Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cloud Atlas: A Movie About Boundaries ... And Liberalism

Spoiler Alert.  I'm going to potentially give away too much information, so skip this if you plan to see the movie and don't want any surprises ruined.

The use of science fiction (a genre I very much like) for progressivism and liberalism is not new.  When you consider that this genre attracts more than its fair share of imaginative people who envision worlds that are very different, worlds that have a tenuous relationship to reality, this shouldn't be much of a surprise.

The movie Cloud Atlas is in that border area between fantasy and sci-fi, its primary claim to sci-fi being the extension of the storyline into a dystopian future.  Many social conservatives might object to its themes of reincarnation and New Agey interconnectedness.  I personally find these interesting themes, and am generally intrigued by futuristic casts to spiritual journeys.  This makes sci-fi interesting for me.  Social conservatives may find Frank Herbert's explicitly religious Pandora Trilogy to be unacceptably blasphemous.  I see it as an honest grappling with religious themes, whether or not I agree with his outlook.

But, in spite of finding Cloud Atlas to be an interesting movie, I think it is fundamentally a movie about promoting the values of contemporary Progressivism.  A (deliberately?) confusing saga of reincarnated personalities over many lifetimes that have the metempsychosing souls perpetually reigniting their relationships, sometimes as heterosexual relationships, sometimes homosexual...  And there is one dominant liberal trope that appears in the movie.  The human story (in the movie) is one long civil rights journey that puts the following in the same boat: the recognition of blacks as people (something that, liberal agitprop aside, the Republican Party has always supported), recognition of homosexuality as normal and beautiful (gay is the new black), freeing senior citizens from a dehumanizing rest home, freeing the proletariat from the control of Evil Corporations (in the movie, Big Oil is targeted--that's a new one), freeing rural people from the limitations of their backwoods ignorant religious traditions.

Eventually, anti-liberal forces reach their heyday of dehumanization in the 22nd century when there is a caste of human clones that are considered technological products (as in Herbert's Pandora trilogy).  The corporations being all evil and corporationey have reinstated slavery in the name of capitalism.   The future of humanity will partly rest in people taking a stand, not against oppressive government, but against the ruling corporations.  I'm not making this up.  The future of humanity may also depend at some point on a rural person from a mountain village getting over his religion, which causes him to hear voices telling him to kill.  His spiritual freedom will depend on him realizing that "all boundaries are conventions waiting to be transcended." Again, I'm not making this up.

This phrase not only brings the whole political social commentary of the movie into stark relief, it also highlights the arrogance progressives direct at social conservatives.

It's odd though, isn't it?  Progressives feign "different strokes" relativism over entities like the Islamic Republic of Iran while directing very black-and-white moralism at traditionalists that want to honor the religious cultural roots of our nation.  It's good for Muslim states but not for us, despite our historically much more balanced and nuanced view concerning "freedom of religion."

By progressive logic, it would seem that we could not only free ourselves of the 1st Amendment entirely (the 2nd Amendment's dispensable, why not the 1st?) and become the Christian Republic of America?  Certainly not because of our tradition of following the 1st Amendment.  That boundary is just a convention (according to Woodrow Wilson and most early leaders in the Progressive movement).  Because boundaries are just conventions to be transcended.  The First Amendment is simply a convenient collection of phrases for construing progressive social policies--why not eventually get rid of it once we outgrow the need for it?   Society can't progress if it's all tangled up in outdated conventions.

Yes, I realize that even though this fits with Progressive logic, it doesn't take into account that traditional Western religion is something that Progressivism has been progressing away from, and therefore fails to fit with Progressive values.  So here are some other conventions that will fit the trajectory of Progressive escapism.

Pedophilia?  Why not?  That boundary is a mere convention, and your naive, socially engineered revulsion is a mere convention which could be fixed (in the next generation anyway) through the proper de-sensitizations.  Much-maligned Michael Brown explains in his book A Queer Thing Happened to America, all the same arguments that have been made (and largely accepted) for normalizing homosexuality, can be effectively made for pedophilia.

Terminating newborns?  Here is a scandalously biased phrase for the freedom to choose 4th trimester abortions.  The convention of conferring personhood on creatures (and granting them unjustified protections) just for exiting a womb is a convention.   "There's nothing magical about passing through a birth canal."  The boundary that protects viable infants is just a convention, because boundaries in general are just conventions.

All in all, I'd say that if you are a sci-fi fan, it is an interesting movie and will keep your attention.  The sci-fi aspects aren't all that original.  But I thought it was a relatively well-made film (in some ways) even if it is an understatement to say that the political commentary was not subtle, even while noting that it was a love poem to liberalism.  And it truly had some great musical scoring.  Here is a link to the soundtrack of Cloud Atlas (admittedly, a lovely musical score).  The emotion of the score reaches a nice crescendo in the 16th track called 'All Boundaries Are Conventions.'  :-)

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