental “somethings” that we collect as “history” but what of that original small choice that sparked the trajectory? Extreme history, then, is a holistic view of the accumulated forces and processes which erupt in monumental historic events: wars, liberations, elections, subjugations.

The film Cloud Atlas explores these ideas in a beautiful and powerful way. Six different stories, evolving through time, dance around each other revealing important themes about how we as humans dance around each other. Each story carries the weight of a series of themes which examine the consequences to our actions within and beyond our lifetimes.

The primary theme, however, deals with a single moment, a single choice, the small act which builds to an historic end. In hierarchical societies, there comes a point when a member of the dominant society wakes up and recognizes the policies, programs and behaviors in place that keep the marginalized subjugated. This point becomes a cross road to which his or her life will forever change. These people are given a choice: either to turn a blind eye to these behaviors and continue living their comfortable life as a privileged member of the dominant society yet forever knowing that they are contributing to the subjugation of the marginalized; or choose to act which will deprive them of their privileged role and threaten every aspect of their lives. As Sixsmith asks Louisa “how far would you go to protect a source?”

At each of these crossroads, however, the choice to move beyond self for the benefit of the greater good is made through love. Love becomes the portal which carries us away from our selfish needs and propels us to reach the higher limits of our own consciousness and ability. It allows us to harness our greater selves and to see mankind as an ocean made up of a multitude of drops, each individual, yet bound to each other. As one character notes “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

Society’s marginalized are so often defined by their visual appearance, yet in reality, there are no real visual boundaries between peoples. The film plays with this idea by having a variety of cast members take on various ethnic and gender roles to show that there is really very little physical differences between us or as another character notes, “all boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended.” We are all connected by the beating of our hearts whose cadence creates the rhythms of our lives. A futuristic “fabricant” finds comfort is listening to the heartbeat of her beloved “pureblood,” A 19th century closeted homosexual expresses in a letter his love to his beloved which he can never fully experience due to society’s conventions “Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.”

The message of Cloud Atlas and Extreme History is that we are all connected like each drop that makes up an ocean. Each of our choices and actions affect each other and our future. To act or not to act has potentially extreme consequences and moves through time accumulating the consequences of other choices. The momentum of this trajectory builds and at some point will explode in a momentous historical act. Cloud Atlas reminds us that by understanding that “we are our history,” we have a responsibility to each other and our future.

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