On Cloud Atlas

"Cloud Atlas" movie posterThe Cloud Atlas Journal of Graham Edwards

Having unfortunately missed the opportunity to view the kinematographic entertainment appellated Cloud Atlas at my local magic lantern house upon its initial theatrical release, I was most gratified when my dear spouse, Mrs E, graciously presented me with a DVD edition of said motion picture as a Yuletide gift.

It was with considerable anticipation that I reclined in the comfort of my drawing room to watch Cloud Atlas, and indeed the viewing experience was largely satisfactory. I was greatly impressed by the ambitious breadth of vision contained in an entertainment which attempts to weave together six apparently disparate strands of narrative spanning many time periods, and was never less than intrigued by the ingenious ways in which the troupe of well-known actors performed with special make-up and elaborate costumery in order to play multiple roles, thus reinforcing the narrative’s central themes of reincarnation and the pursuit of ultimate destiny.

I confess, however, that it was this notion of ultimate destiny which proved limiting to my wider enjoyment of the motion picture, to whit, as the entertainment sped towards its climax, I found myself frustrated by the failure of said climax to deliver on the not inconsiderable promises made by the earlier twists and turns of the story, to the point where I undertook

Emails from Nottingham

Don – I finally saw “Cloud Atlas”, which I thought was good, although for me it fell at the last fence. I don’t know; maybe it was the end result of being constantly distracted into playing that popular parlour game, “Spot the False Nose”. Don’t get me wrong. The cast are all on top-form – and clearly having a ball – but all that make-up is just so distracting!

Don – I know I damned “Cloud Atlas” with faint praise first time around, but I can’t help thinking that maybe you’re right about a second viewing. Despite my misgivings, I can’t remember the last time I watched a nearly-three-hour movie that held my attention the entire time – as this movie did. Your enthusiasm for the damn thing is enough to convince me it’s worth another shot.

The First Cloud Atlas Mystery

Having watched the film adaptation of Cloud Atlas for the second time, Graham immediately downloaded a copy of David Mitchell’s original novel to his Kindle. Curious about the author’s opinion of the movie version – adapted and directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer – he was pleased to discover that this very topic was discussed in Mitchell’s introduction to the ebook edition.

Further investigation saw Graham unearthing Translating “Cloud Atlas” Into the Language of Film, an article written by Mitchell in The Wall Street Journal. Reading the article, he learned what the author regards as the “five habits of successful adaptations”.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Mrs E

As soon as Cloud Atlas had finished, Mrs E sat up, stretched, turned to her husband and said, “Well, that’s three hours of my life I’m never getting back.”

Orison of Graham-226

Why did you view the wachowski of the cloud atlas before reading the mitchell?

It simply happened that way.

Which do you prefer?

The question has no meaning. Whether presented in the form of a wachowski or a mitchell, all narrative ultimately serves the same purpose.

And what is that purpose?

After all these years, do you not know?

Grum’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After

When I was a forty-niner I got to read’n’ the icon Cloud Atlas in the Kindle an’ it spoke to me with a yarnin’ like the movin’ show I seen afore. It was the same only not the same an’ I saw I was in a circlin’ place all start an’ no end, an’ my heart was all in the nowlife an’ noplace else, and I ‘member’d what it is my heart loves an’ that thing of all other things is a spesh yarn.

Orison of Graham-226

Pure-blood law cannot tolerate more than one version of the cloud atlas. The mitchell will be preserved in the archive, while all traces of the wachowski will be destroyed. How does that make you feel?

Pure-bloods see with limited vision. I am a fabricant. I see further than you.

What do your fabricant eyes see?

They see closed minds hiding their blindness behind cloaks of fear.

What are they afraid of?

Those who strive. Those who stumble. Those who are different.

What are you afraid of?


The Ghastly Ordeal of Mrs E

Removing the Cloud Atlas disc from the player, Edwards turned to his wife and said contemplatively, “You know, I think this might be one of those films that gets better each time you watch it.”

In response, Mrs E arched a single eyebrow and remarked, “I would rather sit for three hours watching paint dry.”

The First Cloud Atlas Mystery

The first habit identified by Mitchell is for filmmakers to turn “the bagginess of novels” into “cinematic tautness”. The second is for “suggestiveness” to become “exactitude”. Third is the need to reduce the number of characters, while fourth is the powerful influence of a film’s musical score: “A gifted score-composer can somehow transform the essence of a book into music and have it waft through, like the Holy Spirit.”

Mitchell’s fifth and final remark is that “all roads lead to closure”. In other words, books can afford to leave the reader hanging. But to be successful, most films need at least some form of Hollywood ending.

Emails from Nottingham

Don – Well, you were right. I watched “Cloud Atlas” for a second time and was completely blown away. If you recall, I told you I’d decided that first time around I was thinking too hard, trying too hard to join all the dots, to see the connections between the different narratives, to work out what the hell it all means. Oh, and distracted by all that make-up.

On the second viewing, I just immersed myself in the thing (the constantly shifting sands of the interwoven stories, together with the amazing score, made that easy to do) and was suitably rewarded. As a result, I found myself transported to somewhere extraordinary.

Many critics slammed the movie for setting the bar impossibly high and failing to leap over it. What they didn’t acknowledge was that, in setting the bar where they did, the Wachowskis and Tykwer ended up jumping higher than most. So I’ve changed my mind. I now think “Cloud Atlas” is a masterpiece.

"Cloud Atlas" by David MitchellThe Cloud Atlas Journal of Graham Edwards

what I may describe as a bold decision to watch the motion picture for a second time. During this second viewing, I found myself fascinated, even to the point where, I might say, my spirit was elevated to a higher plane of consciousness. In summation, the viewing experience was a highly pleasurable one, to the point where I now anticipate the rewards of viewing the entertainment known as Cloud Atlas for a third, and perhaps fourth, time.

All that remains, as I close this journal and set down my pen, is to seek out the original novel from which the motion picture was adapted, and expand my awareness to embrace what might be described as the entirety of the Cloud Atlas experience. When I have completed this next journey, I may be compelled to pick up my quill once more and report upon my findings. Until such time, I dedicate the contents of this journal to whomever may find it.

3 thoughts on “On Cloud Atlas

  1. Nice review Graham (I love what you did there with the different strands) … this movie had such a huge impact on me and stayed with me for a long time afterwards. And I too look forward to revisiting it again … 🙂

    1. Thanks, Greg. I couldn’t resist pastiching the structure of the novel in the blog post. I’m about halfway through the novel, and I’m struck with how faithful an adaptation the film is – despite the radically different structure (the book has what Mitchell calls a “there-and-back” format, kind of like a palindrome). It’s a joyful, energetic read, although I wonder how well I’d have navigated it had I not already seen the movie.

  2. Awesome thoughts! Thank you for sharing! If you haven’t already done so, read the book. Mitchell is fantastic. Also, if you’re ever in need of some great reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!!!

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