While Judaism emphasizes actions over beliefs, there is some evidence, according to my very well-informed Orthodox Jewish creative writing instructor at Northwestern, that Jews do consider reincarnation a possibility. The brilliant film “Cloud Atlas” tackles this theme and explores its nuances, weaving its story around six reincarnations of the individuals it follows, including storylines featuring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, and even Hugh Grant. The villager that Tom Hanks plays in the not-so-distant future starts the film, saying, “I’ll yarn you about the first time we met.”

I found it interesting that two of the directors, Lana, born Lawrence Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski are Jewish-Polish Americans while the other director, Tom Tykwer, is German. I felt the pull as to how their lives, their upbringing, their ethnicity, their experiences and unique outlook informed the making of “Cloud Atlas.” Previously, they directed the Matrix films. It seems fitting that Lana Wachowski, is, in fact, a male-to-female transsexual while Tykwer is gay. One focal point in “Cloud Atlas” is that our role in determining who we become is the major task during our lives.

Author of the 2004 book, David Mitchell, originally told the story chronologically, then circled back over his tale at the end. The movie directors made a conscious decision to interweave the six reincarnated stories throughout, making it much more difficult to follow, but it more poignantly draws together the interconnectedness each of us feels to the others around us, and the influence of our past lives on the lives we lead now. I found myself wondering if all of us, in fact, re-experience trauma from former lives. One of Berry’s characters says, “Why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over?”

The story hinges on the exploration of what happens in in the 1970’s between a reporter, played by Berry, as she investigates a corrupt businessman, Hugh Grant, who plans to create a nuclear meltdown. In that life, she once again bumps up against Tom Hanks as they work to overthrow a corrupt system. The point made over and over: “separation is but an illusion.”

A futuristic South Korean, taken advantage of the system, highlights that same idea, saying, “From womb to tomb, we are bound one to another.” We can always work toward and hope for a better tomorrow based on the little steps, the ripple effect, of the lives we lead here and now. The search for all the characters is a search for freedom.

The number six is especially important: six lives each, and the most important musical composition in the story, the Cloud Atlas Sextet. In the bible, the number six is thought to represent man’s rebellion and imperfection. This number once again reinforces “Cloud Atlas’s” reaching out and longing for freedom. It seems no accident that in the bible, humans were created on the sixth day.

I end with my favorite quote from the movie, as it reverberates throughout the entire story. “The half-finished book is, after all, a half finished love affair.”

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