The Motif of Reincarnation in Wachowski/Tykwer’s "Cloud Atlas" and its Relation to Karma

Seminar Paper, 2015

10 Pages, Grade: 2,3

Verena Od (Author)



1. Introduction

2. Theory of Reincarnation
2.1 Eastern Religions
2.1.1 Karma in Relation to Reincarnation
2.2 Modern/ Western View

3. Reincarnation in the Movie
3.1 Progression
3.2 Regression

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

The movie Cloud Atlas by Wachowski/ Tykwer is a monumental work of the 21st century filmmaking. There are many aspects which are worthy to take a detailed look at it, but one of the most interesting aspects is reincarnation. Because of the film taking place in different times and places it is alluring to analyse the relation between the different histories. In the movie the theme of reincarnation is very obvious because of the transformed actors and actresses through the time and the birthmark for instance. In consequence of the presentation in the course, my interest was caught for this topic. But reincarnation itself is a huge topic and this is why a differentiation is necessary. I want to examine the hypothesis if the characters in Wachowski/ Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas follow the concept of karma in their processes of reincarnation, which was partially mentioned in the discussion at the end of the presentation as well. Karma is an ancient term of the eastern and oriental religions, which is recently also important for modern and western religions and also lifestyles. The examination of the cosmopolitan film Cloud Atlas and if there is anything like the concept of karma. Moreover it is an interesting aspect to look at, especially for the current science of karma and reincarnation. Another important fact why I chose to explore this topic is my personal interest and belief in the motif of karma and it is fascinating to analyse its relation to the reincarnation in the movie, because in the movie – besides the birthmark, which also exists in the novel – many actors reappear in the different intervals of time, which is a hint for connection from the directors. The first step to fulfil the topic is to take a closer look at the systematization of reincarnation and the concept of karma, which builds the first substantial section of this essay. The current science will also be a topic. The second substantial section will contemplate the process of reincarnation in the film and some representative characters in it. Simultaneously I will analyse the relation to karma and if the reincarnation in the movie fits the concept of it. Finally I will end my essay with a conclusion about all the information.

2. Theory of Reincarnation

Reincarnation[1] or rebirth is a philosophical and religious concept and it says that after the physical death of a person, the soul or spirit[2] can be reborn in a new body and begin a new life. This concept has its roots in the eastern religions, basically from India, like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, but it is surprisingly also a common belief of many modern and western religions. It is necessary to clarify the meaning of reincarnation, which contains three conditions after Norman McClelland’s Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma. Those conditions are firstly that the reincarnation only refers to one factor, which exists continuously – the soul or spirit; And this factor will be re-embodied right or shortly after the physical death (McClelland 218). The second condition considers that only a body and only one factor go together and if another factor wants to enter the body it is not called rebirth anymore, it is rather called possession (McClelland 218). The third condition is that the soul is regarded as an essential part of the human beings (McClelland 218).

2.1 Eastern Religions

First of all it is important to know that the ancient view on rebirth is determined by the eastern[3] religions, which have another understanding of time. All of them believe in a “cyclical, or ever repeating, nature of birth and death of the universe” (McClelland 219). In western religions they do believe in a linear concept of time (McClelland 219). In a cyclical concept it is easier to integrate such concepts of rebirth. McClelland writes that the “human society is thought to go through cycles of good and bad periods no matter what mankind does or does not do” (McClelland 220). Resulting, the eastern religions do not waste power to improve the world materially, scientifically or socially because the nature decides if a bad period or a good one follows; they rather want to break free (McClelland 220). This is called “rebirth pessimism” (qtd. in McClelland 220). The final goal of many eastern religions is therefore the liberation from rebirth, like the Nirwana in Buddhism (McClelland 52).


[1] When I use the terms “reincarnation” or “rebirth” they should be understood synonymously, although in Buddhism only the term “rebirth” is accepted.

[2] The term “soul” is not appreciated in Buddhism, but when this term occurs in this text a general rebirth factor is meant, overlapping religions.

[3] The occurring terms “eastern” and “western” are generalized. “Eastern” covers the south Asian regions and religions, while “western” covers the western continents like Europe and North America, usually people with Christian and Jewish beliefs.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Motif of Reincarnation in Wachowski/Tykwer’s "Cloud Atlas" and its Relation to Karma
Dresden Technical University  (Institut für Sprach-, Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaften)
Cloud Atlas - Cosmopolitan Novel and Film
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ISBN (Book)
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Cloud Atlas, novel, film, movie, reincarnation, karma
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Verena Od (Author), 2015, The Motif of Reincarnation in Wachowski/Tykwer’s "Cloud Atlas" and its Relation to Karma, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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