Apart from sunsets left to the Strait
Apart from a lighthouse left for the wind and waves
Apart from a century that can't be returned to
Left to a history that can't be written
The hazy contours of a life
---余光中 Yu Kwang-Chung, "A High Window Overlooking the Sea" (trans. by Jonathan Barnard)
The whole movie is epic. This is a film that is epic in the old-fashioned sense, an epic that spans not just time and the map but the very geography of the human soul. In many ways Cloud Atlas is the ultimate atheist film, as it posits your afterlife being not a continuation of your consciousness but an eternal reverberation of your own little solo. Actors reappear to represent a resurfacing of... what? Souls, if you’re into that. Problems and ideas and hopes and dreams, if you’re more secular. In Cloud Atlas every crime and every kindness echoes across time, and the actions of a man in 1840 leads to a global change in consciousness 200 years later. It’s a simple sentiment when spelled out like that, but in action in the film it has a breathtaking meaning.
More than an atheist manifesto, the book, for me, reads like existentialist literature. Melville, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Duras, Kierkegaard... Last spring, encouraging me as I waivered about going to Shanghai, Athena re-minded me of the great Christian existentialist thinker, Gabriel Marcel. Re-calling his central idea of 'being a part of things:' she said: We are Homo Particepts, becoming real only in our Mode of Participation.
In this way, Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard's "defining commitments" must be embodied and enacted (otherwise they are not real). So, I suppose I disagree with Faraci in the sense that it is not "neither/nor" consciousness, since in the old existentialist move the individual must choose and in the choosing is what is the heart of the matter. But, the choosing must be enacted, and it is in the embodiment of these choices (these non-spectator acts) that our consciousness does become eternal (in the eternal reverberation of the acts, as Mitchell maybe is suggesting).
And, what is interesting and significant is that even the seeming failures of our individual lives can have tremendous impact in the longer sweep of history. As, we are making history by the stories we tell with each other about it—and this must include our noble failures, crimes and --of course-- every small act of kindness.