Friday, October 26, 2012

Eternity in their hardened hearts

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Eccl 3:11).

On the one hand:

What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that.

On the other hand:

Sometimes the key to one movie can be suggested by another one. We know that the title refers to early drawings of the shapes and behavior of clouds. Not long ago I saw a Swedish film, "Simon and the Oaks," about a day-dreaming boy who formed a bond with an oak tree. In its limbs, he would lie reading books of imagination and then allow his eyes to rest on the clouds overhead. As he read a book about desert wanderers, the clouds seemed to take shape as a ghostly caravan of camels in procession across the sky.

I was never, ever bored by "Cloud Atlas." On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters. What was important was that I set my mind free to play. Clouds do not really look like camels or sailing ships or castles in the sky. They are simply a natural process at work. So too, perhaps, are our lives. Because we have minds and clouds do not, we desire freedom. That is the shape the characters in "Cloud Atlas" take, and how they attempt to direct our thoughts. Any concrete, factual attempt to nail the film down to cold fact, to tell you what it "means," is as pointless as trying to build a clockwork orange.

But, oh, what a film this is! And what a demonstration of the magical, dreamlike qualities of the cinema. And what an opportunity for the actors. And what a leap by the directors, who free themselves from the chains of narrative continuity. And then the wisdom of the old man staring into the flames makes perfect sense.

What’s striking is how worldly men like Roger Ebert harbor these irrepressible, otherworldly longings. A longing for something this world can never offer. A yearning for something truly out-of-this-world. For Ebert, a film like Avatar or Cloud Atlas is the closest he will ever get to heaven. He thinks this life is all there is, yet he yearns for transcendence. He thinks this world defines reality, yet the world is not enough for him. Having denied real heaven, he escapes into imaginary heavens.

Barring a deathbed conversion, he will someday discover that what he put behind him because it was too good to be true was too good not to be true, only it will be too late to look back.  

1 comment:

  1. Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. And this, I think, is just what we find. - from The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

    The Weight of Glory

    (I HIGHLY recommend people read the above sermon if they haven't already)

    If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same. from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis