Cloud Atlas: A Movie with Multiple Positive Themes

Cloud Atlas is an awe-inspiring film with a number of positive themes. If you are willing to put some effort into your movie watching and enjoy your stories complex and meaningful then you may well love Cloud Atlas as I did.
Directors Tom Twyker and the Wachowskis have managed to pull off what seemed impossible. They have produced an amazing screen adaptation of this intricate and multifaceted novel by David Mitchell.

You’ll get a taste of it from this extended trailer.

But be warned. If you want to steer clear of sex, violence and swearing then this movie is not for you. I have to confess to closing my eyes in some of the more violent scenes and also wondering if it really needed so many uses of the f-word. Nevertheless I felt the on the whole the movie was very inspiring and positive.

What is Cloud Atlas about?

It is composed of six separate stories with the action relentlessly cutting between them. Each story is of a different genre including science fiction, period drama, romance and detective thriller.

Each story is viewed in someway by the protagonist in the next. They are reading a diary or reading their letters or watching a film of their adventure. In this way the actions in one story can influence the actions in another. A stand for justice in one story can ricochet across the decades to inspire a revolution in another.

What positive themes does Cloud Atlas touch on?

In each story we see characters with their own strengths and weaknesses make important decisions:

  • The nineteenth century voyage of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) shows one man’s journey into a realisation of the evils of slavery. In his final scene he shows great integrity by quitting his involvement and calmly announcing his plans much to the anger of his father-in-law.
  • In a 1930s romance with Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) and Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) we see such creativity and love for life in the young composer Frobisher who in the end tragically commits suicide. Sixsmith’s love and forgiveness can be seen many years later as he still carries Frobisher’s letters and talks of him with fondness.
  • In a 1970s crime thriller the quick reasoning of Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), with the help of Joe Napier (Keith David), solves Sixsmith’s murder and foils the plot of a corrupt nuclear energy company and their hired assassin.
  • In the humorous contemporary tale of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) we see how his refusal to be incarcerated against his will, his persistence and teamwork with his fellow residents lead to a daring escaping from a nursing home.
  • We see an awakening of curiosity in a cloned fast-food waitress Somni 451 (Doona Bea) in a Blade Runner type future. Somni modestly gives her account to an archivist of how she acquired her knowledge and how her sacrifice and words of wisdom have sowed the seeds for the revolution of her fellow clones.
  • To fulfil an important quest in a post-apocalyptic world, Meronym (Halle Berry) builds trust and rapport with a goat-herder Zachry (Tom Hanks) who is battling his own demons of guilt and hallucinations. One indelible image in this story is Zachry running scared from cannibals bravely rescuing his little sister.

Some may be concerned that the positive themes are undermined by the negativity that is also present in the violence and tragedy. But ultimately I would say that those these stories are poignant we are left with a very positive and hopeful conclusion.

In fact in the movie much of the author David Mitchel’s post-modern irony that deliberately undercuts the positive themes is omitted. This and other subtle changes make the movie even more upbeat than the original novel.

What is the main positive theme?

The movie hints at spirituality. Frobisher talks of a ‘better place’ in the afterlife and one or two lines of dialogue mention previous lives. A comet birthmark on a number of characters and the reuse of the same actors in each story also hints at the possibility of characters being reincarnated.

But I would say the main theme is of the movie is not really reincarnation but social change. It shows that each person is important and as they are true to their beliefs and stand up for what is right they can have a positive influence on others even across the generations.

As Somni says in probably the most memorable quote from the movie:

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

I am aware that Cloud Atlas may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Some critics see its attempts at being profound as actually rather pretentious. But I for one found this to be an inspiring movie. Inspiring me both to random acts of kindness and to work on fulfilling my goals to somehow have a positive influence on future generations.


For more positive movies see:

The Top Ten Most Inspiring Movies of 2012
Posts by Ryan Niemiec in Positive Psychology News
Positive Psychology at the Movies(affiliate link)

Hackschooling Makes Me Happy

In this TEDx talk, teenage boy Logan LaPlante explains why he sees his experience of schooling that he calls hackschooling as an important way to learn to be happy.
By hackschooling he means investigating the world creatively rather than just following a set curriculum. LaPlante explains that hacking is thinking creativity – not just about technology – but about any subject.

Upon hearing the most popular TED talk of all time where Ken Robinson said that schools kill creativity Logan’s mother decided to homeschool him. Logan now goes to school in Starbucks, in community organisations and outside in nature.

Kids are often asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If you ask a small child, Logan LaPlante explains, this question they will often say something that they really enjoy. One really good answer that a small kid once said was “I want to be happy!”

LaPlante puts forward the idea that we need to learn how to be happy and healthy. This really boils down to eight principles that Dr Roger Walsh calls therapeutic lifestyle changes or TLCs:

  • exercise
  • diet nutrition
  • time in nature
  • contribution and service
  • relationships recreation
  • relaxation and stress management
  • religious and spiritual

Schools often prepare kids for making a living but LaPlante feels that his hackschooling prepares him for life by teaching him how to be healthy and happy.

Update: Make Magazine have featured Logan LaPlante’s talk here


Clarisse Thorn’s Positive Approach to the Dating Game

heartsDating coaches often see dating as a game. Is this a useful approach? ‘Well, yes and no!’ says sex-positive activist and writer Clarisse Thorn, one critic of the date coaching and pick up artist scene. But what might positive psychology make of Clarisse Thorn’s approach?

The rise of the dating coach

The dating coach not only coaches but also teaches techniques to help people to improve their success in dating and relationships. Why is there such a demand of this?

• Some make fail to understand how dating works and need to get their social life re-started. What do I need to do? How can I meet new people?

• Others lack self-confidence and need to improve their self-image. It is amazing how being confident actually makes you more attractive.

• Those who need to develop their social skills often lack awareness of what they are doing that puts others off. Perhaps they come over as too desperate or as afraid of commitment.

Writing books about tips for guys picking up girls was popularised in 2005 by Neil Strause’s best selling book The Game.

Can it be helpful to see dating as a ‘game’?

The idea of treating dating as a game may be shocking to some. Positive psychologists are aware that a number of researchers distinguish between different styles of love including what John A Lee in Colours of Love called Ludos.

“Ludos is a game of love.” explains Ilona Boniwell in Positive Psychology in a Nutshell. “It’s pleasant and shallow, based not on commitment but on mutual enjoyment. The partner is not and does not need to be unique.” It is this love style of Ludos that Straus is focusing on.

Many have found Straus’s self-help tips useful in reducing social anxiety but they do appear sometimes sexist and of dubious morality as the main aim appeared to be to help get to sleep with the girl rather than build a genuine relationship. So I was interested to also see this approach critiqued from a female viewpoint by Clarisse Thorn.

Clarisse Thorn’s criticisms of dating coaches

Clarisse Thorn sees pick up artists as often sexist and stupid but sometimes, she says, they get it right. These are some of her criticisms:

• She opposes the sexism and any exploitation or oppression of women that she sees in the scene.

• Some pick-up artists of course learn these techniques to be manipulative pleasure seekers. She is particular critical of teaching men techniques that attempt to get a girl to have sex when she has clearly said ‘No’.

• Also a lot of pick up artists and dating coaches have an adversarial view of relationships that tend to stereotype gender roles. Clarisse Thorn’s would take a feminist viewpoint as opposed to those, such as David Deida, who call for a rediscovery of more traditional masculinity and femininity.

Where Clarisse Thorn says dating coaches get it right

Despite being such a critic of this area she is also fascinated by it. She sees a number of areas where pick up artists give some very sound advice.

She likes the idea of not being obsessed with ‘getting the girl’. She notices the insightful observation made by pick up artists that a guy who is not overly anxious about success is more attractive.

She also liked the way that being coached in picking up girls gets men aware of non-verbal communication including when women are consenting non-verbally and by implication when they are not.

She has criticised the techniques in The Game as fake and deceptive but she acknowledges there is a theme of authenticity running in the background. In his later book Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead Strause develops this further talking about being true to yourself and making your actions congruent with your internal self.

What might Positive Psychology make of her approach?

There is much to commend it

Clarisse Thorn’s approach to the dating game does appear to resonate with many ideas in positive psychology.

This is not surprising as she describes herself as a sex-positive activist. Sex positivity is “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation.”

Clarisse Thorn sees sex in a very positive light as something wonderful that if approached well can be extremely good for you. Her major proviso is that it must be consensual.

Clarisse Thorn emphasises the importance of a mutually beneficial approach to dating. She advocates thinking about the experience of your partner and enjoying the ‘game’ of developing a relationship together, framing this love style very positively indeed.

Some reservations

Clarisse Thorn’s Sex Positive approach also emphasises pushing the boundaries of sexuality into S&M, bondage and even into polyamory – open relationships with multiple partners. Martin Seligman – one of the founders of positive psychology – appears skeptical of such approaches to relationships bringing lasting happiness.

Seligman’s approach to happiness is to promote secure romantic relationships. He sees developing long term relationships characterised with a secure attachment as one key to happiness and he assumes that such secure relationships are fully monogamous. He also sees marriage as a positive institution that is important to support.

In Authentic Happiness Seligman writes “Secure people avoid one night stands and they don’t think sex without love is very enjoyable.”

Seligman doesn’t explicitly say that the sort of sexual experimentation Clarisse Thorn is into is unhelpful in secure relationship but he does make the interesting observation that often “anxious women get involved in exhibitionism, voyeurism and bondage”.

It looks like more research by positive psychologists is needed in these areas.

So what is a positive approach to the dating game?

For those lacking in confidence, who don’t know where to start or who want to start or re-start dating there is much to learn from dating coaches and pick up artists.

These techniques can work well in the initial stages of a relationship but keep in mind the goal of building a long term committed relationship. This, according to positive psychology, is the way to happiness.

Further Reading

Clarisse Thorn’s book Confessions of A Pick-Up Artist Chaser is available from and from (affiliate links).

Clarisse Thorn in Psychology Today talking about her book.

Clarisse Thorn interviews Neil Straus.

You can read more of Clarisse Thorn’s articles on the following sites:

The Good Men Project - “The Good Men Project is a glimpse of what enlightened masculinity might look like in the 21st century”.

Clarisse Thorn’s own website.