Cloud Atlas - 2012
Directors: Tom Twyker, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, recently became one of my favorite books of all time. It is a literary feat I have never encountered before - six stories of varying genres and time periods nested within each other like Russian dolls, every one of them wonderful pieces of writing in their own worth, but together they become a masterpiece. They are all connected at the core to bind together the meaning you find in the book. The overarching theme deals with the idea that souls live on through the centuries, and while taking on different personas, both villainous and heroic, they remain the same soul. Cloud Atlas is one of the most beautiful and poetic pieces of writing I have ever read but it’s very difficult to describe its power. You just have to read it yourself.
Logically I was excited when I heard it was being made into a movie. However, I didn’t allow myself to even watch the trailer until I had finished the book. I was excited for several reasons - because of its unusual format and variety of subjects and characters, Cloud Atlas had been deemed impossible to film and I was interested to see how they managed it. It had an incredible cast and incredible locations. It seemed like the type of movie that could be amazing if it were done right, but horrible if it was done wrong. The whole project was incredibly ambitious and I wanted it to succeed.
I was not disappointed. Cloud Atlas was wonderfully adapted to screen and I don’t know if they could have done it better. The format had to be changed for the film, and rather than being nested within each other, the stories were spliced and divided up for the entire length. It wasn’t as powerful a device as the original format, but I think it was the best choice for screen. Every genre was its own, every character an individual, yet the movie adequately gave the sense that every piece of the stories were connected somehow to each other. Cloud Atlas solves many of these issues by casting actors to play multiple characters, some playing those of opposite gender or a different race to reinforce the idea of soul-reincarnation. Everyone was well-cast, although I felt a bit sorry for Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant, as it seemed they played many of the evil characters. The actors I thought were especially good were Tom Hanks, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, and Keith David. Though it didn’t catch my notice, the author David Mitchell reportedly made a cameo appearance. The costume design was amazing, particularly for the Hawaii sequences. Appropriately, the soundtrack was gorgeous and memorable.
Yes, there were things left out of movie that were in the book, and things they added to the movie. But I think the directors made the right decisions on how best to realize this film. Incredibly, the work was split between two film crews - the Wachowski siblings and Twkyer, yet the movie comes together seamlessly. According to Wikipedia, Cloud Atlas as a project was almost dropped several times, but the cast and directors made it happen.
It’s a long movie but fast-paced and suspenseful, and more than anything, Cloud Atlas is beautiful. Even if you don’t enjoy the movie, it will keep you thinking long after you have finished. I suggest reading the book first because no matter how good the movie is, it will never match the power of the original work by David Mitchell.