Monday, October 29, 2012

Hey! That Cloud Looks Like a Vague and Obvious Hidden Meaning!

Tom Hanks-san
Please note: This post is about the film Cloud Atlas which is currently in cinemas. Based on weekend box office reports, I know you haven’t seen it. Don’t even try to tell me otherwise. If you do intend to see the film, don’t worry. I don’t know that this particular movie is capable of being spoiled. If it can be, it won’t be here. If you would like to explain the movie to me, then I will gladly spoil it for you if that is what you’re looking for. I am assuming that you are a Wachowski if you are making that offer. Or maybe an Asian Tom Hanks.

I didn’t hate the movie nearly as much as some do. In fact, I would agree with Roger Ebert who said he was never bored during the three hours of the movie, and I felt that each of the six storylines were (to greater or lesser effect) entertaining and engaging on their own. As far as what the film was trying to say as a whole—what with all the cast sextupling and a recurring birthmark and a lack of strict continuity—I found it all pretty darn vague. It’s as if the filmmakers know that there are big and important things to say about faith and unity and the afterlife and the interconnectedness of the universe, but they’re not quite sure what those things are. Still, they are standing up and screaming these vague nothings as loud as possible, or at least having Tom Hanks and Halle Berry scream them, and sometimes in a half-Ebonics gibberish sort of language. I haven’t read the book that the film is based on so I don’t know whether this concept comes from that or not, but I was reminded of the Shakespeare quote, “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I was also reminded of Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
It's Okay 'Cause It's a Classic

That actually makes it sound like I despised the film much more than I did. I’m glad I saw it. It’s terribly ambitious. I might see it again, but probably won’t go out of my way to do so. Let’s hope it shows up on Netflix with subtitles so I can try to follow the, um, distinct dialect of English that tattooed Tom Hanks is so fond of in one-sixth of the film.

And what about those vague nothings that the characters seem to speak of so earnestly? It seems to me that the very fact that simply bringing up these questions can make a film seem deep and spark so much discussion is because God put eternity into man’s heart (Ecc. 3:11). There is a longing deep inside, an inherent knowledge that we were made for more than this life, that there are questions and issues at play bigger than our own lives. The idea of humanity as a cosmic mistake precludes the possibility of greater  meaning or an afterlife, although only a fraction of the people who adhere to evolutionary theory seem to admit that. They would no doubt shake their heads and cluck their tongues, talking about how self-deluded we all are. And yet we get works like Cloud Atlas which very clearly want to say something about all of this, even if it’s not quite sure what to say.

I’m not saying that the desire to believe that our lives are part of some universal tapestry is hard evidence for a Creator. But I will make the case that, if the universal tapestry is real, it only makes sense that there is a Master Artist working it all together. Force the creative forces behind Cloud Atlas to try to define whatever force is at work in the fiction of their film, and I don’t know what you’d get. Perhaps something vague like the Force? Perhaps some sort of ill-defined intelligence or vibe or karma or something like that? Or does it leave open the possibility of a personal God who guides and works in ways that we cannot begin to see or understand (Isa. 55:8-9)?

If you want to look for threads running through all of human history, look no further than the Creator of history itself. To say that history is His story might be a wretched and clichéd little turn of phrase that I would never suffer to see in print, but consider the beautiful tale of redemption that the Bible paints. The very first seedlings of messianic prophecy show up as early as Genesis 3 and is the underlying theme running through the whole of Scripture until Revelation comes to a close with the beginning of eternity. Even this earth is yearning for the days when all will be put right and when this story comes to a close (Rom. 8:22).

Also Not a Cliché
It has been said that truth is stranger than fiction. I believe that the amazing truth about this world, about a rebellious people and a loving God who goes to great lengths to redeem them, is more incredible and fantastic than anything Cloud Atlas. The incredible cost that the Lord has paid to restore relationship with sinful people is more inspiring than any sacrifice you might see on the big screen. And it’s all true. Not true in a “based on a true story even though everyone involved died so no one can possibly know what actually happened during almost the whole movie” sort of true (anyone else remember The Perfect Storm?), but more true than anything else we believe and experience.

If nothing else, an eternity in paradise—that tremendous rest that was bought with the precious blood of the Son of God—seems like the perfect place to figure out the plot of Cloud Atlas. We should have enough time, anyway.

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