Cloud Atlas’s Theory of Everything


Emily Eakin in the NYRB blog:

Cloud Atlas, the unlikely new adaptation by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer of David Mitchell’s ingenious novel, should do well on DVD, a format whose capacity for endless replay will enable viewers to study at leisure the myriad concurrences binding the movie’s half dozen plots. Better yet, the directors should hire their friend the philosopher Ken Wilber to provide expert commentary and spare us from having to hit “pause” and “reverse.”

Ken Wilber? In academic circles, Wilber remains obscure. A sixty-three-year-old autodidact, he is the author of an ambitious effort to reconcile empirical knowledge and mystical experience in an “Integral Theory” of existence. Yet his admirers include not only the alternative-healing guru Deepak Chopra—who has called Wilber “one of the most important pioneers in the field of consciousness”—but also the philosopher Charles Taylor, the theologians Harvey Cox and Michael Lerner, and Bill Clinton. Wilber’s generally lucid treatments of both Western science and Eastern spirituality have earned him favor with a coterie of highly literate seekers for whom the phrase “New Age” is nonetheless suspect. He’s an intellectual’s mystic, short on ecstatic visions and long on exegeses of Habermas (whom he regards, for his perception of “homologous structures” in human individual and social development, as something of a kindred spirit). At the Integral Institute, a Colorado-based think tank inspired by Wilber’s ideas, scholars like Jack Crittenden, a professor of political theory at Arizona State University, strive to apply his approach to “global-scale problems,” from climate change to religious conflict.

All of which makes Wilber a natural ally of the Wachowski siblings, whose films tend to reflect a similar grandiosity of ambition.