Trailer: “Cloud Atlas,” karma, and rebirth

Screenwriters Andy and Lana Wachowski are already Hollywood icons, having created at least two iconic franchises: V for Vendetta — whose Guy Fawkes mask has become a near-ubiquitous symbol of the Occupy movement — and the Matrix trilogy. The latter, over the years, has been increasingly argued to be concerned with Buddhist (and other philosophical) concepts.

Now, the Wachowskis, along with Tom Tykwer, are bringing us their film adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas. Is there dharma here? Well, a viewing of Cloud Atlas‘s extended trailer presents a film that seems to be very much concerned with karma (cause and effect) and rebirth. As Buddhism is, too. (Watch above.)

Just how explicit, or implicit, is the connection? To explore this, we’ll be bringing you a review of the film in light of this question, by way of Scott Mitchell — who teaches at the Institute of Buddhist Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and is co-host of the DharmaRealm podcast. Look for that after Cloud Atlas‘s opening this weekend. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts about CA here. (And you might want to visit Scott online, too.)

Update: In an interview with The A.V. Club, Andy Wachowski says the film is “equal parts spiritual and secular.”

Lana adds: “Again, we don’t want to delimit interpretation, and we don’t want to say, ‘We are making this to mean this.’ What we find is that the most interesting art is open to a spectrum of interpretation. We love that in the book, you can have a very secular understanding of something like reincarnation. We have the José Saramago line in there, which says the nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, which go on apportioning themselves throughout all time. This is a very secular understanding of karma. But there are also other things… my brother this week had the sweetest line ever, where he was like, ‘Of course I believe in reincarnation—look at my sister.’ We, in our own lives, reincarnate as well. We have new lives. I’m sure there are people in your life who would see this version of you, as opposed to 20 years ago, and would say, ‘Wow, you’ve changed.’” Read the rest of the interview here.

See also: this post from author and Buddhist teacher Ethan Nichtern, which includes a documentary about Cloud Atlas, the novel, that he says was the most fun he’s had being interviewed in a good while.

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