KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Film

Cloud hopping

by Carody Culver , January 7, 2013Leave a comment

Photo credit: mnsc

David Mitchell’s Booker-shortlisted 2004 novel Cloud Atlas is one of my all-time favourite books; it’s also a novel that tends to divide people. When I forced my book club to read it back in 2009, the response (to my everlasting heartbreak) was universally negative. Earlier this year, several members of ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club sniffily dismissed Mitchell’s novel as ‘clever’: clever, in this instance, being a euphemism for ‘wanky’.

When a book that polarises people with such force is made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie, the stage is set for a strident clash of opinions. I was outraged when I learned that the adaptation would star Halle Berry and Tom Hanks: as far as I was concerned, the celluloid version of Cloud Atlas was going to be a star-studded, budget-bloated travesty.

However, having finally seen it, I’ve been forced to revise my preconceptions. While it might sometimes veer alarmingly close to the saccharine, Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Twyker’s vision of Mitchell’s complex and beautiful novel translates to the screen surprisingly well, thanks to a combination of clever writing, fine acting and mesmerising special effects.

 

 

Mitchell’s book is split into six stories, each of which is set in a different time and place, from nineteenth century travel journal to futuristic sci-fi adventure. Mitchell ties his wildly differing tales together with a clever (that word again) conceit: the principal characters in each story have the same souls, reincarnated through the ages and identified by a comet-shaped birthmark. It’s a trick that turns what could have been a disparate (but artful) collection of stories into coherent and insightful exploration of power, love, freedom, courage, the significance of our connections with others, and how our actions and beliefs reverberate through past, present, and future.

How can this possibly be squeezed into just under three hours? Perhaps not in ways that you might expect; whether or not you’ve read the book, it’s worth seeing the film for the impressive scope of its ambition and execution. Twyker and the Wachowskis chop and change between all six stories, which proves a wonderful way to draw you into its rich and visually stunning narrative universe. It also makes more explicit the elements that link each tale: the diary in the first story becomes a book read by a character in the second story; the events of the fourth story become a film watched by characters in the fifth story; the film’s final moments deftly interlock the first and last stories, finishing off a dizzying spectacle of concentric narrative circles.

Adding to this sense of continuity is the fact that every principle cast member plays multiple roles, male and female: Halle Berry is a tenacious, bellbottom-wearing journalist and a mysterious visitor from a future civilization, Hugo Weaving a cold-blooded hitman and a rather terrifying nurse, Ben Wishaw a flamboyant composer and an adulterous wife. While some reviews have been less than enthusiastic about this casting approach, claiming that the use of heavy makeup and prosthetics is distracting and inauthentic (I’ve never seen so many fake noses), I can’t imagine that the film’s themes and message would have been so effectively conveyed had different actors been used for every role. The familiar faces and features that recur in each tale become a kind of visual metaphor, another way of reinforcing the ties that bind its characters through time and space.

Inevitably, there are moments when the film’s reach exceeds its grasp. Some of its final scenes overstay their welcome as the screenplay works overtime to make us believe in the power and ubiquity of love – it seems that Hollywood can never resist a touch of schmaltz.

But for all this, Cloud Atlas remains both a visual spectacle and a wonderfully captivating epic; it’s an admirable adaptation, and stands alone as a daring and imaginative piece of filmmaking. Despite the broad reach of its stories and their varied styles and settings, together they manage to perfectly capture something essential and true about what it means to be human, about our entwined need for power, for love, for trust, and for something – or someone – to live for.

Cloud Atlas will be released in Australian cinemas February 21, 2013.

Carody Culver is a Brisbane-based academic editor and freelance writer. She remains adamant that the book is always better than the film, no matter how many prosthetic noses the latter may involve.




9781863957434

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their June picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lisa-gorton_the-life-of-houses

James Tierney

A Novel of Longer Exhalations: Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses

It’s sometimes said that each book teaches you how to read it. That each way of telling a story needs to not only beguile anew but needs to tutor the reader in the ways to best attend its pages. Read more »

9781743316337

Danielle Binks

Finding Books for Young Readers: The Reading Children’s Book Prize

James Patterson once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading and kids who are reading the wrong books.’ So how do we get the right books into the hands of budding bibliophiles? Well, the Readings Children’s Book Prize Shortlist is a great place to start. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

kim-kardashian-selfish-cover-main

Brodie Lancaster

We Are All Kardashians

For the past five years, I have loved and been obsessed with the Kardashians. Specifically, the E! reality series that made them famous. I often feel the need to intellectualise why I like these series and the people on them – you know, because I’m not a moron, and these are shows about morons, for morons. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »