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Cloud Atlas

Entry updated 8 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

Film (2012). Cloud Atlas Productions/X-Filme Creative Pool/Anarchos Pictures. Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy (now Lilly) Wachowski and Lana Wachowski. Written by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski, based on the novel Cloud Atlas (2004) by David Mitchell. Cast includes Doona Bae, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, James D'Arcy, Keith David, Hugh Grant, David Gyasi, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving and Ben Whishaw. 172 minutes. Colour.

Following Mitchell's novel, the film offers six intertwined stories involving people who often appear to be Reincarnations of characters in earlier stories. In the nineteenth-century South Pacific, Adam Ewing (Sturgess) voyages home to San Francisco while being unknowingly poisoned by the evil Dr Henry Goose (Hanks); in the early twentieth century, ambitious young composer Robert Frobisher (Whishaw) becomes the amanuensis for the elderly, once-prominent composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Broadbent); in the 1970s, investigative reporter Luisa Rey (Berry) learns of a conspiracy to conceal dangerous flaws in a California nuclear power plant; in today's world, British publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) is unwillingly imprisoned in a senior citizen centre that he and others strive to escape from; in a future Korea, an oppressed female Clone who works for a restaurant chain, Sonmi-451 (Bae), aspires to achieve freedom from her totalitarian society (see Dystopia); and further in the future, when civilization has largely collapsed, Hawaiian goatherd Zachry (Hanks) joins one of the few remaining representatives of an advanced society, Meronym (Berry), in an attempt to escape from an apparently Dying Earth.

One must admire the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's efforts to achieve a faithful, impeccably produced adaptation of Mitchell's complex novel with only a few concessions to the demands of mass-market filmmaking (mainly, frenetic cross-cutting between the six stories and minor revisions to heighten conflict in some stories). Yet the film cannot overcome the central flaw in its source material, the fact that there is nothing that really unites its disparate narratives except for a few, less-than-profound repeated themes: people can often be very mean to other people, for example, and confined people generally wish to be free. It is also striking that its sequences set in the past are the most nuanced and most successful, while its present-day story is cartoonishly comical and the two adventures set in the future are overloaded with contrived action, as if the filmmakers felt that these stories must be filled with violence to compensate for the other, more sedate stories. The film is further weakened by its dogged determination to cast its main performers as people of different races and genders, with makeup that is conspicuously unpersuasive (particularly in the case of the Caucasians pretending to be Asians). [GW]


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