A set of six nested stories spanning time between the 19th century and a distant post-apocalyptic future. Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. Action, mystery and romance weave through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future. Based on the award winning novel by David Mitchell. Directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis.
06 Feb Cloud Atlas (2012)
Were I to worry about our future, it would be less about all the horrors that await than our ability to reason about them. There is a rather short tether between this and wonder about what we are doing to long form narrative. My own story about who we are and where we came from rides on the back of long, complex multidimensional stories. It isn’t language so much that drives evolution but what wonders we build with it. In my life I have witnessed our expected length of concept shrink from hours to minutes or even seconds. I blamed TeeVee, then internet trends.
So when I see a film constructed like this, my first suspicion is that the writers and viewers have entered into a pact: short episodes, high visual richness with an engaging, somewhat amusing hunt to find the celebrity behind the makeup. This would be a pact built on laziness and worlds too simple to live in: good guy, bad guy, savior. It would be a pact that allows us to use the length of sitting to convince ourselves that we understand stories like the grownups do. This is my first thought coming in and it puts me on guard.
And this is in spite of the presence of Tom Tykwer, who made ‘Heaven’ one of the most inferentially complex long form constructions I know. Here he directs three 15 minute films. Two are trivial. The 1936 era story is in fact structured after the fashion of Kieslowski, and could easily have served to make the rest matter if they had similar anchors in the world, anchors of unknown loss. God I wish he had written the whole thing.
The 2012 story is pretty darn good, too. Not because of what it contributes, which is just comic relief, but in the way it is told through references to other films. Included is the very cool notion that the film we see is the source of another, written by the guy within both. (We see a bit of this film in a later episode, shoehorned into the plot.)
These are just two out of six. The last two chronologically overwhelm the rest with childish simplicity, and manic emphasis. So it lacks many of the things that matter to me when I come to a film for sustenance.
But holy cow the art of how they are edited together is astonishing. Often I have some inside information about the process, but I have been working other things recently. So I just do not know whether the director-writers knew what they were doing ahead of time or some internal genius sorted it out. No matter; this is good craft and if you are in the mood to be swept up by it, it will work for you. It did for me.
Others have successfully pulled off this strategy of short episodes additive in some way to give us the value from long form. That value, by the way, is to be sufficiently incarnated in the thing that when changes in it occur, we change.
Posted in 2013
Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.