Paul P. Mealing

Check out my book, ELVENE. Available as e-book and as paperback (print on demand, POD). 2 Reviews: here. Also this promotional Q&A on-line.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is a very recent release, which I saw last weekend; a collaborative effort by the Wachowski siblings (Lana and Andy) and Tom Tykwer. The Wachowski siblings famously gave us the Matrix trilogy (shot in Australia) and Twyker gave us Run Zola Run (made in Germany) a brilliant film that played with different media (like anime) and time (not unlike Ground Hog Day, only different). Cloud Atlas was shot in Scotland, Germany and Majorca, and, considering all its different scenarios shot with conscientious realism, it must have been very expensive.

It has to be said straight away that this film, with its 6 overlapping stories, all in different periods, and only tenuous connections, won’t appeal to everyone, yet I liked it a lot. A bloke sitting a couple of seats away from me kept looking at his iphone; a sure indication of boredom. I suspect the only thing that kept him in his seat (other than the outlay for his ticket) were the action scenes and any storyline was irrelevant to his need for entertainment. Without actually talking to him, this may be a harsh judgement, but I suspect he simply gave up trying to keep track of the 6 interlocking stories; so, for many, this may be a flawed film. Even David Stratton (arguably, Australia’s most respected film reviewer) who gave it 3.5 stars (his co-host, Margaret Pomeranz, gave it 4) said he’d like to see it again.

I think what saved the film, for me, was that all 6 stories were good stories in their own right and they all followed the classic narrative arc of setup, conflict and resolution. I thought the editing between stories (especially at the beginning) was too frequent, but that’s a personal prejudice. Once I got past the setup for each story (some took longer than others) I had no trouble following them. I made no attempt to follow any links between them (more on that below) and they all had the same theme, which was human rights and oppression, and how it hasn’t changed historically, except in its focus, and how it will continue into the future of our evolutionary development.

One story was set in the 19th Century, 2 in the 20th Century, 1 in the present, and 2 in the future. At almost 3 hours duration each story really only took up half an hour, therefore it didn’t drag, at least for me. As a writer I like to have 2 or 3 subplots happening at once – that’s how I write – so multiple storylines are not a problem in themselves. The popular series, Game of Thrones, has multiple storylines of 4 or more, yet I’ve never heard anyone say it was too difficult to follow.

Only one character, as far as I could tell, traversed 2 of the stories (in the 20th Century) and there was a very clever link between the 2 future stories, which was only revealed towards the end, and I won’t give it away, except to say (spoiler alert) that it reveals how a mortal from the past can be seen as Godlike in the future. In other words, they gain an iconic status as a result of their personal sacrifice. I thought this was the singularly most germane insight of the entire movie.

To call it ambitious is an understatement. Even within individual stories, they play with time, using every storytelling device that film allows, with flashbacks, flash-forwards and voiceovers. At least once, I observed that the voiceover from one story continued into another story; to emphasise a common theme rather than any continuity in content. The trailer emphasises the common thread in a mystical sense, yet, for me, that is not what the movie is about. I thought the 2 future stories were the most powerful, especially the near-future one. My advice to anyone viewing this is just go with the flow; don’t try to analyse it while you’re watching it but just treat each story on its merit.


Eli Horowitz said...

Yeah, I actually liked this movie, too, even though I didn't expect to. I'd read the novel going into it and thought that it was more of a technical accomplishment than a well-rounded story or narrative work, but somehow the movie was a little more complete in that way.

At any rate, it certainly was ambitious, and I do agree that they made the stories comprehensible and easy to follow. That in and of itself is a significant technical accomplishment as well, I suppose.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Eli,

I don't know if you checked out the link, but the comments there (obviously from Aussies) are really polarised. But I noticed that people who liked the book tended to like the movie. I agree with you: a great accomplishment on many levels, considering how ambitious it was.

Regards, Paul.