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Friday, January 4, 2013

Cloud Atlas

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Once in a while, a film comes along that creates a division between critics and filmmakers. In 2012, that film was Cloud Atlas─there was no middle ground; you either loved it or you hated it. I, for one, belong to the former, and I think that all the love and hate for the film can be boiled down to one reason: Cloud Atlas is just way ahead of its time. And here are four reasons why.

Cloud Atlas/X Filme/Anarchos
The special effects isn't even one of those reasons.

1. It is a true collaboration.
Yes, we all know that making a film is a collaborative effort. But the collaboration we are used to involves one main man at the helm (the director), and all the rest of the collaborators upholding the director's vision. This film involves not one but three directors─technically just two, because Andy and Lana Wachowski sort of count as one person.

Of course, this isn't the first collaboration in the history of cinema. More recent collaborators in film include Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, but their movie involved two separate segments. Cloud Atlas has German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (who also co-wrote the musical score) and the Wachowskis directing different narratives, the end result of which is a brilliantly woven masterpiece on inter-cutting. This means that although they physically shot their segments separately with different units and crews, Tykwer and the Wachowskis storyboarded the entire film together.

Lana Wachowski is actually... cute. 

Also, Tom Tykwer has actually succeeded in coaxing the Wachowskis out of their shy shells. They do press conferences now, partly because of Tom Tykwer's media-whore nature, and partly because the LGBT community persuaded Lana to be more visible.


2. It tells six stories simultaneously
These six stories are:
  1. The Master and Commander-like story where Jim Sturgess befriends the slave Autua, and Tom Hanks plays an evil doctor with a nasty overbite;
  2. The "Cloud Atlas Sextet" story, where Ben Whishaw plays the bisexual composer Robert Frobisher, and Halle Berry plays a white Jew;
  3. The San Francisco in the seventies story, where Halle Berry and James D'Arcy get trapped in an elevator and he notices her comet birthmark;
  4. The Knuckle Sandwich story, where Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant play aging siblings, and Hugo Weaving plays a female nurse;
  5. The Matrix story (it's actually Neo Seoul, South Korea, 132 years after "Gangnam Style"), where Doona Bae plays Sonmi-451, Zhou Xun plays the beautiful Yoona-939, and Jim Sturgess plays an unconvincing oriental; and
  6. The far-off future story; where Susan Sarandon plays a pretty high priestess whose eyes change color, and Tom Hanks and Halle Berry keep using the words "true-true".

Cloud Atlas/X Filme/Anarchos
Hugh Grant as a cannibal warlord is priceless.

On the surface, these six stories seem to exist independently of each other, but they are connected on a cosmic level, which justifies these actors playing different parts. These six stories exist in different time periods, and they are told bit by bit, ending with a mini-cliffhanger before jumping to another story. And the beautiful thing about telling six simultaneous stories is that they will soon end up having a common narrative arc. The six stories will reach their rising action, climax, and dénouement all at the same time, which will give the illusion that all of them are actually one story.


3. It uses visual rhymes.
George Lucas once said about The Phantom Menace was that he consciously wrote some scenes to "visually rhyme" with some scenes from A New Hope. Sorry, Mr. Lucas, those aren't visual rhymes. This one is.

Cloud Atlas/X Filme/Anarchos

The rhyming visuals have to be placed side-by-side. Just like in written poetry, a rhyme will only become evident when they are placed one after the other. Separate them far enough, and the context will force the words to lose their rhyming associations.

Here's another visual rhyme:

Cloud Atlas/X Filme/Anarchos

The actors playing multiple parts can also be considered as visual rhymes, if you force it. Which I won't.


4. The scope of the time frame is enormous.
The stories range chronologically from 1849 all the way up to 2321, a.k.a. 106 winters after The Fall (of course winter always comes after fall, get it?) so that in itself is something new. That's a time frame of 442 years. The only other saga I can think of with a scope like that is Alex Haley's Roots, but even that only covers 200+ years. Also, Cloud Atlas is a film, not a television series, not even a film trilogy. To squeeze over four centuries in under three hours is a feat in itself.


If you loved Cloud Atlas, you will definitely want more. So here's the press conference video for the cast and crew at the Toronto International Film Festival, just so you can listen to how everyone had a blast working on this film, which will hopefully make you feel bad that this didn't do well in the box office. Also, here's a link to an excellent interview of the Wachowskis by the New Yorker, which literally made me cry.



Cloud Atlas. Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore. 2012.



Rating: 8.5 / 10





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