Cloud Atlas (2012)
November 30, 2014 9:50 AM - Subscribe

An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.
posted by troika (12 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I know this can be a polarizing movie, but I liked it quite a lot, even though I felt like a lot had been left out, and I haven't read the book. I particularly liked the way the six stories were intertwined — allowing the Wachowskis to highlight some of the parallels — more than I think I'd like the nesting-doll structure of the book.

I've also been listening to the soundtrack (PlaylistAll-in-one) quite a bit recently, especially Cloud Atlas Finale and Cloud Atlas End Title.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:22 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like this movie a lot, with a few buts:
  • The yellow-face, and the clueless way it was done, as if it's the same as an Asian actor playing white (it's not)
  • The narmy comet ending
  • The aging up of Zach'ry
Otherwise, it's pretty good, and I've watched it a few times.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:03 PM on November 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hope people are OK with my discussing the book & the movie here! I'll try to avoid mentioning the twists present in the book that aren't in the film.

I particularly liked the way the six stories were intertwined — allowing the Wachowskis to highlight some of the parallels — more than I think I'd like the nesting-doll structure of the book.

They achieve different things. The intertwining makes many of the parallels a lot clearer, which is nice, and is an interesting cinematic trick that they pulled off well. The book's structure accomplishes a lot, though. If you read it unspoiled, each new section is surprising: you begin with this idea of it being an 18th century "diary" - and even once you understand the trend of interrupted stories, you don't know how far into the future it'll go. Zachry and Sonmi's sections are very startling. Mitchell also changes his style each time to fit the time period, which is fun to experience. There's a whole meta-commentary there as we progress through methods of story telling (diaries and letters to novels to interview transcripts) and end up back at an oral history.

Honestly, one of my best-ever reading experiences was reaching the halfway point of Cloud Atlas and realizing we'd return to see the resolutions of each story. Magical.

You should read the book even if you've seen the movie - for one, there are a bunch of great twists and plot details that the movie had to cut for the sake of time. It's a lot more complex and ambiguous. Big example: the book closes, like the film, on Adam deciding to become an abolitionist. By overlaying this moment with all the other stories, the film strikes a triumphant tone and depicts these victories as simultaneous. The structure of the book, on the other hand, never lets you forget that while people strike blows against the establishment, there's a dark irony because we (the readers) know what unjust societies will just spring up to fill the gap.

So: Adam becomes an abolitionist... but slavery is a defining social structure of the future. Even after Sonmi breaks down this system and become revered by the future valleysfolk, Zach's story still ends with his village (one of the last spots of civilization on earth) entirely killed or enslaved. The human race is left in a pretty dark place. So when Adam is told: "your life will amount to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean", this is the question that the readers have begun asking themselves. When he responds "What is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" It's a bittersweet affirmation of our powerlessness to affect lasting change, and yet necessity of acting out anyway.

There's a quote in the book about the point of trying to make the world better: “How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are merely scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn't, the wolves and blizzards would be at one's throat all the sooner.”

The book seems to assert that violence and injustice are facts of human existence, that we can never truly escape. The movie, on the other hand, invents an escape: Zachry and Meronym flee to another planet where life seems peaceful. This doesn't happen in the book - they just escape to another island, where life is better but still kinda hopeless.

I like the film a lot, though the makeup jobs were a big misstep. It did an excellent job drawing parallels between the characters and stories, and the visuals were incredible. I think it Hollywoodized a very ambiguous book, which was perhaps necessary to get it produced. It does get major kudos for keeping the dialogue in Zachry's section authentic to the book. It loses some kudos for making every story about romantic love, when the source material is more about human connection between different kinds of people.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:37 PM on November 30, 2014 [11 favorites]

I have had the book in my Kindle forever, but I did see the movie, and enjoyed it immensely. I didn't like some of the makeup effects, which I thought were distracting, but I did absolutely adore the fact that the same actors played all the roles. I would have appreciated a more colorblind approach than trying to simulate different races through makeup, but that might have proved even more problematic.

Still, the Wachowskis make some of the most interesting spectacles I've seen. They don't always work in all the ways they should, but I find even their mistakes are more interesting to watch than better thought-out successes by other directors.
posted by xingcat at 5:10 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Liked the movie and fully expect to like it more after reading the book.

Someone really needs to find a way to crowdsource repeat bookings of interesting films on quality large screen theaters. I expect a showing for one of the large city wide book readings could be arranged. I wonder how many tickets would need to be pre-sold to arrange a showing and if it could be arranged with a distributor?
posted by sammyo at 6:15 PM on November 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Wachowskis are like Spike Lee in that way -- I like them because I'll always take messy, sprawling, and original over perfect, concise, and boring.
posted by kalapierson at 7:50 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Q&A with the directors and main cast from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, where it premiered.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2014

There's at least one busines that does that, sammyo: Tugg.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:58 AM on December 4, 2014

Except it looks like now it doesn't let you request any movie. I was a beta user and at the time I think we got Robocop to play here through Tugg so I was under the assumption it could be any movie.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:59 AM on December 4, 2014

I finally got round to seeing it. It is quite extraordinary, and not entirely successful, I suppose. But then its ambition is such that it wouldn't be.

It reminded me somewhat of Bill Forsyth's Being Human, which was an enormous flop and destroyed his career.

The problem with the makeup is that it accentuates the fact that it is an impersonation, which can be clumsy. While watching, I felt that I'd have preferred more of that - possibly to the extent that each section had the same cast, as multicultural as possible, and with more gender-swapping - take it to the extreme (though I suspect that would be more possible in the theatre where there's a tradition of colour-blind casting - I'm thinking of something like Peter Hall's Mahabarata). As it is, for me it's on the verge of something astonishing - about the commonality of humanity without reliance on the bodily form - but relying on makeup to achieve that prevents it from quite getting there.

That said, it's something that, looking at it, suggests ways in which it might be done better, when it's a small miracle that it was done at all.

And it is a remarkable thing.
posted by Grangousier at 9:10 AM on February 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

(A-a-and my wife pointed out that, of course, it's Peter Brook rather than Hall who did the Mahabarata. Which I knew, but I'm having a mistakey sort of day. It's only tangentially relevant anyway. )
posted by Grangousier at 1:15 PM on February 4, 2018

I have not seen the movie, but just finished the book. Loved it. (I'm surprised there's not a FanFare book entry for it). I was mostly impressed at how much Mitchell made me care about characters who were not particularly likable. Cavendish and Frobisher in particular had such singularly entertaining voices, and engaging stories. And the Luisa Rey mystery stands on it's own as a great potboiler. The books overall inter-folding/unfolding story structure and connections were just the icing on the cake.
posted by jetsetsc at 12:22 PM on May 3, 2018

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