Living in the sticks of California usually during the summers in the States, I am quite often fairly out of touch of the world of what’s coming out soon as far as films, as it’s not something I keep up on as much as music, and we usually don’t get all the great options bigger cities get when films do make it out to the small theaters around the small town I live in.
Some time in the early fall a friend of mine (can’t remember whom at the moment) mentioned this film coming out soon that they were excited about. From the trailer they had seen it seemed like a flick that would be right up my interests alley, with bits of action, sci-fi, and a thick story, from what they could tell. What was even more intriguing was the fact that each main actor in the film played a number of roles, something that is not often done in cinema. The name of the film was ‘Cloud Atlas‘. I immediately looked it up when I returned back to my shed, and was instantaneously excited, as far as I can remember, last year was pretty dull as far as films in my opinion (though I need to go back over some lists and see what else came out to see if I missed anything).
Upon doing some research on the film, I found out that not only did it have a stunning cast including Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, and more, they all in fact do play multiple roles throughout the entire film – a few of them up to seven different characters! Beyond the great cast, the film has three directors (rare!) with Tom Tykwer (well known for Run Lola Run) originally spearheading the project, and the brilliant Wachowski Brothers stepping in to co-write the screenplay, and eventually co-directing the film, thankfully, as they definitely helped shape the final transition from book to screen exceptionally well (especially in the story of Sonmi-451).
Fast forward to the end of October, and thankfully ‘Cloud Atlas’ was given a wide enough release that it made it out to Grass Valley. As soon as I had the chance I went to check it out. With a running time of nearly 3 hours at 172 minutes (in the States – in China 39 minutes were cut out due to nudity, and specific conversations, which I would be curious which ones), I knew I was in for somewhat of a ride. These days when I’m about to shell out $10 – $12 for a film, I’m usually down for it to be at least 2 hours long, if not longer.
From beginning to end, I was captivated by the extremely thick dialogue spanning across six different eras throughout time, and with this dialogue, each era being vividly represented by stunning set design, locations, and cinematography overall. Along with this blast of thick visions of the past, present, and future, comes the continual complete change of character by each actor and actress, adding an odd array of conceptuality to the film. The makeup and costuming is done so well, that until the end of the film, you don’t fully realize just how often the actors and actresses are changing form through the six eras of time, though a few of the characters it’s extremely obvious, as it’s not easy to change a South Korean into an Irish redhead.
Being a huge geek and sci-fi fan, the story surrounding Sonmi-451 for me was potentially my favorite piece of six inside the movie. Set in Neo Seoul, 2144, the Wachowski Brothers shine throughout this segment, with stunning visuals, spot on acting from Hugo Weaving (a favorite of theirs) and Doona Bae, and an overall post-apocalyptic concept that any fan of Philip K. Dick or Stanley Kubrick will absolutely love. I could personally see this portion of the film being taken as a side project and expanded upon, but I doubt this will end up happening.
Even though I was fully captivated the entire length of the film, the moment it closed I was already longing for…something…more…yet, I hadn’t a clue what, or why I felt this way. I felt fulfilled by the film and was taken aback by how the directors had chosen to take six periods of time, and completely shuffle them up to a random point of confusion, yet somehow bring it all back around in the end. Even then, something was still missing. Having not known the film was adapted to the screen from a novel, the longing started to make sense. Had I know this, I more than likely would have attempted to finish the novel before seeing the film. That said, I went out in search of the book and found it a month or so later, after continually thinking about how blown away I was by this film over and over.
FILM GRADE: A-
I’m now sitting here in a brilliant little Belgian owned cafe in lower Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh named Illiterati, where I will trade off my copy of Cloud Atlas, the novel, that I just finished (finally) yesterday. The sun is setting on the Dhauladhar Range, topping the snowed in peaks of the mountains with a psychedelic orange pinkish hue, letting me once realize just how incredibly thick and expansive, lovely and frightful, and all the time dream-like this life really is. (Author’s Note: I started this post while I was in India a few months back. It’s now a few months later, and it’s finally getting posted, but technically, I’m not in India anymore…though I did want to leave this part in.)
This is relevant to this blog post on Cloud Atlas in every which way.
Now that I’ve finished the novel, the longing I felt after seeing the film has worn off as all the holes that they weren’t able to fit into almost 3 hours have been filled. Reading the book brings you a new, deeper perspective into these six different time periods, and the depth of which each of the main characters within hold while spanning over the 500 or so years that take place as you read. Without providing too many details here (as the whole goal of this post is to get YOU to read the book and watch the film!), you start to notice subtle differences between the comet-marked souls gliding through time, and how they hold similar stances on life, but continue to evolve as time moves on, with each different life presenting new obstacles and situations to grow from, eventually, gathering enough experience to be completely content with oneself as it rises and falls to the challenge presented.
The stories are written from all sorts of angles including a diary, letters written to a lover, a novel of an account that actually happened written from a different perspective, a last testament before succumbing to capitol punishment, a novel written in the first person, and a tale of life passed down to some children from an elder. I’ve never read anything like it.
NOVEL GRADE: A
The comparison between the two lies in that strange void between so many novels made into movies, yet with the film in this case sticking as true to the novel as those behind it possibly could. The fact of the matter is that transforming a novel into a film is not an easy task, and most novels when turned into films, if done perfectly, would spit out a four to six hour flick. We all know most audiences won’t sit through something so long, so the filmmakers have to do what they can to shrink the story while still hitting you with as much important relevant information as possible.
I saw the film before reading the novel, and constantly through I knew there was more to the story than what I was seeing in front of my face. Towards the end of the film I was craving more depth, and at the end I just sat in my seat, reflecting on how incredible the body of work was, but how this was definitely one of those films where I would have to read the novel to fill my craving for more.
What I am about to say is something that I rarely say, but in the case of Cloud Atlas – WATCH THE FILM FIRST. Get your mind blown with it’s stunning cinematography (in the scenes from the past) and visual effects (in the scenes from the future), set and costume design, and overall homage to the novel. If you truly enjoyed it, I urge you to read the novel, to fill in some of the gaps with pure information, written at you in a very different creative manner.
Both the film and the novel come at you in movements, just like a classical piece of music, one could say, just like the Cloud Atlas Sextet itself.