Wednesday, September 11, 2013

CLOUD ATLAS - a short refrain

In their 1987 masterpiece A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrena, Deleuze and Guattari structure their book like a refrain that permeates and transcends various time frames. Indeed, in their own words the book ‘has very different dates and speeds’ (p.3). They jump from the year 1914 through to 10,000BC, then to 1923, 587BC forward to 1874, 133, back to 1730 etc; moving forwards and backwards like a broken stylus skipping over thin grooves in a black vinyl record, a memory or sound just audible in the distance through some half opened window on a Spring morning. Parts of a track ring out and are then punctuated by something new, a different mood.

It is to their chapter 1837: Of the Refrain that I turn when thinking about aspects of the film Cloud Atlas and in particular the piece of music Cloud Atlas Sextet that forms part of the narrative. The music is composed and becomes obscured by its association with one sexualized gesture, a departure, a death (suicide), and is the soundtrack in the film that connects different time frames and ideas.

A child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little son as best he can. The son is like a rough sketch of a calming and stabilizing, calm and stable, center in the heart of chaos. Perhaps the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace. But the son itself is already a skip, it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos as is in danger of breaking apart at any moment’ (D & G, p.311)

The music is the rope that enables Meronym to reach the top of the mountain – ‘you fall and I will catch you’ (remember Superman in film of the same name assures Lois with these words), all ropes are that which joins one thing to another, a bridge, a safe way across. ‘Our lives are not our own’ (Sonmi - 45, Cloud Atlas), they sing a refrain, carried, if you like, if not on the wind then on that which the wind moves softly on our thoughts and actions; a spreading cone that spreads powerfully outwards, like the fallout from an atomic mushroom cloud (and in the film a nuclear disaster is desired to protect the interests of those who control the distribution of oil) – a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world and a tsunami is generated in another  Old Seoul will disappear under water, but for the moment in the film it sits uncomfortably beside Neo Seoul. Each action just a small drop of water in an ocean comprised of millions of drops of water.  Old souls as well as new souls come into being in this strange and wonderful song in which pure bloods (humans) are served by fabricants who survive by being fed protein from flesh of recently killed clones of their own kind. We think we are contained within our skin, our thoughts, our everyday actions, sometimes significant, mostly not, just commonplace, ordinary for much of us and yet that action thought resonates wider than we imagine.

‘This was the first time a full blood had been kind to me’ says Sonmi-45, a genetically engineered fabricant, slave worker and her non-anglo social status links her immediately with Autua the ‘nigger’ stowaway, the wetback and the devil (always an outsider) who tells Zachry (Tom Hanks) that Meronym the female offlander – a member of the Prescients wishes to deceive him. In the film race transcends borders or challenges those clear boundaries that we uphold, stop the boats, keep the asylum seekers out, or make sure that the limits are well secured through senseless murder as in another contemporary science fiction film Elysium. ‘I don’t not believe that we stay dead long’ is believed by many of the characters in Cloud Atlas, but not by Rufus Sixsmith who holds the bloodied body of his lover Robert Frobisher as he lies in the pure white porcelain bath after committing suicide, but to Sonmi-45 ‘Death is only a door, when you close it another opens’. And it this is just a portion of the refrain; the poetic melody that moves through the film. Highly recommended. 

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