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Kevin Jagernauth at The Playlist doesn't care for CLOUD ATLAS:

There are a number of throughlines to "Cloud Atlas" that reach for profundity, but land with all the insight of a discounted New Age self help book. "Our lives are not our own, we are bound to each other past and present," Bae Doona's prophetess Sonmi-451 says with great importance. "Love could outlive death" and "Death is only a door" are more of the sagacious platitudes she shares in a film that beats these ideas into the ground, rather than letting them arise on their own. But worse, they never for a moment feel organically drawn or sincere. And coupled with a score that makes the audience know when it's supposed to be moved and/or learning something, the directness of "Cloud Atlas" often renders its various messages inert or eye-rollingly glib (and that's not counting a consumerism theme that's introduced and swiftly forgotten about).

And then there's the Wachowskis now strained up-with-people revolutionary politics that after "The Matrix" and "V For Vendetta" feels like they have nothing new to add to the conversation. With a common distinction in each of the stories being the struggle of the oppressed agasinst the oppressor, and the general unfairness of separation by class, gender or race, "Cloud Atlas" can only muster up a rather tepid obversation that "the gulf is an illusion" without really and truly doing the hard work of addressing the power structures in place that maintain these divisions, except in the most superficial manner.
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"When The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish [one of the stories in Cloud Atlas] is turned into a film, I advise thee, Director dearest, whom I picture as an intense, turtlenecked Swede named Lars..."

-Cloud Atlas, p. 355

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Blog post on my experience of reading Cloud Atlas chronologically.

Question for people who have read the book:

The Luisa Rey story is presented as a fictional story within the book, while the other are all nonfiction of one genre or another. Does that mean we should interpret it differently? It does cross over with the Zedelghem story, though, so it seems to exist at least partly in the same universe as the other stories.

Edited by Tyler

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Link to Lana Wachowski's speech about her gender transition.

An excellent speech, I thought. Very inspirational to those of us, who, like her, have struggled with gender dysphoria their whole lives but have always been afraid of coming out, afraid of transitioning. The fear of losing everything you care about is an awesome and terrible thing.

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I'm a sucker for movies like this. I consider the Wachowski's films to be my guilty pleasure; I *love* The Matrix and V for Vendetta, despite that fact that they're utterly clouded with flawed pretentiousness and overstuffed VFX budgets.

I'm probably going to enjoy Cloud Atlas despite how bad it's probably going to be.

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So, what's with the comet birthmarks?

One thing is clear: the fact that most of the principal cast play multiple characters in multiple eras is *not* meant to represent reincarnation. Tom Hanks sometimes plays a hero, and he sometimes plays a villain, but you never get any sense whatsoever that there's some sort of karmic continuity between the characters he plays; it's not like his later lives are presented as rewards or punishments for his earlier lives. Plus, I noted at least one case where two of the characters played by the same actor had overlapping lives (I refer to the middle-aged man Hugh Grant plays in 1973 and the rather elderly man he plays in 2012), so unless reincarnation somehow goes *back* in time as well as forwards, there's no reincarnation there.

Which is not to say that there isn't *some* sort of reincarnation here. But if there is, it's not to be found by linking all the characters played by a single actor. Hence my question about the birthmarks.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Plus, I noted at least one case where two of the characters played by the same actor had overlapping lives (I refer to the middle-aged man Hugh Grant plays in 1973 and the rather elderly man he plays in 2012)

At least in the novel, the 1973 section is a fictional story, which could explain the overlap, although I'm not sure if the movie tries to make that distinction. And the Sonmi character is an artificial creation, which makes it hard for her to fit into a reincarnation framework.

Also, yellowface controversy.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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One thing is clear: the fact that most of the principal cast play multiple characters in multiple eras is *not* meant to represent reincarnation.

Yes! Thank you. I keep seeing references to reincarnation, as though it's obvious that the characters through time are embodied by one soul, or whatever. The movie does not make this clear, and you raise a good point about the Hugh Grant characters. I was thinking the comet birthmark was connective, but really, who cares? What do we learn about this "soul" as it travels through time and indwells each character, if, indeed, that's what's indicated?

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Tyler wrote:

: At least in the novel, the 1973 section is a fictional story, which could explain the overlap, although I'm not sure if the movie tries to make that distinction.

There is nothing in the movie to indicate that the 1973 segment is fictitious. In fact, one of the characters from the 1936 segment plays a significant part in the 1973 segment, and there is nothing to indicate that one part of his story "really" happened while the other did not. (If I'm not mistaken, this character is also the only person who actually plays an active part in more than one segment -- though multiple segments do include the diaries, novels, symphonies, and videos etc. created by people in the earlier segments.)

Interestingly, I went into the film knowing that *one* of the segments was fictitious within the book, but I did not know *which* one. So on my way out of the theatre, I speculated that it might be the 2012 segment, since a fictionalized version of it is shown in one of the segments that takes place later; maybe, I speculated, the 2012 segment had *always* been fictitious (i.e. maybe it had been fictitious in the original novel). But apparently not?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Tyler wrote:

: At least in the novel, the 1973 section is a fictional story, which could explain the overlap, although I'm not sure if the movie tries to make that distinction.

There is nothing in the movie to indicate that the 1973 segment is fictitious. In fact, one of the characters from the 1936 segment plays a significant part in the 1973 segment, and there is nothing to indicate that one part of his story "really" happened while the other did not. (If I'm not mistaken, this character is also the only person who actually plays an active part in more than one segment -- though multiple segments do include the diaries, novels, symphonies, and videos etc. created by people in the earlier segments.)

Interestingly, I went into the film knowing that *one* of the segments was fictitious within the book, but I did not know *which* one. So on my way out of the theatre, I speculated that it might be the 2012 segment, since a fictionalized version of it is shown in one of the segments that takes place later; maybe, I speculated, the 2012 segment had *always* been fictitious (i.e. maybe it had been fictitious in the original novel). But apparently not?

The 2012 part (Titled "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish") is written as Timothy's memoir, and at a few points he talks about turning it into a screenplay (to be directed by a Danish guy named Lars); the implication is that he wrote the screenplay, and it's made into a movie that Sonmi watches in her story.

And you're right about the overlap between characters in the Luisa Rey and Frobisher stories. Not sure how to explain it. In the book, Cavendish even contacts the Luisa Rey author, a guy named Hilary V. Hush, so discuss the possibility of a sequel. (The original title is "Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery").

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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I was an admirer of the 2144 segment, which made me think of Haruki Murakami -- don't ask me why! -- and the 1973 segment, which had my favorite of Keith David's performances in the film. Plus, it has the too-cool. car-plunging-off-the-bridge scene.

I'm sure these segments are connected -- everything is! -- but I watched these, and the other segments, as discrete mini-movies. I know I wasn't supposed to, but the movie never invited me to think of them as anything more (beyond a shared birthmark among various characters and the same performers popping up over and over again).

The movie has some genuine highlights, but I'm not sure people are willing to admit just how bad it is when it's bad. And it's bad sometimes.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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By the way, a Cloud Atlas character appears in Mitchell's earlier novel Ghostwritten, which I think holds together as an overall story better than Cloud Atlas. It's Denholme Cavendish, the brother of the Timothy, who gets trapped the nursing home. I'm not sure if both books are meant to inhabit the same fictional universe, but you could make the case that they do.

From the Ghostwritten Wikipedia page:

Hong Kong

The life of financial lawyer Neal Brose starts to unravel as he tries to cope with the money laundering deal he is carrying out, and impending divorce. He lives alone in an apartment that he used to share with his wife, who left him to return to London because they couldn't have children. The apartment is haunted by the ghost of a girl. The owner of the company for which Neal works, Denholme Cavendish, asked him to manage a secret bank account...

Edited by Tyler

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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So, the biggest differences between book and movie are

you never find out who Zachry is telling his story to or where he is; you know he's quite old, but not that he's on a different planet. The Sonmi story has a few changes, too. In the novel, she initially leaves the Popa Song restaurant as a Phd's thesis experiment, because they've noticed her "ascending" (becoming more self-aware and intellectual, a point the movie skips) and want to study her. The Phd is basically a drunk, and she uses his computer to study and learn when he's not around. Hae-Joo eventually rescues her from there. The reason Sonmi (and Yoona) ascended was because the Union developed a formula that they smuggled into their Soap that boosts their intelligence, which they can replicate with other fabricants all around the world to spur the revolution.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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I thought the book was a fascinating and engaging experiment in writing in different genres. I thought the film was an interesting experiment in crossing genres. I thought that the attempts to find a unifying theme of reincarnation/unified souls or whatever never really meshed. But I thought the way that the film was constructed, the cutting between all the different stories, was done pretty well. I thought that the 19th century and 23/24th century segments weren't very engaging, but the other segments worked pretty well. The visual style was excellent and kept me involved.

This is definitely a film, though, where it really helps to read the book beforehand. I think if I didn't have that background knowledge, I would have been totally lost. I think that is the films greatest drawback, a lack of entry point for the viewer so the film can stand on its own.

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Incidentally, I'm intrigued by the way the credits specify which director(s) worked on which time-periods; the Wachowskis directed three and Tykwer directed three. But what does "directing" mean, here? Does not directing go beyond mere production to include post-production, too? Don't directors oversee the *editing* of a film, and the application of music etc. to the edited footage? Given that all six time-periods are cross-cut throughout the entire film, sometimes with voice-overs from one time-period overlaying footage from two or three *other* time-periods, I'm curious to know how the "directing" worked at that post-production stage.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Incidentally, I'm intrigued by the way the credits specify which director(s) worked on which time-periods; the Wachowskis directed three and Tykwer directed three. But what does "directing" mean, here? Does not directing go beyond mere production to include post-production, too? Don't directors oversee the *editing* of a film, and the application of music etc. to the edited footage? Given that all six time-periods are cross-cut throughout the entire film, sometimes with voice-overs from one time-period overlaying footage from two or three *other* time-periods, I'm curious to know how the "directing" worked at that post-production stage.

That was a concession to the DGA.

The filmmakers wanted all three directors to be listed as the 'directors' of the film, but the DGA couldn't fathom that. As I understand, both the Wachowskis and Twyker were involved in the entire process - from conception to editing.

Edited by Timothy Zila

@Timzila

"It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." (Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners).

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RE: the yellowface controversy

There's a subplot in the book (which the movie cuts out) about how a lot of people in Neo Seoul have cosmetic facial reconstruction surgeries, which supposedly change how they look drastically. Somni-451 has a procedure to change her appearance so she won't be recognized as a fabricant after she escapes.

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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Highlighting this just because I like the title:

Life is Too Short for Cloud Atlas’s Self-Indulgence

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Oh. My. Word. I'm going mad over this. This is something movies haven't been since D.W. Griffith. This is something we've been waiting for since 1916 when Intolerance came out. In terms of craft, it's not quite first-rate cinema. It never transcends the "pretty good" level, and sometimes fails at that. But it's an exciting new vision of the possibilities of storytelling. Undoubtedly I'm only revealing my ignorance, and a tradition of films that weave together several different, widely separated but thematically connected storylines in this manner has been going on in the Albanian New Wave or something for decades, but as far as I'm aware this is the only true example since Intolerance of what has been called a "film fugue".

The parallel action and intercutting and the pairing of words in one story with action in another may have been unsubtle at times, but it reveals possibilities out of reach of a single story, no matter how broad in scope. Things open up so much. It shows the universality of the stories--this goes back to Griffith--in a way that couldn't be done by any other method. Ditto for the actors playing multiple roles--with regard to which, by the way, David Thomson simply needed to pay more attention to the movie he was watching, if he was actually surprised by this during the end credits. I didn't recognize all the identities, or even most of them, but it was obvious that certain faces were recurring, even if he didn't notice that the matron at the retirement home where the publisher finds himself is comically, obviously a man. There are intriguing connections from characters in one story to another, not all of them obvious at first glance. Just one example: Keith David's character, who, as a slave, professes under duress to be "content to serve" in that early awkward dinner scene, later turns up as the head of security of the nuclear plant, where he really does act as a willing servant, protecting Luisa.

The weaving in and out from nonfiction narrative (the letters, etc.) to fiction to reality is interesting as well--and you can see this in the film, though you have to be sharp-eyed. At one point, you can see Cavendish (the publisher) character handle a manuscript titled Half Lives: A Luisa Rey Mystery, written by a Javier Gomez. And Javier is the name of the kid who for some reason is always hanging around Luisa's apartment, and keeps talking about life as a mystery story. (For example, "You realize that in any good mystery story, that's what you would say right before you were killed!") I thought of him as a portrait of a storyteller in the process of creation--his creations are so real to him that he doesn't know what they're going to do or what's going to happen to them.

So, yeah. Even though the quality is nothing very special, I loved this (first time around, anyway) and find it a bold and important experiment. Am I cracking up, Doctor? Is this the last of the ninth?

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