interpretation: Old Georgie in Cloud Atlas

This article is part of a segment here at called “Interpretation.” In this section, we will discuss themes and plot points from films we love. These articles are meant to be read only after you have seen the movie we’re discussing – they will, by their very nature, contain major spoilers and I would encourage you not to read them before you’ve had a chance to watch the movie. Although we’ve already looked at some of the overall themes in Cloud Atlas, in this piece, we will be looking specifically at one character: Old Georgie. Previously, we took a look at Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, and Spring Breakers.

If you’re anything like me, then you probably loved the movie Cloud Atlas and frequently find yourself reflecting on aspects of the film. Like I’ve mentioned previously, the film has stuck with me long after I first saw it and one character in particular that I would like to understand more is Old Georgie, who was portrayed by Hugo Weaving in the “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” segment.

Photo credit: Word & Film

Photo credit: Word & Film

What we actually know about Old Georgie is that the local people believe in a God-like figure (Sonmi) and a Satan-like figure they call Old Georgie, who they believe caused the fall. The local people believe that Old Georgie lives on a nearby mountain on Big Island. That’s pretty much all we know for sure.

Old Georgie strikes me as an interesting character because he’s the only one who is clearly supernatural – every other character in the film is actually a person, which makes one wonder: is Old Georgie real? Who exactly is Old Georgie? He’s clearly meant to be Satan-type character, but does he actually exist?

Here are my three theories as to what Old Georgie is and the evidence to support the claims:

1. Old Georgie is completely in Zachry’s mind, but Zachry does think he is real. This theory is basically the idea that Zachry has some kind of mental illness that causes him to personify his dark thoughts as Old Georgie and that he begins to think that this person actually is real. Old Georgie is first seen when Zachry witnesses his brother-in-law and his nephew getting murdered, which is undoubtedly a traumatic experience.

Could Zachry have had some kind of break from reality that manifested itself as Old Georgie? He would be able to project his guilt onto this figment of his imagination and alleviate some of his own pain – he very seldom actually does anything Old Georgie tells him to do, so it seems like it could be a way Zachry makes him feel better about himself and his actions, having convinced himself that he is consistently overcoming temptation. You’ll notice that when Zachry gives into temptation and kills the sleeping Kona soldier, Old Georgie is oddly absent.

2. Old Georgie is actually real. I know this one seems unlikely, but there actually is some evidence here. Every other character in the film is real – Hugo Weaving plays the villain in every segment and in every other segment, he is apparently real. It seems odd that only one character of the hundreds in the film would not be real.

More importantly, however, there are clearly other supernatural elements in the film. We see the theme of reincarnation fairly frequently, we see characters who can see into the future or the past and we see characters who make prophecies that turn out to be true – is it really that much of a stretch to assume that there could be some kind of spirit haunting the world?

Everything we actually know about the character from the local villagers does seem to provide some evidence that Old Georgie might be real. Old Georgie is presented as the opposite of Sonmi and we know that Sonmi was actually real. Old Georgie haunts the mountain that holds the key to people’s salvation – exactly what a Satanic figure would probably do if it was real.

Meronym denies that Old Georgie is real and claims he did not cause the fall because Old ‘Uns caused the fall due to their own hunger. Yet Old Georgie actually is a clear representation of this hunger. In fact, ALL of Hugo Weaving’s characters represent this hunger. Many religions believe that sometimes spirits and gods will come to Earth for a time in human form – could Hugo Weaving’s other characters have been the human manifestations of an Old Georgie spirit?

3. Old Georgie is made up by Zachry and Zachry knows the he’s not real. This is probably the simplest and most logical explanation. Most of the segments in the film are presented as frame stories in some fashion and “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” does this in a particularly overt fashion, with an older Zachry narrating the story to his young grandchildren around a campfire.

It’s not the most exciting explanation, but it seems quite possible that Zachry is just trying to make the story more exciting for his grandkids and is playing off of the ghost-story-around-a-campfire-motif we see in other works. It’s clear that telling stories around the campfire isn’t an uncommon occurrence, so perhaps Zachry is just telling the story as an unreliable narrator and is personifying Old Georgie for dramatic effect.

Conclusion: Personally, I lean towards the third option. It would make sense that Zachry would want to make the story more exciting for his grandkids and it would seem to fit with everything else we know about their religious culture. I generally dislike fan theories that propose it’s all in a character’s head, which leads me to reject the first theory. However, I do think there is some evidence to support the theory that Old Georgie is real given the religious overtones of the film. Ultimately, while I waver between the second and third theory, I find the theory that Old Georgie is just a narrative device employed by Zachry to be the most compelling, even if it’s also maybe the least exciting theory.

Cover photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. None of the above parties are affiliated with or endorse BoomPopMedia.

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