“I believe we don’t stay dead long”, said Robert Forbisher, a talented composer created by David Mitchell for his epic novel, “Cloud Atlas”.
I recently watched for the second time the complex and potentially disturbing movie adaptation of “Cloud Atlas”. The first time I watched it I simply held on for the ride, trying to make sense of the action and changing plots and characters. On second viewing, it was still a page turner, so to speak.
During my second viewing I noticed, apparently for the first time, that short sentence uttered by Robert Forbisher; “We don’t stay dead long”. It was an introspective comment in a letter directed to his lover, and pretty much summed up the entire movie.
In spite of the perplexing current interest in a zombie apocalypse, the “Cloud Atlas” book and film is not about the undead. It’s about reincarnation.
In my opinion there are two themes in science fiction that make for almost limitless possibilities — time travel and reincarnation. “Cloud Atlas” uses the latter theme as a platform for topics far more meaningful than the tired theme of man meets giant worm, worm eats man, man’s friend kills worm, and so on. Regardless of what I or anyone else thinks about souls or reincarnation, they do make for interesting theater.
Another bit of narration from the movie, this time from Zachry Bailey (played by Tom Hanks) struck a chord with me for it accurately reflected a seriocomic theme in one of my previous posts, Conversation with a Cloud.
In Bailey’s words, “Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow?”
In my own less artful words, quoting a sentient and telepathic cloud that knows it will die at the end of the day, “I am not a cloud. I am moisture. A cloud is my physical appearance, but that changes throughout my life. And regardless of how I look, what I am, vapor, still exists.”
If we accept that almost all religions propose the survival of a soul after death, then the essential question raised by David Mitchell’s story is whether or not an eternal soul is granted only one chance to incarnate.
If you accept the concept of a soul, then you may accept the concept of a God who created souls. And I would be a very presumptuous man to decide what God would or would not do with one of his creations throughout an eternity of time, an eternity that I cannot even imagine.
Unfortunately, there is no data with which to debate the return of souls. That is, there isn’t if you ignore what seems to be documented anecdotal accounts such as a recent one involving a three-year old Druze boy who seemingly identified his murderer, with supposedly witnessed proof of the crime.
That story, and others like it, make for interesting and mind challenging reading for those steeped in western religion, like myself. As I understand it, in Eastern and Middle Eastern regions such stories are rather commonplace.
Of course the story of the Druze three-year old could be fictitious, an elaborate deception. Regardless of the truth of the existence of souls, and soul mates (a currently popular meme with a subtle assumption of reincarnation) there is a literary aspect to consider. To state the obvious, fiction does not have to be true to be entertaining.
If I were capable of writing a sequel to “Cloud Atlas”, (which I am not), I would be unable to resist adding Karma to the mix. The notion that you get what you deserve, in this life or the next, is simply too enticing to ignore, whether it be truth or fantasy.
For instance, suppose a chapter in a sequel covered the life of Jack the Ripper, of both historical infamy, and future infamy; except in the future, his would-be victims are packing heat (carrying a gun). Jack’s story of infamy would end abruptly.
Based on such a karmic premise, the literary possibilities are endless. With the proper writer in control, they could also prove endlessly entertaining.