War, poverty, greed, hatred, environmental decay, schools that don’t educate—it is hard to watch the news and not throw up your hands in despair: “Hasn’t mankind learned anything?”
The late quantum physicist David Bohm observed: “Problems originate in the consciousness of mankind and manifest in each individual.” Our dysfunctional thinking collectively creates what Bohm calls “the river of the sorrow of mankind.” It is out of this river that our individual problems flow.
The movie Cloud Atlas, based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell, brilliantly portrays this river of sorrow and offers a way out.
The movie moves back and forth between six different periods, from the pre-Civil War 19th century to a post-apocalyptic 24th century. Actors and actresses, such as Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, and Hugo Weaving, play multiple characters in the past and future. As lives intersect, an important theme emerges: everything is connected, so our choices have ramifications.
The movie is based upon a belief in reincarnation, but the movie can be enjoyed by those who do not have such a belief. Whether or not we return again to face similar lessons that we failed to learn before, the choices we make in our current lifetime impact others and our own future. Watching the movie, one realizes that each actor is playing the same soul at different times and at different stages of the soul’s evolution.
Some of these souls seem to be unable to learn their lessons. The characters played by Hugo Weaving, for example, continually try to control and enslave others. He consistently makes destructive choices which are harmful to others. Other actors play characters who believe their happiness can be achieved by obtaining more of something at the expense of others. They are focused on changing the circumstances of their life as a means to happiness. Their consciousness is primitive, and they drink lustily from the river of sorrow of mankind.
Some characters in Cloud Atlas evolve. Jim Sturgess, for example, plays a lawyer working for his slave trading father-in-law but then makes the decision to become an abolitionist; in a future lifetime, he is a Korean freedom fighter in a dystopian society.
Tom Hanks is perhaps the central character in the movie. He represents a soul struggling with moral choices—his evolution does not come in a tidy packages. In one timeline, he is a doctor poisoning a good friend so that he can steal his friend’s gold. In another timeline, he plays a whistleblower exposing corporate corruption at a nuclear power plant. And in his final timeline in the post-apocalyptic 24th century, Hanks plays a cowardly goatherd whose village is visited by humans who represent the last vestiges of advanced civilization.
The goatherd struggles between the selfish, craven part of his mind and his more noble instincts. He is too frightened to see that his choices exist inside his mind, so he projects his struggle onto two external voices. One voice he hears as Old Georgie, a hideous devil-like character, the other is the voice of the village Abbess.
In one scene, Hanks must decide if he is to save or murder a woman who is a member of the more advanced civilization. The voice of Old Georgie explains to Hanks why he must kill her, while the voice of the Abbess explains why he must save her. Both voices exist in the mind of Hanks; both are his teachers. Hanks is still too scared to know that the voices are all in his mind, but he has evolved enough to understand he has a choice.
Moment by moment, each of us chooses our internal teacher. No matter how well we dress up our ego, our ego is as vicious as Hanks’s Old Georgie. The Abbess represents the voice of Love in our minds. The voice of our Old Georgie may be loud and shrill, but the voice for Love is never completely drowned out.
A Course in Miracles instructs us that we will identify with the voice we think will keep us safe:
You will identify with what you think will make you safe. Whatever it may be, you will believe that it is one with you. Your safety lies in truth, and not in lies. Love is your safety. Fear does not exist. Identify with love, and you are safe. Identify with love, and you are home. Identify with love, and find your Self.
By choosing the voice for Love, Hanks does find safety as well as earthly love.
Cloud Atlas is a remarkable movie. Character after character is trapped in an age-old human nightmare; they are suffering. Their egos, their Old Georgies, have them believing that the cause of their suffering is out there, and the solution is out there in the world, too. But some begin to find the way out: they begin to question the validity of their perceptions. Once they do, they see that the real cause of their suffering is their mind’s decision to follow the teachings of their Old Georgie.
As in Cloud Atlas, there are many different specific human circumstances entwined in our lives. The dizzying details of life blind us to a truth: our mind’s choice of internal teachers determines how we perceive and interpret all that seems to be. Choose the Abbess as our teacher and everything is colored by forgiveness and love; choose our own “Old Georgie” and everything is colored by guilt and fear. When we understand our thinking has misled us, we are ready to escape mankind’s age-old tale of suffering. Our Old Georgie, like Hanks’s, disappears once we do.