Cloud Atlas suffers from an increasingly frequent problem: being critically hyped as a perfect storm of great screenwriting, powerful action and innovative storytelling techniques, and then falling flat on its face because it can’t live up to its own bloated reputation. (I like to call it Inception Syndrome. You like it? It’s yours).
by Jamie Wynen
A recap for those of us living on Mars: Cloud Atlas (the movie) is a cinematic adaptation of Cloud Atlas (the novel), which I have not yet read and so cannot make the regular complaint that the book was better than the movie. The novel would probably have to release flesh-eating spiders into my lap to be worse than the movie, but I digress.
In the film, we follow several characters as they are reincarnated through different time periods. This is the film’s most controversial feature: using the same actors in different character roles – sometimes even as different races and genders. Easy to do in a book, but more difficult onscreen, where the Big Print is no longer visible to the audience and can only flail about behind the screen.
We follow several characters as they are reincarnated through different time periods.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the original novelist David Mitchell stated that the book’s ‘structure always struck me as unfilmable’. Although he concludes that ‘the filmmakers speak fluent film language, and they’ve done what works’, I don’t think that’s the same as what’s great.
The frequent cutting from story to story borders on the schitzophrenic, the genre shifts feel like shallower copies of better stories (Django Unchained? What are you doing here?) and though seeing Hugo Weaving dress up in drag and play a crossdressing Nurse Ratched is certainly a rare novelty, the fact that he’s bodily dragged along the entire plot of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest seems to be cheating.
What else? To avoid spoilers, I’ll speak in generalities: the dialogue is about as sharp and subtle as a paving slab to the bridge of the nose, the action feels kind of token and sexless and it spends a great deal of time making limp thematic statements about racism and slavery. And you can’t always make Tom Hanks the good guy. We know his face is kind of intrinsically likeable, but typecasting is typecasting. Especially when you’ve got poor Hugo Weaving snarling and grimacing away like a homicidal racist Grinch.
The frequent cutting from story to story borders on the schitzophrenic.
The film’s saving grace is its editing, which pulls together what must have been a gigantic pile of confusing footage into what is actually a very coherent film. It’s just a shame that what it has to say isn’t particularly moving. If you do see this film, see it for the editing. Time and time again it cleverly links together highly disparate scenes via visual motifs and thematic commonalities.
Cloud Atlas will not set the world on fire. It’s shallower than advertised. It’s almost Disney, child-friendly, completely un-challenging.
But it’s a noble failure: no insipid formulaic churn-out doth this be. To paraphrase video games journalist Ben Croshaw, there are two reasons people make movies: because they think it would be an interesting thing for audiences to watch, or because the big pool of money that they swim around in is getting low and they would like some audience members to enthusiastically throw their disposable income into it like very expensive confetti. And Cloud Atlas is the former type of movie. It pushes the envelope of cinematic storytelling, experiments with new techniques, and tries very hard to be bold.
So ultimately, maybe you should see it. Just don’t expect it to change your life.
Jamie Wynen is a UTS Writing Graduate who took one look at the real world and went straight back to uni for a Masters, this time in Media Production. He has interests and experience across a number of fields, including writing, photography, cinematography, and Youtube connoisseur.
Jamie also looks after the video content for The Story Department.
Photo Credits: Stock XChng