Cloud Atlas and the power of stories

Posted: October 26, 2012 by Emilio Garofalo Neto in Uncategorized

A major aspect of Cloud Atlas is how the different storylines are connected through the media of books, letters or even movies. For example, Tom Cavendish in the present is reading a book written by Luisa Rey about her spy-like adventures in the 70s. Luisa Rey read letters written to Sixsmith by Frobisher in the 30s… and on it goes, backwards and forward in time. You get the drift.

There are some spoilers ahead; just so you know.

What is especially interesting for believers is the recognition of the power of stories to inspire, to encourage, to illuminate. Every story is influenced by an account of an older story. And that is how life really works! You all have been there: movies that help you understand your own day, give you boldness to act, make you see more clearly your mistakes, help you understand better a certain point of view. Books and stories that make you reevaluate life through new lenses. In Cloud Atlas there is reliance in the power of stories and at the same time a suspicion that they cannot act in our place, even if they offer hope. One character says “Books don’t offer real escape but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw.”

Our stories are in great part who we are; our worldview is to some extent defined by our life story. In the book, Frobisher, the man who wrote the Cloud Atlas Sextet, eventually says “Wish I were being immodest, but I’m not. Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, is my life, now I’m a spent firework; but at least I’ve been a firework”. He understands that the creations we leave behind are powerful to change and inspire.

This is very much true; especially concerning a certain book. The Bible is the ultimate book that tells the one story that is the most important, the life changing story: the Creation, Fall and redemption of God’s people through the mediator Jesus Christ.

In the end we learn from the stories; we cry over them and are inspired by them; and in the case of the biblical story, it is definitely capable of influencing your life and the one to come. Cloud Atlas shows us over and over again people having their lives changed not only by the actions of their contemporary, but by the recorded stories of the ones who came before.

Let’s look again at something that Frobisher writes, this time in his final letter, which proves to be his suicide letter. He finishes by taking comfort in what he has produced. He quotes a mysterious and much debated phrase from the Aeneid: “Sunt lacrimae rerum” – literally, “these are the tears of things”. While there is controversy about what Virgil meant, it seems that Frobisher is finishing his letter and life with a profound sense of how there is pain, there are tears in all things, and yet we do leave beautiful things behind us.

The final story teller (also the first one) is Adam Ewing. After surviving intense ordeals and betrayals, tasting the kindness and foulness of the world, he reflects on his diary about deciding to take on the evil of slavery. His final journal entry: “He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain & his family must pay it along with him! & only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean! Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”

Christ, the ultimate sufferer, in his true and world changing story battled the worst of human race and sin. One man, one drop in the bucket. But a drop of infinite value.

In his book, he is able to change us and offer real escape.

“Hold out your Hands

Look.”

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