If Paul Haggis’s 2004 film ‘Crash’ explored racial and social tensions in Los Angeles through the interweaving stories of several characters and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2006 movie ‘Babel’ related several inter-connected tales from different parts of the world; Cloud Atlas, the screen adaptation of David Mitchell’s daunting novel by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings of Matrix fame, is a complex, multi-layered narrative showing how the actions of intertwined individuals living in six separate timelines, impact one another through the past, present and future.
“As I was writing Cloud Atlas,” the multiple award-winning British novelist told The New Yorker, “I thought, it’s a shame this is unfilmable.” He was wrong. Tykwer/Wachowski’s adaptation of Mitchell’s magnum opus which is set in 1849, 1936, 1973, the present day, 2144 and the 2300s is impressive and we’re not sure we can say the same of the battery of “unfilmable” texts ranging from literary classics, non-fiction tomes, newspaper and magazine articles and even self-help books that have made it to the big screen. (We wait, we wait in hope for someone truly audacious to attempt J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.)
The Sunday Telegraph created ripples when it disclosed it would not review ”Cloud Atlas” because its critic found it ”unreadable’ emulating philistines who had written off Herman Melville’s Moby Dick when it was first published in 1851.
Unsurprisingly, Melville’s book, now considered one of the greatest novels in the English language, is referenced in the movie by a contemporary publisher (played by Jim Broadbent).
Literature, music, history, politics, science and the mystery of life, death and the after-life are manifested through conflict, action, romance, suspense and a little humour in this inspired production which has a character underlining the connectedness of the web of life.
“Everything is connected,” states the tagline for Cloud Atlas (bringing to mind E M Forster who wrote, “Connect, only connect the passion and the prose”). The journal written by the San Franciso attorney Adam (Jim Sturgess) Ewing journal is found by the musician Robert (Ben Whishaw) Frobisher, Frobisher’s letters are read by the journalist Louisa (Halle Berry) Rey, Rey’s story is submitted to the editor Timothy (Broadbent) Cavendish, Cavendish’s story becomes an old film watched by the Korean wage-slave “fabricant”Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) who is spurred to revolt after watching a fragment of the old movie; one of the gods worshipped in primitive goatherd Zachry’s (Tom Hanks) dystopian 23rd century world is Sonmi-451 herself.
Confused? Don’t be. Each actor plays multiple roles, cutting across race and gender which (thanks to bravura prosthetics) makes it difficult to tell who’s who.
In this, the film suggests that the way we look on the outside isn’t not important, what matters is the way we are inside. (You might like to know Lana was born Laurence “Larry” Wachowski). But we take who we are to our ways of seeing and perceiving. Which is why I and you need to see this visually arresting, adroitly directed, well-acted epic drama of love, hate, oppression and the struggle for freedom at least three times.