Cloud Atlas

What if there were like a book of maps, only it was made out of the sky? That would be weird.

Well, anyway. At a climactic point in CLOUD ATLAS a character talks righteously about freedom, and about refusing to accept boundaries. And that’s what Lana and Andy Wachowski (who directed this along with Tom Tykwer) have done with their lives, their careers and this movie in particular. If you haven’t heard what CLOUD ATLAS is, it’s a nearly 3-hour epic based on a supposedly unadaptable book. It takes place in a bunch of different time periods ranging from the age of slavery to a dystopian future to even a post-apocalyptic future after that. But not in order – it jumps around from story to story, like a bunch of unrelated movies edited together as a weird joke on Youtube.

All of the stories have a character rebelling against some imposed restriction (you are a slave, you are an indentured servant, you live in a nursing home). I think they all have a love story too. Each has a character with a birthmark shaped like a shooting star. And to further illustrate the interconnectedness of people across time, and possibly reincarnation and shit, the main actors all play several characters. Most play at least one character of a different race or gender. Not all are recognizable. It’s like an Eddie Murphy movie, except funny.

Nah, that was a cheap joke. It’s a very earnest and un-self-conscious movie, which makes for some really goofy moments, but I respect it. And it would be cool if Eddie was in it, that would’ve really confused people, you’d have to figure out if he was being more serious than usual or just not being funny, as usual.

I love that they made this movie, but I gotta admit I didn’t love watching it. I tried, man, I really did. But it took me probly more than half the movie to start connecting with it. Yeah, it’s a little confusing to keep track of everything, but I don’t think that’s my problem with it. To me it’s pretty boring, without many likable or interestingly unlikable characters. Like I said it’s a bunch of movies smashed together, and most are not movies I’d like on their own. Not the Miramax Oscar bait type movie about the gay visionary indentured to the mean old has-been composer. Not the middlebrow comedy about adorable elderly people staging a “jail break” from the nursing home while Hugo Weaving in drag as a mean nurse chases after them. You’d think the post-apocalyptic journey to the mountain top would be one of the best, but I don’t know man, that didn’t have that much to grab me either, and it had an evil Devil guy in a top hat, which anybody who knows me would tell you I have always been against.

Oh shit, you know what it is? It’s like skipping through an entire season of Amazing Stories! They had some good ones but you never knew when it was gonna be some condescending treacle about magical elderly folks.

The other sci-fi one (Wachowskis did the two sci-fis and the slave ship) is the most exciting, but there’s a pretty big issue with it – the hero is Jim Sturgess made up as an Asian, and I tried to go with it, but man. He sometimes reminded me of Mike Meyers playing Asian on SNL, but more often of a kid I grew up with who was born with alot of birth defects. There are exciting sci-fi action scenes with laser guns and hover bikes and shit, all really well done, but it’s hard to get behind when the guy looks like that. Christian Bale yelled it best, it’s fucking distracting.

I guess it doesn’t look horrible in this picture, but it’s worse when he’s moving and talking. Or maybe it’s not even the makeup, maybe he’s just too much of a weiner. I don’t know, but they weren’t as successful in making this guy cool as they were with Keanu Reeves.

I’m not saying it’s offensive. They’re careful to go different ways. They have Asians playing white people too, and Halle Berry with darker skin, and the great Keith David playing black and Asian. Actually the most befuddling is when Doona Bae plays “Mexican Woman,” speaking Spanish with a Korean accent, as directed by a German. I was so confused. The subtext of this approach is that race and gender are a distraction, we’re all the same underneath. But there’s also an accidental subtext of “Boy, we sure do look different,though. There is just no way to use makeup to change somebody’s race without looking creepy and fake. It is a really, really bad idea to try to do that a whole bunch of times in one movie because, jesus.”

I guess I should say the cast is good. They’re all game, anyway, doing crazy shit for a crazy movie made by crazy people. In a good way. I noticed they got Jim Sturgess who I never heard of before ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and Ben Wishaw, who I never heard of before THE TEMPEST, so I guess somebody on this production likes Julie Taymor movies like I do.

There are plenty of things I like in the movie. There is some beautiful imagery, especially in the futuristic-but-not-post-apocalyptic parts. The part that was in the ’70s, with Keith David dressed as Shaft, helping Halle Berry in some kind of “reporter gets too close to the truth” conspiracy thriller, that was pretty cool. The part where Tom Hanks played some kind of Cockney gangster… well, “liked” is not the word for it, but I was weirdly fascinated by how much I could still like ol’ Tom while watching such an air ball of a performance. (This Vanity Fair piece, by the way, describes the character as “African-American”! So whatever he was going for it must not have come across to one of us.)

My favorite story detail might be that the oppression faced in Neo-Seoul (a futuristic city, not to be confused with the works of Eryka Badu and D’Angelo) is not against a race but against a servant class. (Well, also specifically against women.) They grab her ass and make obscene gestures because she’s just a waitress, they can get away with it. Her crime is standing up against a customer who degrades her. I don’t think I’ve seen another story where a waitress gets fed up and leads a revolution. That’s great.

But then there’s a big reveal of a shocking brutality that goes on in this society, and it’s a good moment, but then I couldn’t help but think about the similar revelation in THE MATRIX and realize how much more powerful it was when I was invested in the characters and the premise too. Not just the structure and the subtext.

Because I couldn’t get into the stories individually, the unique structure and the connections had to be fascinating or moving enough to make up for that, and for me they were not. This might be partly my fault: I didn’t understand until hearing an interview with the Wachowskis that the journals and compositions and things that are passed on from time period to time period form a direct line from one person’s act of self expression in the first time period to a revolution in the next to last (and the saving of the human race after that, I think?) This is a beautiful idea but I didn’t piece it together while watching it, I just got bored with people looking at old journals. I’m sure plenty of people understood this while watching it, so I will cop to a failure as a viewer and not blame it on the Wachowskis and Tykwer not communicating it clearly enough. But if I’d gotten it I don’t know if that still would’ve been enough.

Something has just occurred to me that’s gonna sound more harsh than I want it to, but I gotta say it. There is kind of a similarity between this and SOUTHLAND TALES. They’re both kinda crazy ambitious how-did-they-expect-to-get-away-with-this type of epics. CLOUD ATLAS seems way more focused and coherent in what it’s trying to say, and I could understand loving it more than I could understand loving SOUTHLAND TALES. But to be honest I was less bored by SOUTHLAND TALES (admittedly on home video with a day long intermission between halves).

Bringing this up probly sounds like an attack on CLOUD ATLAS, but actually I think it’s more of a “maybe I should be more open to SOUTHLAND TALES” type of notion. But that could be foolish. I better be careful about that.

I feel like with CLOUD ATLAS I might like it more on a second viewing, but I also suspect I’ll never feel like sitting down and making that second viewing happen. I might just have to leave this review to inspire some future generation to write a song about it that will be decoded hundreds of years later and adapted into a cartoon that will be beamed into space and then aliens will create a monument that later is uncovered by colonial archaeologists who will be inspired to watch CLOUD ATLAS again and find out if they like it better than I did.

Some of the debate on this movie I guess is whether the “everything is connected” theme is profound or just corny. My feeling is that there’s not alot you can say about life that’s gonna truly blow people’s minds. But you can say something that rings true and you can say it in a clever way, and I think they’ve accomplished that here. For me personally the implication of reincarnation makes it a little more new agey than I would prefer, but it still works poetically. We are still affected by slavery and by old records and ideas and what we do has the potential to affect the future and that’s all the more reason to be good to people and to fight for freedom for ourselves and others and to do what we can to make the world a better place. Just yesterday I heard a guy babbling about how he didn’t care that much about the elections ’cause he had maybe 20 years tops to live and doesn’t have any kids so why should he care? There’s a motherfucker that should see CLOUD ATLAS! (also, even if you’re selfish why don’t you give a shit about the next 20 years at least? I don’t get that.)

I love the Wachowskis, and I’m gonna be re-visiting the MATRIXes soon, so look forward to explaining to me again why the part where they dance is so offensive. One of the main things I love about them is that they’re fluent and groundbreaking in the filmatistic language of sci-fi/action spectacle, but that it’s important to them to add layers of meaning and push the boundaries of audience expectations. That’s why their weirdo kiddie movie SPEED RACER fascinates a slowly growing cult and two of the most sure-fire, highly anticipated sequels outside of the STAR WARSes managed to be full of crazy action and envelope pushing effects work but still confounded and perplexed the world. And now this one that pushes it too far for even me to follow them all the way.

But they made it completely independently and obviously without compromise. I wish it had somehow been a financial success just to find out what the hell somebody who pulls that off decides to do next. They’ve taken alot of risk and maybe the first MATRIX is not enough to keep fueling this type of crazy ambition of big budget arthouse spectacle, but even if they never got a movie funded again it would be incredible what they’ve accomplished.

So, I’m sorry to say CLOUD ATLAS didn’t do it for me, but I’m glad there are crazy motherfuckers out there making movies like this. If they keep doing it maybe the next one will be more my speed.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012 at 1:57 pm and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

38 Responses to “Cloud Atlas”

  1. I agree that, taken individually, most of the stories would not appeal to me. But somehow when you put them all together, the juxtaposition works. I said this before in the DAY OF RECKONING trailer thread, but the interesting thing about the movie to me is how it comments on the universality of stories in general and film editing in particular. They put an action beat from one story after a suspense beat from another, using a visual cue like a door closing or something to bridge the gap, and it maintained the momentum as if it were the same sequence of events. Maybe that’s not the kind of deep emotional investment they were hoping for, but I found the manner in which the scripts ideas were expressed to be fascinating, even if the ideas themselves were pretty obvious.

    Also, I don’t know what you’re talking about, that scene with Tom Hanks and the balcony was awesome.

  2. One Guy from Andromeda

    November 7th, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    i am not discouraged of spending money to see this. not such a big fan of tykwer, but the first matrix and speed racer were really awesome movies. the thing about the matrix sequels that bugged me were not the dancing scene but actually the shitty “council” of elders or what they were called, who called the shots in the real world. if what they are fighting for is a life in a dystopian shithole run by these assholes – why fight. maybe that was the point. in the end i was just bored by those movies.

  3. Vern, check out Fish Story, it’s a similar but much smaller-scale/less-pretentious version of this kind of story, and the individual segments are much more quirky and upbeat. I think you might dig it more.

    My big take-away from Cloud Atlas was that Keith David looks like he hasn’t aged in like 20 years, and I desperately want him in more action movies.

  4. I enjoyed it a little more than you did. At least, I wasn’t bored. But I agree with you, the awful aging and ethnic makeup effects were horribly distracting.

    Tom Hanks played an “African-American”? WTF, that character wasn’t Black or even American, but I guess confusion like that is more understandable when it seems clear that the filmmakers don’t really know what Asian people look like, even when there are actual Asian actors in the movie.

    As a former food service industry employee, I agree with you about the waitress, and I do believe that the revolution will be led by fed-up waitresses. Bae Doo-Na is awesome, and I was able to get into those parts, despite the makeup.

  5. I second the recommendation for Fish Story.

    I remember wanting to run down the street whooping when the credits rolled on that

  6. I think that the movie is fascinating as both individual parts and a whole. I would actually argue that despite the baroque appearances, Cloud Atlas is actually a work of minimalism.

    You see, it is the same story 6 times with the exact same beats morphed into 6 different genres. Also, that story is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

    But not only is it 6 different version of Plato’s seminal work, each individual segment of each story is actually lifted very directly from another movie. For example, when Hanks and Berry are hiding from Grant in the woods, the sequences of shots is *identical* to a scene with Frodo and the Ring Wraiths in Fellowship of the Ring. I also caught moments of Bullet and The Conversation. There were tons more too, but I saw this movie opening night and I can’t remember all of them off the top.

    And not only is each sub-story a reinterpretation of Plato, made up of scenes from other movies, each plot twist in each story represents a shift from one movie plot to another. For example, the story about the book publisher starts out as Get Shorty, then morphs into Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, then morphs into One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. The post-apocyolpytic section begins as Lord of the Rings, then morphs into Pocahontas and so on.

    In the end, when we get the climactic speech about how an ocean is just a huge collection of drops, it rings true because the movie is a case study in this. It is one story, made up of six stories, each made up of 6 riffs on different popular tropes, made up of specific scenes from scores of other movies. Kinda like a pyramid.

    The point is, the whole is represented completely in each individual part.

    I think that’s really cool.

  7. And as for Somni 451s story, it’s clearly a rough remake of The Matrix. I’m pretty sure Jim Sturgess is even supposed to look a little like Keanu. The whole story is a hyperreal version of a story about hyperreality.

    When asked about his thoughts on The Matrix, Jean Baudrillard commented that, “The Matrix is almost certainly the movie that the matrix would have made about itself.”

    Whereas Baudrillard’s theories (which very heavily influenced the original film to the point where Keanu hides computer software in a copy of Simulacra and Simulation and the DVD lists Morpheus’ big speech as, “The Valley of the Unreal” after a chapter in said book) dealt with modern man’s inability to discern reality from hyperreality, the Matrix presents a world where there is a clear computer simulation and a clear real world and the two are never confused.

    In Cloud Atlas, we are made to confuse the two. By presenting real Asian actresses that are positioned as clones/fabricants juxtaposed against yellowface Caucasian actors who are positioned as, ‘real people’ the Wachowski’s create a hall of mirrors where the fake is more real than the real. It also breaks down gender in a way that recalls both Focault and Butler.

    Oh, and it’s an pulpy action story too.

    I liked this movie a lot because it was made just for me. Like, they went to great pains to include tons of elements that I cannot see more than 1% of the population even vaguely caring about. But I care about ALL OF THEM.

  8. Phooey on Cloud Atlas. It has critics completely polarized. It’s thus far made about $19 million U.S. (on a $100 million budget) as it approaches its third weekend in release. I doubt it’s gonna attract much attention once it reaches DVD & streaming video.

    As I posted in a different thread, it’s Darwin Awards all around for this elaborate mess, and hello The Matrix 4. As Clint himself once said: “A man’s got to know his limitations”, and the unsaid part of that notion is… you won’t know what those limits are until you truly push the envelope. The Wachowskis did just that, and if this movie’s failure doesn’t bitchslap some sense into them, I don’t know what will.

    I like to measure success & failure without obfuscating either one with conditions or gray areas. With that in mind, one either succeeds completely:

    or fails utterly:

  9. To the Wachowskis they haven’t failed at all, they made exactly the movie they wanted and had fun doing it. They’ve said as much in interviews, and as someone pointed out to me recently this is sort of what SPEED RACER is about. He races because he loves racing, he doesn’t really even care if he wins, he only tries to because it will allow him to keep racing.

    Anyway, if it was about money they wouldn’t have even thought about thinking about considering even knowing anybody who would consider making CLOUD ATLAS.

  10. one of the things that is always hard for me to get past in a movie is the fact that, for instance, no matter how awesome brad pitt is in a movie, he’s still kinda brad pitt. most actors worth caring about are bigger than any one role they act in. CLOUD ATLAS takes that feeling and incorporates it into its own thematic content. you are supposed to recognize tom hanks et al, because there is some weird sense in which the appearance of the actor represents some kind of physical manifestation of an underlying soul or sameness through time.

    i get what youre saying though vern about not really caring about the individual stories. for instance, i found myself not caring at all whether or not Adam Ewing lived or died, which seems like a problem dramatically. However when he finally met up with his wife at the end I found that really moving, because it was clear to me that the story wasnt about some guy who hadnt seen his wife in a few years, it was actually about these two souls who had been trying to find each other for more like 400 years.

  11. also, thank you vern for making the point about “blowing minds”. I feel like every time a quirky movie comes out people gnash their teeth about how it wasnt deep because it didnt blow their minds forever. if thats the criteria for profundity, then ive never seen a deep movie in my life or even heard of a deep movie anecdotally.

    but CLOUD ATLAS did hit me very hard emotionally, so in that sense i thought it was profound.

  12. First things first: FISH STORY is a must-watch. It has instantly become one of my favourite movies. New Cult classic, if ever there was one.

    As for Cloud Atlas, I was pleasantly surprised. That trailer had me groaning, because it really made the film look like one of those everything-is-connected message movies (which, I guess, it is), but the film itself didn’t try to rub its point in my face too much, so I was willing to forgive the few moments where they got a bit heavy-handed.

    I understand the choice to have every actor play a part in each story, but I have to agree that it doesn’t make it any less distracting seeing a Korean made up to look like a ginger. Even worse, the accents were all over the place (especially Hanks’ “cockney bloke” fiasco. Good scene, though).

    That said, is it strange that I ended up enjoying seeing all those crazy we’re-never-gonna-get-away-with-this make-up monstrosities? It gives the film a “me and my friends are putting on a show” kinda feel, which for some reason made me like it even more. It’s like watching a school play. You don’t criticize the production value; you just smile when you see the kids dressed up as forest imps or Twilight glampires, or whatever the hell they dress up as these days.

    I don’t get the message behind the reincarnation theme, though. In one story someone is a good guy; in the next he’s a villain. Kinda makes you wonder what the point is of doing the right thing if you’re just gonna come back as a completely different person. I much more agree with the idea that our actions in the present will undeniably affect things down the line. That’s a philosophy I can get behind, and it’s one that anyone can agree with, whether you’re religious, atheist or believe in Thetans or whatever.

    What impressed me most about Cloud Atlas, though, is the craftsmanship. I’m obsessed with the intricacies of storytelling, especially building structure and the almost invisible art of film editing and pacing. That movie is a goddamn structuring and editing marvel, and if it deserves any praise, it’s for that.

  13. I was one of the very few people in America that saw SPEED RACER in theaters

    seriously, I was there freakin’ opening night and there were only like two or 3 other people in the theater

    I knew then and there that it was gonna be a big flop, but I had a blast anyway, it’s a shame more people didn’t see that visual smorgasbord of a movie, it’s like the 2000’s answer to TOYS

  14. Serious question here re: reincarnation – was 2012 “cleaning-the-pool” Hugh Grant the same guy as 1975 “rich CEO” Hugh Grant? They didn’t seem like the same character, so were there two Hugh Grants running around in 1975?

    Both “cockney” 2012 Tom Hanks and “Nurse Ratched” 2012 Hugo Weaving also look like they were old enough to be around in 1975, but it might have just been the makeup. Also, since *SPOILER* their 1975 selves both died, maybe they were reborn immediately after?

    Re: the Asian makeup – I’m Asian and super-sensitive about this kind of thing, but it didn’t bother me here, mainly because I assumed that these characters were all mixed-race. I mean, that story is set in the way future where that’s certainly a possibility, and it’s not like they expected us to think Keith David was 100% Asian.

    As for the movie itself, I was obviously impressed by the filmatism, editing, music, acting, etc. And I was definitely moved and overwhelmed with emotion at some parts at the end. But like Vern, it’s not a movie I’d ever reconsider sitting through again, and I have no doubt that if I caught it on a different day in a different mood, I might have hated it.

    Also, I’m sure Vern is sick of us recommending things to him, and I don’t like doing it because I feel like a pest, but I really, really wish he would review Holes. It has the same kind of format, albeit way more streamlined and fun, with a clever plot and great central performance from Shia Leboeuf back when he was hungry. I’m going to be the contrarian asshole who says it’s Andrew Davis’ best film.

  15. Can I be honest for a second? The second Matrix film was such horseshit that I never bothered with three amd can barely watch The Matrix now. That second movie has forever turned me off them forever.

  16. Hell yeah I saw SPEED RACER in the theater. It was a fuckin’ blast. This was during a brief period when I actually had a friend, an aging California punk who’d let you know at the drop of a hat that Billy Joe from Green Day still owed him a hundred bucks, who would go see weird shit like SR and POULTRYGEIST with me and then not complain when they deviated from accepted cinematic norms. Then he moved back out west and I’m stuck watching CLOUD ATLAS by myself. Explain that, “everything is connected” filmmakers.

    Anyway, that opening scene in SPEED RACER is one of the most dizzying displays of editing I’ve ever seen, weaving what could just be boring exposition into a visually stunning hybrid flashback/action setpiece. This bravura (love that word) sequence is what got me most jazzed to see what the Wachowskis could do with the intertwining story lines of CLOUD ATLAS. And they did not disappoint.

    Knox: Did anybody segue from hero to villain? It seemed like most of the evolution was in the opposite direction. Hanks played mostly bastards until the 70s sequence, when he was a reluctant hero. Then by the post-apocalyptic time he’s finally turned his karma all the way around and become an all-around good guy, despite the leprechaun devil whispering poison in his ear.

    I guess Hugo Weaving’s soul is just inherently corrupt, though. It might have been nice if he was accidentally not evil incarnate in just one of his lives. Might have been a little less pat.

    Shit, I’m forgetting the asshole author. That was Hanks being a dick after he’d already progressed to reluctant good guy. That seems like a karmic step backward for the guy who helped save millions of lives in his previous incarnation. Maybe this whole reincarnation process needs some work.

  17. Man, Speed Racer was the shit on the big screen. I’d watch it again in an instant. Seriously, if any film is gonna have an It’s A Wonderful Life styled rebirth as a family favourite, surely Speed Racer must be it. I just love that it’s “family film” that’s actually about the family as a unit and how we should have faith in each other and have each other’s backs.

    Gotta admit, those Matrix sequels made me doubt the Wachowskis for a while. I thought the second one was okay as a middle film (nice cliffhanger), but I really struggled with the third. It really felt as if all that promise from the first film had gone to waste. See, to me Morpheus was always the character I related to the most. Hell, I wanted him to be the real chosen one (and that would have been a brilliant twist to end the franchise with), but he really had nothing to do in that last movie. That, and the ending just left me unsatisfied.

    I wouldn’t mind a new Matrix movie or two. Even if it’s a spin-off with a new cast and director (like Tom Tykwer).

    Yeah, Majestyk, I don’t know how that reincarnation shit works, and neal2zod made a good point about how some of it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I try to stay away from that kinda thing, really. With my luck I’ll come back as a prawn or something. Fokken prawns.

  18. I love the ambition here and can appreciate how much the book might’ve spoken to Lana W., but I just didn’t enjoy the movie.

    Now, I never read the book, but I understand from our good buddies at wikipedia that it’s structured like a nesting doll, so that we start with story #1, it’s interrupted by #2 and so on up to #6, which finishes and then starts looping back. So we’d get:

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1

    Whereas here everything is chopped up and cut to pieces, so that the movie is like:

    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 3, 2, 4, 6, 1, 5, 1, 2, 3, etc. until the end

    My question is: why didn’t they stick with the book structure? Was it unfilmable somehow? Unsatisfying to the audience to have the story climaxes spread throughout the film instead of cut to individually within the span of 40 minutes or so? I don’t know. But I think it would’ve worked a lot better, because when we have Keith David and Halle Berry getting shot at and cut to broad, terrible comedy at the old folks’ home it really takes me out of it. The tenor of each of these stories is different and it might’ve been better to keep them as self-contained as possible. We might need the comic relief of Cavendish before the horror of Sonmi’s tale, but we really don’t need them intercut with each other.

    By the way, what’s with the Cavendish “Soylent Green” line? Hanging a lampshade on the later revelation that the fabricants end up eating each other? “Ha ha, don’t take this too seriously, audience, we know this is by now an old hoary sci-fi cliche?” I don’t like it.

    Also–and by now maybe I’m just working myself into an AICN-style hate frenzy, but it only hurts because I really *wanted* to like this film–did anyone notice how safe they played it as far as what politics they chose to condemn? The film is strongly against slavery in the 1800s! Also fabricant abuse in the far future! And here in the 2012 segment, given all the problems of this world, what stand did they take? Absolutely nothing! Seems kinda chickenshit to me.

  19. Tawdry, great insights— particularly about the intentional use of the makeup in the Sonmi sequence.

  20. I wonder why everybody seems to like part two of the Matrix than part three. For me it was the other way. Part 2 had way too much unnecessary fat (like the Merowinger and his stupid 10 minutes monologues about orgasms and speaking French), but part 3 really had this aura of the unknown, that made part 1 so great. It was really an exciting movie IMO.

    The one thing that my mother hated about the sequels, btw, was that Morpheus was first da fucking man, the cool mentor who knew everything and everybody looked up to, but then in the sequels didn’t have to do much, because he was just one among other and was apparently considered a nutcase by them.

  21. Psychic_hits: Thanks, I might be crazy though, since I have seen *no one* else discussing that angle.

    M. Casey: The concept of cannibalism is brought up repeatedly in different stories.
    1: “The weak are meat and the strong dooo eat.”
    2: The island where the boat stopped used to be inhabited by cannibals.
    3: Caverdash’s line about Soylent Green.
    4: The cannibalism in Somni 451’s story.
    5: The cannibalism in the far future.

    I think there were others too.

    And the Soylent Green line wasn’t a cop out, it was part of a consistent and knowing pattern of intertextuality that is directly tied to the film’s major themes. Almost every single scene in the movie is lifted from another movie in order to make a point about how all stories are the same because all of humanity is the same. This is also why they intercut between the stories to show echoes and parallels between them. If you’re open to the film, I would recommend seeing it again with an eye towards the metatextual elements.

  22. One more thing – did anyone have a hard time understanding the dialogue in the far-off future sequence? (I actually couldn’t understand the first few lines in the Korea sequence too but then it became easier to understand). I applaud the idea of the post-apocalyptic broken English (shades of the children’s dialogue in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), but I literally didn’t understand what was going on at the top of the mountain, who the bodies were, and what that laser beam/signal Berry activated was for. If anyone can fill me in I’d be grateful.

  23. I didn’t always understand what all the words meant, but I never had trouble getting the gist. Then again, I’ve read a lot of novels that were written phonetically (ie Requiem for a Dream) and/or in made up languages (A Clockwork Orange).

    But I didn’t understand exactly what the bodies at the top of the mountain were either. I’m not totally sure we were supposed to. We’re seeing the story through Zachary’s eyes and he sure as fuck doesn’t get it. The important part of that scene was him learning that yes, his god is real, but no, she isn’t a god.

  24. You invariably get caught up in the stories at one point or another (except the nursing home one it was awful), but I have to say despite the gargantuan runtime I still thought the movie managed pretty expert transitions between stories. You’d have to be a hell of an editor to do that and I don’t think I give them their due often enough, personally. So to me, the movie wasn’t as bad as I was expecting and felt like a love letter to the pulse of movies.

  25. I am an unabashed super fan of Speed Racer. I LOVED that movie. Iron Man came out around the same time and as much as everyone basically got on their knees to worship at the alter of Robert Downey Jr., both me and the buddy who went to see Speed Racer in a quarter full theater agreed that it was a WAY more exciting movie experience. We were both literally leaned over at the edges of our seats because those races were so exciting. Which is weird because I usually hate over CGd shit for car chases and what not.

    I recently saw Cloud Atlas, and while I definitely agree the makeup looked not too hot a lot of the time, I thought the movie was great. It sucks that it didn’t make money though. I know the Wachowski’s did it for the art (kudos) but by failing financially it just guarantees that we will see more and more remakes and reboots and sequels and no original or groundbreaking films getting big budgets and wide releases.

    Maybe they should’ve done CG faces with mo-cap or something and it wouldn’t have made the “whites-as-asians” look like they had downs, but now that I read Tawdry Hepburn’s comments on it, I think I might even not be so bothered by the makeup now. Cool!

  26. Tawdry

    Your breakdown was wonderful. Doesn’t open in the UK until next year, but I’m dying to see it based on your descriptions. Crikey!

  27. I’m glad that I don’t sound like a pseudo-intellectual masturbater to ya’ll. Because when I saw the movie, all of that seemed *very* clear to me, but I have not found anyone else discussing this angle anywhere. Then again, I have been meaning to write an article for the International Journal of Baudrillardian Studies because…I want to be able to say that I did that, so maybe this is the perfect opportunity.

  28. Y’know, the movie hasn’t even started all over the world yet (It’s the most expensive German movie ever! Why is it still not running here?) so I wouldn’t start crying over its status of box office bomb yet.

  29. Yeah, Tawdry, that was some good shit. I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what the movie was laying down, and while I enjoyed it thoroughly, I thought it was kind of lightweight, philosophically speaking. I thought it was saying something kind of trite, but in a beautiful and inventive way. Your post gave me a lot more to think about and made me respect the care that went into the layering of a lot of themes that didn’t even occur to me while watching it. It’s clear to me now that there’s a lot more going on here than just your standard “Everything is connected” rigamarole. I can’t wait to see it again with this stuff in mind.

  30. I had some of the same reservations as Vern when watching the movie, but, honestly, by the end it completely won me over. I was worried that it would be too granola with its suggestion of reincarnation. But you don’t really have to accept the spiritual stuff in order to enjoy the film. For me it’s really about how what we do reverberates in ways that we can’t necessarily conceive of. A single, forgotten event in the past might have repercussions hundreds of years into the future. And everything the individual characters leave behind is actually physical. Or, at least it is something you can experience by reading, seeing, or hearing. There’s something incredibly appealing about this idea, and I found the movie oddly uplifting.

  31. I had a nice little everything-is-connected experience this week. I watched Cloud Atlas on Monday, read Vern’s review on Wednesday, etc.

    Then on Friday and Saturday, I worked on a commercial where our lead actor was a man called David Gyasi. Real good guy. Very professional and easy to get along with. I kept thinking “Damn, this fella looks familiar”, only to realize halfway through the job that David was the guy who played the slave in Cloud Atlas. Checked out his imdb page and saw that he was also in The Dark Knight Rises and a Doctor Who episode.

    I asked him a little about the film and the Wachowskis. Didn’t really learn anything new, but he was flattered that I’d seen the film. He said Lana and Andy are a joy to work with, but they had a tough time on it and that they’ll probably never do anything of that scale ever again.

  32. Knox — That’s a pretty awesome story. I don’t doubt that this movie took a lot of time and energy to put together. Like a lot of people, I didn’t really enjoy the Matrix sequels. It wasn’t until Speed Racer that they really started to interest me again. And Cloud Atlas proves that they’re ambitious. I don’t see them as directors who will necessarily stand in one place for a long time. Just editing this film must have been a Herculean task, even if there were three directors at the helm.

  33. “My feeling is that there’s not alot you can say about life that’s gonna truly blow people’s minds. But you can say something that rings true and you can say it in a clever way,”

    This is a hella meta thing to say, Vern, because this utterance itself is said cleverly and rings true, but I’m not sure it necessarily blows my mind. But that in itself blows my mind!

    (I know it sounds like I’m being petulant and sarcastic, but I’m not!)

  34. Holy poop, Fish Story was awesome. Thanks for the recommendation, guys. It got a little slow during the 1975 sequence but, wow, that ending…

  35. I’m starting to think that Channing Tatum’s popularity is becoming a problem, after having just seen the trailer for Jupiter Ascending.

    I like the guy, thought he was decent in the films he made with Steven Soderbergh (but then again, Soderbergh brings the best out of any actor), and he’s great in comedies like 21 Jump Street.

    But man, I’m just not sure about this one. It’s a Wachowski movie, which means that I’m immediately excited, and I know that they’ve had success casting “blank face” actors like Keanu and Jim Sturgess. And sure, Tatum has the physique for the part, but then he opens his mouth and it sounds like a rugby player being interviewed. You’d think they’d get someone with more… gravitas, I guess.

    Ah well, they probably couldn’t finance the thing without him. I hope he surprises me.

  36. Just watched this last night, and I liked it! The prosthetics and “old man makeup” were distracting as fuck, but somehow I was able to just roll with it and I had a great time. That kind of thing usually bugs the shit out of me (J. Edgar, uh… Young Guns II) so I dunno what happened. The thing that made me laugh over and over was the birthmark. I don’t know if you guys remember/care, but its highly reminiscent of the Counting Crows’ logo for their second album Recovering the Satellites. So everytime I see that shit in the movie I’m thinking “Fuck, a long December indeed” and its kind of distractingly hilarious

  37. Possibly, NBC’s “The More You Know” shooting star, too.

  38. I finally watched it yesterday and I think I’m more in sync with the Wachowskis than most people. I really liked it, while acknowleding its flaws. (For example many of the connections between the stories feel forced, random and don’t seem to have an impact on anything.)
    There are now rumors floating around that Netflix might release a 4 hour directors’ cut one day. I’m totally interested in THAT one!

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