Cloud Atlas: A Post-Modern Masterpiece is Turned into A Movie

by: Marina Lucic

October 12, 2012

David Mitchell’s novel “Cloud Atlas” erases boundaries of genre and truly manages to escape simple classification. The readings that one can take from the novel vary as much as the person reading it does and yet, almost all of them seem to be relevant. The Village Voice calls it, “a narrative about the act of creation, the ability of storytelling to shape our sense of history, civilization and selfhood.” The Los Angeles Times says “[Mitchell] creates a world and language at once foreign and strange, yet strikingly familiar.”

Mitchell puts on display the ever changing face of our world from the point of view of characters living in different periods and places. He jumps from an American embarking on a Pacific sea voyage in the 18th century; to the struggling, disinherited composer, living in Europe between two wars; to the gossip columnist who embarks on a story that exposes a powerful corporation and puts her life in danger in the 70′s; to the older man fleeing his gangster creditors in the present; to a genetically made human being on death row in our future; and finally, to a young man who lives in the aftermath of the fall of a corporate world.

Mitchell is unique among writers who depict the future of our world because, unlike many of them, he takes us on the journey of change so that we are able to imagine the future that he depicts as something that could hold truth — something that could be scary but also something that creates hope, because although the world is portrayed to be full of darkness, it regenerates and continues to exist in another form.

October 26th marks the release of Andy and Lana Wachowski’s  film adaptation of “Cloud Atlas.” The movie holds great promise for anyone who has read the book because the images that David Mitchell paints for us with words are remarkable and can easily be imagined in a cinematic sense. However, the movie also poses a danger of depicting a view that is far too narrow to truly give justice to the rich and complex novel.

Cloud Atlas WILD mag film

One interpretation that “The Wachowski Starship” has decided to go with is that of reincarnation. While the novel itself does hint at some continuance with the identical birthmarks that various characters have throughout the ages, it does not strongly imply that “reincarnation” is the explanation. In fact, in an interview with The Paris Review, Mitchell himself tries to move away from this narrow reading by saying that he does not wholly believe in such a reincarnation. Instead, he says, “There is solace in the carbon cycle, in the nitrogen cycle. Biochemically, at least, reincarnation is a fact. Donate your ashes to a fruit farmer.”

The movie clearly over simplifies this view of  reincarnation and uses the same actors to portray characters in different ages, regardless of how difficult and, at times, controversial it might be. In the past few weeks numerous articles and complaints have been made about the case of “yellowface.” The movie has actually taken Caucasian actors and taped their eyes to make them look Asian. A detail that almost anyone who has read the book can tell you in unnecessary. There are many Korean actors who are capable of acting in the role.

However, it cannot be an easy task to turn a book of such a magnitude into a movie, but the Wachowskis have embarked on the journey. It is bound to spur criticism and controversy regardless of which direction they choose to take but, given the superb content that they have chosen to work with and the talent that they undoubtedly possess, the movie promises to be a visual delight and perhaps, even a masterpiece, just as the novel that it is based on is.

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