The day after the election, I slept in late, watched Obama's acceptance speech, and saw Cloud Atlas, a film which perfectly examines the main themes of the election: love and charity and duty and patriotism. Connectedness. Oh, and greed, cruelty, and the 1%. It's the only action-scifi-romance I've seen where I checked the credits for Howard Dean and George Lakoff.
Remember Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant!, about the power of framing to influence thought and action? At its core, that's what the book Cloud Atlas is about. The film shows this in a visceral way that will move those who would never read Elephant.
If you haven't already seen Cloud Atlas, go see it this weekend on the big screen. Take a few activist friends who like to talk about issues and meanings. If you are like me or Roger Ebert, you'll want to see it again right away and a third time soon. Go back on Thanksgiving weekend with relatives who have good hearts but are stuck in an I-Got-Mine mindset. You'll have a way to talk about big issues without talking politics.
But, you might say, some reviews have been bad. Maybe that's because this is a fully adult film, one which encourages us to challenge authority and work together to achieve very long-term goals. And maybe because Cloud Atlas shows how depraved the opposite, selfish approach can become. I wish we'd been able to take every reluctant or undecided voter to see this film. But at least we can see it now, for nearly three hours of pure pleasure and a big recharge to the activist batteries.
See below the fold for more on how Cloud Atlas echoes Obama's speech and the core values of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, with a spoiler alert at the end.
Cloud Atlas is based on my favorite book, in which David Mitchell nests and connects six stories set in different times and genres, moving from the 1800s to the far future. The film condenses and elevates his masterpiece, allowing for frequent switches among the stories to emphasize themes and build excitement in a way that would have been incomprehensible in print. It extends cinema itself, shooting to second place in my list of favorite movies, right after Casablanca.
Cloud Atlas shows forces that pull our society between "tooth & claw" and sharing: race, gender, age, class, and sexual identity. It addresses workers' rights, corporatism, artistic freedom, and environmentalism.
Several reviews identify the main theme as the butterfly effect: even small acts have consequences. Yes, but take this idea up a level to see that these small acts fuel the evolution of ideas and thus societies. They are made within world views that lead toward a compassionate, modern society that values freedom or toward a barbaric, selfish one willing to discriminate against or imprison its inhabitants. Or worse.
As President Obama said in his acceptance speech:
I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.
The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That's what makes America great.SPOILER alert, somewhat masked so as not to be a full spoiler:
At the very end of the book and near the end of the film, a character who goes strongly against his family and financial interests to fight for a good cause is scoffed at by a relative who says his work and sacrifice "wouldn’t amount to anything but a single drop in an ocean." The character gives the reply that gets me out of bed many mornings:
Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?The book goes into more detail, with the character thinking about how civilizations rise and fall based not on rules but on outcomes. Outcomes result from vicious or virtuous acts, which come from belief:
Belief is both the prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world. if we believe the world is a ladder of tribes, [so it shall be.] You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds. What if our consciences itch? Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage, & our legacy? Why fight the "natural" (oh weaselly word!) order of things?
Why? Because one day a purely predatory world shall consume itself....In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
Respect for your time and the copyright law restrain me from quoting the whole end of the book here, plus the knowledge that these thrilling words will mean more after you've read the book.
Remember, even if your local candidate or cause didn't prevail on Tuesday, you may have made a difference in the long run. We are part of an evolving society. As the President said:
That's why we do this. That's what politics can be. That's why elections matter. It's not small, it's big. It's important.
Be a drop that moves us forward. If you get discouraged, say to yourself this line from the end of the book:
I must begin somewhere.Have you seen or read Cloud Atlas? Has it changed how you see or act in the world?