For those of you who have not seen it or have heard negative things about it, could I take a moment to comment on the recently released movie, “Cloud Atlas?” I have seen it twice now and will probably see it again before it leaves the theaters. It’s not that I don’t have anything better to do. Quite frankly, I am haunted by it. I really mean that. It is a very complex movie consisting of six different story lines, spanning hundreds of years and the movie is constantly moving back and forth from one story to the next. At first it is confusing and even frustrating as one attempts to mentally force the movie to rewind…to stop everything and say, “Okay, so this is how that connects to them…” In the end indeed all six stories are connected in a timeless tapestry that somehow gives this jarring ride a deep sense of meaning and purpose. The reason to return to it again and again is that each time I view it I figure out more of the connections. They’re all there but at times things are moving so fast you don’t readily recognize them.
Another truly remarkable aspect of the movie is that the same ensemble of actors portrays all the different characters in each of the time lines. Through the use of amazing make-up and prosthetics these artists of the silver screen bring to life multiple lives and as someone who would love to be artistic and creative but simply cannot conjure it, I have so much respect for their versatility. Really grand work.
So why am I writing about all of this? The point is not an amateur movie review or to try to convince the few of you who follow this blog to go see it. I’m guessing many people will not find it an enjoyable journey. I am writing because I think for me, the allure of this complicated movie is that it speaks to the complex longings and questions and desires of my own heart.
I’m a tough nut to crack sometimes (as we all can be). You see I absolutely reject determinism – the idea that somehow our lives are all laid out ahead of time (either by a divine being or simply by the universe). Instead I am a big free will guy who chooses to embrace that we daily (if not hourly) directly interact with fate/god/the universe to determine our own destiny. That in the end our paths are a long chain of personal choices that we have made for our lives. As an existential psychotherapist back in my clinical days, I had a theoretical bias that for a person to be healthy and whole they had to do at least two things: embrace the responsibility she or he has to live their own personal lives and then to go live them, taking responsibility for each individual choice made each day.
It’s kind of like paving the road in front of you, one brick at a time but laying them down as you walk. So rather than standing on the edge of my future, looking out on the horizon identifying which way my path leads it is more like I stand on the edge of my future and in front of me is just raw landscape. I can envision what it might look like when I begin to put in place each successive brick but in fact the road will not exist until I get moving. After a while I can reflect back behind me and see where I’ve been. And I can look down and see where I am at now but when I look forward the path is as yet undetermined. Now despite my existential dreaminess, the “undiscovered country” can be quite intimidating and downright scary at times. Especially when you truly own the fact that it is my responsibility to lay the bricks. I am often frightened by the prospect that somehow I won’t do it right. Or that I will choose a particularly difficult route. Or that in retrospect and with regret, I will discover that had I gone through that valley instead of those mountains that the experience might have been far more positive. Well you get the point.
Now back to the story. The characters in each of the six story lines did not know that in the whole scheme of things they were all interconnected. Each was preoccupied by her or his own concerns in the moment on their own respective sojourn. But pull back and consider the entire patchwork of lives and experiences and one begins to see a pattern…a series of connection points that not only stitches the various stories together but somehow gives each one added meaning. And that’s why I write this morning.
As strongly as I reject determinism and believe that my life is guided by my own free will, I want there to be some deeper meaning in it all. I want to be able to look back and see how the course my path took was altered in beautiful ways by the intersecting paths of fellow pilgrims on the journey. No, not the revelation of some grand predetermined universal plan or the unrolling of the blue prints of some master architect. But rather complex beautiful individuals all facing the same daunting task of paving their own roads but what would be revealed in the end…what couldn’t always be readily recognized in the moment…is that my choice to lay this brick in that particular place allowed me to “bump” into you as you were laying your brick. And while at times I would dismiss this chance encounter as an unwelcome intrusion and walk off on a newly altered course, there might be other times when the curiosity of this chance encounter might invite both of us to pave parallel paths for a while and “join” together for part of the journey. What a beautiful thought. But it is more complex than even that. What if those bumps along the way…even the ones we readily dismissed as inconsequential or worse yet, irritating…what if later as we are reflecting back we realized that there was far more meaning in the moment, far more consequence than our temporal distractions allowed us to recognize? And that as we have walked all this way and paved all these miles it turns out that it really wasn’t just an individual quest but that the actual, very real direction of my path was altered innumerable times by the encounters I had with others, even when I couldn’t or wouldn’t see it in the moment. And even better, that as I travel through life and grasp this mysterious truth that I might so condition myself as to begin to watch for these moments…these people and that I might CHOOSE to invite one to walk alongside me for a spell. Or I might CHOOSE to ask myself, contemporaneous to the encounter, “I wonder what meaning I might draw from that?” Or that I might CHOOSE to intersect another’s path humbly believing that I might influence her or his journey in a positive way.
I really do find comfort in my belief that no one person or thing dictates how I must live my life. But as I have grown older and hopefully wiser, I am finding that the rugged individualism has given way to a lonely heart’s longing to have people to bump into…and to want beautiful and challenging people to bump into me. And while it is true that this means I don’t have the singular control I thought I wanted and while it is also true that some of these chance meetings might not be pleasant nor their meaning readily obvious, what it does mean is that I am not alone…
An excerpt from the Amazon.com book description:
“The result is brilliantly original fiction that reveals how disparate people connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.” Cool. :O)