Film - Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas

Ren Zelen remembers Cloud Atlas from the Wachowski's before letting loose on Jupiter Ascending...

Dir: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant.

Not having read David Mitchell's much-praised 2004 novel (who named it after music he admired by the Japanese composer Toshi Ichiyanagi) I cannot comment on the movie version’s merits or limitations regarding its faithfulness as an adaptation, but the fact that the directors – Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer – had the courage and audacity to take on what was considered an ‘unfilmable’ book surely deserves some respect. Tykwer and the Wachowskis have strived to configure Mitchell’s unique literary material into something appropriately cinematic.

Mitchell's intricate novel tells six interrelated stories in a variety of genres spread over a period of 500 years, from 1850 to 2321. These run consecutively but stop just before their crucial concluding episodes, which follow in the latter part of the book. The film however, runs the stories concurrently – interweaving and looping them one inside another. This challenges the viewer to detect the parallels, echoes, undercurrents and themes that connect them - as a complex piece of music might similarly challenge us - and like a piece of music, it deserves our careful attention in order to gain the most reward for our intellect and emotions.

The movie weaves together half-a-dozen distinct plot lines, not complex in themselves but spanning half a millennium, taking the viewer from the South Pacific in 1849 to a post-apocalyptic island “106 winters after The Fall”, via 1930s Edinburgh, 1970s San Francisco, present-day London and 22nd-century Neo-Seoul. Each setting is convincingly established (although I personally most enjoyed the gorgeous realization of future Korea) and various characters come into play. What dawns on the attentive viewer however, is that the events and personalities are all connected across the years by a phrase, an image, a piece of music, as well as more obviously through letters, files, films, diaries and books that pass on a predecessor's experiences and thoughts.

‘Cloud Atlas’ is also not afraid to ask the big questions: about life after death; reincarnation; déjà vu; the purpose of love; karma; life as a repetitive cycle (as in Nietzsche’s concept of ‘eternal recurrence’); one might even say that it attempts to address Quantum questions such as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, but primarily it asks: can enlightenment, love and sacrifice change what appears to be a recurring cycle of cruelty, exploitation, oppression or greed? In that sense ‘Cloud Atlas’ belongs alongside other mystical cinematic works such as Ang Lee’s ‘The Life of Pi’ and Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Fountain’.

The movie casts each of its leading actors in five or six roles. Stanley Kubrick used this device in several of his films, ‘Fear and Desire’, ‘Dr Strangelove’ and of course, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Lindsay Anderson employed it in ‘O Lucky Man!’. In ‘Cloud Atlas’ characters reappear over the centuries, shifting in age, race and gender (a notion which must resonate particularly strongly with Lana Wachowski , considering the changes she herself has experienced within her own life). Spotting the recurrence of the same actors in different roles is rather an entertainment in itself, although the proliferation of facial prosthetics and heavy make-up can also be distracting (as far as the actors are concerned, having such a plethora of characterizations to play with must have made up in part for the discomfort of wearing all those false noses and wigs). Hugo Weaving plays an array of delightfully varied villains as does Hugh Grant. But since the ‘heroes’ tend to remain as ‘goodies’ throughout their many incarnations I could not help but wonder why there appeared to be no redemption for the ‘baddies’ since they are presented with so many reincarnations? (I hope the implication is not that we are trapped in cycles of behaviour that we cannot escape?)

With so many threads interweaving simultaneously, it’s not surprising that some viewers get in a tangle - but the gauntlet has been thrown down, the challenge presented – Twyker and the Wachowski’s will not dumb-down for their audience – they expect us to step up and at least, meet them halfway. Certain enthusiasts will enjoy seeing ‘Cloud Atlas’ repeatedly in order to put together more pieces of the puzzle each time. I was drawn into game immediately, but then again, I have a weakness for detective stories and for spotting clues to a solution. But what here is the ‘solution’ - the purpose of all these pointers, connections and recurring motifs? That ultimate answer it behoves each viewer to find for themselves, but I perceive it to be a moral one. In a nutshell: we are dealing with the exercise of tolerance, an understanding of the connection amongst all peoples, and the acceptance of the responsibility that comes with freedom.

‘Cloud Atlas’ may not be a perfect symphony of narratives or images - there may be the occasional false note or awkward stroke – its art will not appeal to everyone’s taste, but after all the disappointing sequels, the remakes, the reboots and rehashes of recent years, I for one, salute and welcome a movie that at least shows a bit of ambition, a touch of ‘chutzpah’ and the courage to try something different and demanding.

“While my extensive experience as an editor has led me to a disdain for flashbacks and flash forwards and all such tricksy gimmicks, I believe that if you, dear Reader, can extend your patience for just a moment, you will find that there is a Method to this tale of Madness.” Timothy Cavendish

Image - UnionFilms.

Powered by Blogger.