I watched Cloud Atlas last night – I liked it, but I’m inclined to say it’s overrated. Well, I admit that both the film and the book are mammoth projects – difficult to execute, difficult to orchestrate in particular. But the underlying idea, I think, is not so grand as the film appears to be. It relies mostly on visual effects, make-up and action scenes – which are spectacular by the way (Apparently, it’s one of the most expensive independent films ever.) And with the book, once the author decided on the main story line, I think it was a matter of perseverance to finish writing it – what I mean is, the individual stories look like conventional stories, I’m sure the author put a lot of effort to write them well of course.
So it’s a film about reincarnation, and of course you only see the whole picture at the very end. There are little “signs” that connect the reincarnated characters, (I haven’t read the book, and I’d thought the directors added some visual cues, but I learned from a review of the book that they exist in the text as well) and at different points of time, at different places, they actually live parallel lives: they need to make similarly tough choices, put themselves in danger to save someone else etc. The parallels are clear to us because those roles are played by the same actors and actresses. That’s a cinematic gimmick, but I can only assume that the author originally created this effect by emphasizing the parallels in plot: one chapter ending with a certain situation, another chapter – in a different “world”, so to say – starting with a similar one, so the illusion of continuity is maintained.
Acting – Tom Hanks and Halle Berry were great of course, but I also loved Bae Doona. Although the main attraction of the film is make-up (“see if you can spot Tom Hanks in all the different scenes!”) I didn’t find that aspect particularly interesting. The cast looks like a deliberately multicultural one, but Halle Berry ends up playing the part of a blonde, green-eyed Jew, and Doona Bae ends up playing the role of the white Anglo-Saxon American in the 19th century (also green-eyed) – that required a stretch of the imagination. I wondered if the story of Dermott Hoggins really did make a contribution to the plot, (I mean, it looked a bit long-winded to me) but that added some colour, with Tom Hanks using the f-word in every other sentence.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help comparing it to the 2006 film Babel, which also revolved around fate and chance but minus all the blood and gory in the Cloud Atlas. (I also couldn’t help think all that fighting served to attract male audiences.) I think I’d rather watch Babel for a second time than watch the Cloud Atlas twice.
One final comment: the characters in the post-apocalyptic future (year 2321) speak an English that sounds like the language of Pirates of the Carribbean. Well, the author apparently tried to suggest cyclicality – after the fall, you start from the beginning, all primitive and everything. That’s why he makes those speak old English – he calls it “a broken-down mutation of English.” (I don’t know if it’s realistic, but never mind.) Well but then he also says that the inhabitants of the post-apocalyptic world “are well on the way to resembling the Moriori of the Adam Ewing section” – so, back to square one, he’s trying to say. And the trouble is, the Moriori are (were) a real Pacific tribe whose members are (were) enslaved, which raised my eyebrows a bit. Couldn’t he find a PC symbol of primitiveness?