Monday, March 18, 2013

'What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?' - Cloud Atlas

I think the score encapsulates everything that the film is:
One of the comments says it is 'one of the most beautiful pieces of music in the history of cinema' and I have to agree. The Cloud Atlas Sextet and its core melody, for me, brings to mind one word: wonder. It is sad, joyful and intimidating all in one. It is so simple - swelling and lapsing and swelling again. The film - and the book- are unique experiences. To film the unfilmable - to show the unshowable. That was the goal.

The scope of the film is so huge that you kind of have to accept that there will be elements you may not like about it - but the coming together of the whole is orchestrated so beautifully and that's what the music symbolises for me. You have to recognise that there are six genres in one film here so you can take what you like.

The scope of the book is equally mind boggling and you really have to read it without stopping and with a clear head to grasp it. And then read it again. And again. Author David Mitchell has accomplished an incredible structural and literary feat. Six interlocking stories. Connecting over time and space. The overall message is that individual lives do have significance. An individual drop can cast ripples through the whole.

Ben Whishaw as Robert Frobisher
The casting was so important - especially when each actor has to play multiple roles. Doona Bae and Ben Whishaw, principally Sonmi 451 and Robert Frobisher, were perfect and unforgettable. This is acting as an art form. It's a shame that the cinematography, score and some of the acting in this film was shunned by the Oscars.

Susan Sarandon credits those behind the film (Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski) as being 'so brave to take on so much'. The following featurette is brilliant - really shows the sheer ambition and the aim to push 'cinematic boundaries':

Doona Bae as 'Sonmi 451'
Because really, its so precariously balanced, such a cinematic risk -  it could have gone so wrong - and it has polarised critics - but I found each component story to be so engaging. I was surprised, though I suppose I shouldn't have been, by how graphic it was - especially with sex and violence. Some bits are hard to watch so if you're squeamish it may not be your choice of viewing but the essence of the film supersedes all that. Sadly the film has also been poorly marketed - particularly in the US, which is a shame considering it's scale and what went into it.

The following synopsis gives a useful basic dissection of the key elements of the film.
(credit to
"The time lines and genres are split as follows; 1849 - historical narrative, 1936: drama/romance, 1973: mystery/action, 2012: dark comedy, 2144: sci-fi and 2321 and 2346: post-apocalyptic. In each of these stories we meet various characters, played by the same ensemble cast whose lives and experiences ripple throughout past and future and are somehow connected. This is a movie made on a truly lavish scope and despite its multiple parallel storylines manages to flow seamlessly blending strong storytelling with brain teasing plots and characters providing a beautiful mess. This movie will not be for everyone due to its length and complexity, but the multiple narratives are so engaging it should be viewed at least once if not several times."

I will outline the key characters and storylines without giving away too many spoilers:
- Adam Ewing (South Pacific Ocean 1849) - an American lawyer who develops a bond with a stow away slave, while being tended by Dr Henry Goose for an (apparent/suspicious) illness.
- Robert Frobisher (Cambridge and Edinburgh, 1936) - a bisexual composer and musician, goes to work as an amanuensis to Vyvyan Ayrs, an elderly composer. Reads Ewing's Pacific Journal.
- Luisa Rey (San Francisco, 1973) - a journalist who is tipped off about a conspiracy involving a new nuclear reactor and whose safety is compromised by this knowledge and her pursuit of the truth. Hears Frobisher's symphony.
- Timothy Cavendish (UK 2012) - a publisher, 65 years old who is tricked by his brother into a nursing home and has to try and escape. He reads the manuscript of a novel based on Luisa Rey and writes an autobiographical screenplay.
- Sonmi 451 (Neo Seoul, Korea,  2144) - genetically-engineered fabricant/clone. Her story is recounted in an interview prior to her exectution. Watches the film of Cavendish's adventure. She recounts how she was rescued by Commander Hae-Joo Chang so she could tell her story, revealing the horrors of consumer exploitation in an effort to change the system.
- Zachry (The Big Island, 2321) - lives in a primitive post-apocalyptic society. The tribesmen view Sonmi as a goddess. Goes with a Prescient called Meronym to search for a communications station and to save his wife. Hunted by the Kona tribe.

In the film all 6 stories are framed in a final 7th, which is an extension of Zachry's story as he tells them all to his grandchildren on another planet. The book makes it easier to appreciate the narrative structuring of each individual story as they are all told in different ways which can only be implied in the film. Ewing's journal, Frobisher's letters to his lover, Sixsmith, Sonmi 451's interview transcript are all stylistically distinct which is a novel experience for the reader. It's kind of refreshing - I'm not sure if the same format but with a consistent narrative mode of voice would have held my attention. All, excepting Luisa Rey, are first person narrative or variations thereof. There are elements of dystopia, mundane reality and thriller which all merge into a beautiful and thought provoking unity of human experience. Mitchell takes simple tenets of genres - abolition, slavery, individual vs corporation, consumerism, sexuality, corruption, exploitation - and creates a vast entity which is so complex yet so simple. Because it is done well. We are left asking: is there order or chaos? Or simply ordered chaos?

The film is meticulous and intricate in every detail - a two second clip of the title of a book or its author is significant in linking the whole. Each image is deliberate, each drop casts a ripple. So whether you liked it or not - you have to admire the craft and sheer vision of, firstly the author, and then the cinematic endeavour undergone by the Wachowski's and Tom Tykwer. These are people who had a vision, an impossible vision - one they have seen through to the end with integrity, creativity and care. The end product may not be consistently perfect, but it is affecting and thought-provoking, with flashes of brilliance, and will stay with you long after the end credits.


Robert Frobisher:  My dearest Sixsmith, I shot myself through the roof of my mouth this morning, with Vyvyan Ayrs' Luger. A true suicide is a paced disciplined certainty. People pontificate, 'suicide is a coward's act'. Couldn't be further from the truth. Suicide takes tremendous courage.

Archivist: Remember this is not an interrogation or a trial. Your version of the truth is all that matters.
Sonmi-451: Truth is singular. It's 'versions' are mistruths. 

Timothy Cavendish: Wе сrоѕѕ аnd rесrоѕѕ оur оld trасkѕ lіkе fіgurе ѕkаtеrѕ. Αnd јuѕt аѕ Ι wаѕ rеаdіng а nеw ѕubmіѕѕіоn, а роwеrful deja-vu rаn thrоugh my bоnеѕ. Ι hаd bееn thеrе bеfоrе. Αnоthеr lіfеtіmе аgо.

Sonmi 451: 'Οur lіvеѕ аrе nоt оur оwn. Frоm wоmb tо tоmb, wе аrе bоund tо оthеrѕ, pаѕt аnd рrеѕеnt. Αnd by еасh сrіmе, аnd еvеry kіndnеѕѕ, we bіrth оur futurе.'

Isaac Sachs:  Belief, like fear or love, is a force to be understood as we understand the theory of relativity, and principles of uncertainty. Phenomena that determine the course of our lives. Yesterday, my life was headed in one direction. Today, it is headed in another. Yesterday, I believe I would never have done what I did today. These forces that often remake time and space, they can shape and alter who we imagine ourself to be, begin long before we are born, and continue after we perish. Our lives and our choices, like quantum trajectories, are understood moment to moment, at each point of intersection, each encounter, suggest a new potential direction.

Robert Frobisher: The Atlas, I believe, is the only thing I have done in my life that has value. But I know I could not have written it, if I hadn't met you. There are whole movements in the Atlas that I wrote imagining us, meeting again and again, in different lives and different ages.

Robert Frobisher: My life extends far beyond the limitations of me.

Robert Frobisher: I believe there is another world waiting for us, Sixsmith. A better world. And I'll be waiting for you there.

Haskell Moore: Adam. Listen to me. For the sake of my grandson, if not your own. There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well. This movement will never survive. If you join them, you and your entire family will be shunned. At best, you exist as pariah, to be spat on and beaten. At worst, lynched or crucified.
Haskell Moore: And for what? For what? No matter what you do, it will never amount to anything more than a single drop in a limitless ocean.
Adam Ewing: What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?