Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Thematic Story of Cloud Atlas

So this movie just won't leave my head. In my previous review I said that the movie has a larger thematic story but I failed to describe it largely because well it's thematic and kind of abstract. Let me try again.

So the movie retells a basic story 6 times having consistent story roles and making them recognizably archetypal. Here goes.

The Privileged Prisoner
Most of the time this is the person the story chooses to follow as they are brought low and try to essentially regain their privileged position, normally by making some sort of escape from bondage. There are generally two ways the privileged prisoner becomes a prisoner. The first is through some sort of voluntary commitment to the concept of abolition, the of the concept equality and disavowment of their own privilege for the sake of that equality in the effort of universal freedom, life, truth,  rights, dignity, and all that good stuff.
The second way The Privileged Prisoner is brought low is some sort of external inciting incident caused by the thief.

The Thief (The Guy Normally Played By Tom Hanks)
The movie seeks to answer the question "How come we keep making the same mistakes?" and posits it's simple greed and self interest. The big injustices are done for the same reasons as the small ones. The slave owner is no better than a pick pocket but has the benefit of of social institutions that aid and indemnify him.

What often brings the privileged prisoner low is a crime of opportunity. I did it because I could and no other reason.

The thief does what he does not because he hates the other guy but because he prioritizes his own self- interest over anything else. Everybody but himself is The Other and does not matter.  He will without remorse take advantage of the weak. He will kill. All because the only thing that matters to him is securing his own position. Doing what he can to make sure he comes out alright in the struggle that is life.

The Unprivileged Prisoner (The Slave)
Once the Privileged Prisoner crosses the threshold and enters "hell" for the sake of their own survival they often need to partner with the unprivileged prisoner or the slave as they both make a journey to escape bondage.  Each of the stories tries to show the plight of The Slave, to show that they are never secure.

And that is more or less how the film defines slavery. The lack of security. The lack of being able to take for granted certain things the film feels are "inalienable rights". Security of movement, security of life, security of limb, security of dignity.

These are things that status as "The Slave" or even the prisoner make unguaranteed. The journey of both prisoners is trying to get to a place often a physical location where these "natural rights" are secure.

The trick is that most of these quests end in failure but even the mental fortitude to make the attempt to freedom is framed as a restoration of dignity, as close to a victory these people could and did get.

In the film that quest for freedom is framed as a universal and eternal ideal something to both live and die for so even a defeat of the cause counts as ... well they said it better in the film.

The Profiteer (The Guy Normally Played By Either Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving or Both)
So the thief is the small time guy to show why injustice happens. The profiteer's purpose is to show why it endures. He is normally someone who has a direct interest in protecting the status quo. He has the money. He has the power. And he wants to protect it... even if it means stepping on the necks of every poor bastard in his wake. He is what the thief becomes after awhile.

His whole existence is a "crime of opportunity". The thief does what he does without actual malice. To him there is no right or wrong to it. "You had stuff I wanted stuff I took yo' stuff." It's that simple.

The profiteer has gotten more philosophical about it believing that he's earned his position, might makes right and the universe wants things to be the way they are so he should do what he can to keep them that way. And if doing so let's him effortlessly steal labor, or money so be it.

One really really interesting bit that I sort of meant to mention in the last go 'round but forgot that the movie frames slavery as theft in most cases theft of labor. In the 1970's segement rather than human labor the profiteer is seeking to sabotage clean energy for the sake of profit and the film draws a parallel to this character's 1850's self defending slavery.

Both are shameful and done for the same reasons. Mad duckets yo. The profiteer doesn't care what happens to anybody else as long as he... profits.

The Love
So what drives often drives the privileged prisoner to return from bondage is a love interest on the other side. What's interesting about this role his how the movie plays with it. The Love acts as motivation but everything else about this character is up for grabs so often he/she get's choped and screwed with other roles. For instance. In Neo-Seoul this role is split more or less evenly between the prisoners.

And the 1930's story splits the role between several characters including the profiteer holding the protagonist in bondage.

The Che (Anybody Played By Keith David)
Whenever there actually is an "abolition" movement Keith David normally shows up somewhere as its leader. I caught him in 3/6 segments. It's a large cast and everyone was wearing make up so I might have missed him elsewhere. What's interesting is that his character seems to be in the film to directly discuss slavery as a positive good.

In the first segment he's more or less a "happy slave" but as each of the segments gets pushed farther and farther into the future he becomes more and more rebellious casting doubt on the happy slave first impression.

His second appearance in the 1970's, is as the reverse mole so we the audience don't know if actual slave Keith David was as well.  Maybe, maybe not. He's a slave. Do you really expect him to tell the owners who have a legal right to kill him to go fuck themselves?

The movie leaves that up for grabs.

I heard...heard that the rebellion he was leading in the penultimate story, Union, was a 1984ish farce. That's something to think about but also it's in the book, which I haven't read. In the movie David plays that role straight bringing into question everything 1850's Keith David said.

Even so the movie also says a lot about the changing mentalities of the unprivileged so even if 1850's Keith David was "happy" with the way things were. 1970's Keith David sure as hell ain't.

Chopped and Screwed
Here is the thing this is a story that's told six times and each time it changes a little creating more and more room for reader interpretation and evolution in the story itself. And that's the point on a more metaphorical level. The story repeats itself but the story can and does change.

And that change makes the audience think. I am Boomer but I'm a different Boomer.

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