Monthly Archives: November 2012

Cloud Atlas

Saw “Cloud Atlas” today, and thought it quite brilliant, with a couple significant reservations. First: the dutiful Hollywood action scenes, in which our heros, in three of the six stories, fantastically outgun their opponents with barely a scratch. This is a convention of Hollywood action movies, but is totally implausible in any real world, and it detracted from the otherwise high-minded themes of the film. Second, as my partner commented afterwards, the reappearance of actors in the several stories implied a relationship among their characters that was not necessarily intended; he spent a lot of time trying to figure out how Tom Hanks’ character in one story was related to his character in another….

Third, somewhat minorly, the ‘Cloud Atlas’ sonata, the music itself, was not significant enough to provide a memorable motif. They might have hired a better composer.

Now, a criticism of the movie, and of the book before it, was that they are somewhat of a stunt; a set of loosely interlocked stories set across various eras that don’t have much to do with one another beyond incidental coincidences. David Mitchell’s novel, which I read back in 2005 or so [I finished the book on a long 4+ hour delay at some airport, on the way home from some convention], in a way emphasizes the stunt aspect — each story is told in a different style: journal entries, letters, thriller, comedy, interview dialogues, and at the center a mutated future English language. The movie, to its credit, tries to imply a deeper connection between these stories by casting the actors in various roles — across race and even gender — though this implication of personalities sorta reincarnated across time, or reappearing across time, is not something I think was suggested by the book.

Still, I think there is a deeper theme that I can detect in the film, and if I’d been editor of the book, or film, I might have suggested that it be made a bit more explicit (I realize I’m being very presumptuous here). Which is: freedom. The six stories are all about breaking free of convention, of restrictions and rote and religion. Not all of them end happily. The earliest story is about a man who frees a slave but who is confined by a ‘doctor’ trying to kill him — but who is eventually freed from that. The second story is about a young composer exposed for his sexuality and who, in his era, has no way out. The third story, the 1973 nuclear power plant story, is about freedom of information; the truth will make you free. The 2012 story is a farce about a publisher confined to some sort of nursing home, who literally frees himself by the end. The Neo-Seoul story is about the exposure of a class system that recycles fabricants, ala Soylent Green, and whose testimony implicitly brings down her society. And the final story is about a future primitive tribesman exposed to a truth about his society he never expected, but which ultimately saves his family, and his society, in a glorious otherworldy close.