Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cloud Atlas

Made it to the theater today to see Cloud Atlas and really enjoyed it. I read the book years ago and found it fairly fascinating, especially for someone rooted in comics which, as a serial production, often have multiple storylines (and often multiple timelines) running simultaneously. It was an ambitious novel and Roger Ebert made a point of lauding the film in the same way, calling it "one of the most ambitious films ever made." I think there's some veracity to that, especially given a mass release to an audience that is often unprepared for this kind of complex storytelling (I still grimace when thinking of the local news media broadcasting a story about the phenomenon that was Pulp Fiction and interviewing people walking out of the theater saying: "I don't think I liked it. It was too confusing. First, John Travolta was alive and then he was dead and then he was alive again...")

Most of the performances were good, although I was kind of disappointed at Tom Hanks' lack of range. He never really escapes the Tom Hanksisms that make him who he is, which departs from the idea of all of these characters being linked across time, but still distinct people, and none of the roles were lengthy enough for him to display the depth that he can sometimes reach (as in Philadelphia.) That's a situation complicated by the "leading man" vs. "character actor" dynamic that I'll get into one day. I was pretty impressed with Hugh Grant in all of his roles (I did not expect to be) and Halle Barry as Luisa Rey, though. I do have to say that the makeup in the Sonmi-451 story, providing everyone with epicanthic folds, was a little jarring and could have been subtler.

As for the story itself, there were changes from the book (surprise!) but those were inevitable. The fact that it was made into a film, and a good one, is impressive enough. The overall pace of the film is much more frenetic than the book, which is typical of the Wachowskis' style and something likely necessary to keep a modern mass audience in their seats for three hours. However, I have to say that I felt more convinced of the emotional and cerebral impact of the story in reading the novel than I did in viewing the film. The most important of the six on a broad level is An Orison of Somni-451, while the best on a personal level is Letters from Zedelghem. I think the latter came across very well, while the philosophical underpinnings so necessary to the former weren't as well conveyed. It's very difficult to present a message of inspiration, since so many will take inspiration from different things. On a personal/character scale, Somni-451 was, like Letters, excellent. Bae Doona is another who deserves commendation for taking on a difficult and transformative role and pulling it off without traipsing in to melodrama.

I do disagree with Ebert on a very prominent point, though: I wasn't confused. There are moments when you will certainly be lost as to the relevance of what you're seeing in the overall picture and I had the advantage of having read the book, so I knew where much of it was going. But the fact that there are so many possible interpretations are what make the film good, not confusing. Looking for logical connections in the film is about as pointless as doing so in life, in general. Some things are simple to be experience and, by that experience, understood. Analysis will often get you nowhere.

So, good stuff, overall. It's Oscar season, of course, and I'm eager to see several other films, although money is a limiting factor these days. I wanted to see The Master and will hope for its rapid release on Amazon, but I've heard the raves for Argo and would like to see Lincoln, Seven Psychopaths and, of course, The Hobbit in December, although I'm still not certain how you could turn that simple story into three films without hijacking a ton of the Silmarillion. We'll see.


  1. I'm looking forward to reading the book. I always like to read the book before watching the movie.

  2. So do I, normally. But my friend, Rob, suggested the other day that the differences between the two are sufficient to make them almost complementary to each other and I think that's accurate. It may be equally interesting to see the film first, in this case.