With the opening of Cloud Atlas in our local cinemas this week (yes, a couple of months since I watched it in America), I thought I’d do my part for public service and give you my two cents:
“Most terrible three hours of my movie-watching life,”
— Veteran movie-goer
Alright, so maybe veteran movie-goer is an exaggeration, given that– gasp– I haven’t even watched Lord of the Rings, which to many people means I should just shove my uncultured soul back into the cinema, but give me some credit here: I read. “Uh, so?” you ask, because you obviously don’t see how this is the best credential anyone can provide. So: I like to think I know something about narratives, characterisation, themes and the like. Film techniques? If your film techniques are just there to impress me and not to contribute to the story, why don’t you just go religiously do your film assignments instead and stop torturing me at the cinema with your so-called art?
(Ok I know quite some people loved it, including a few of the people who went with me, so I apologise, and beg that you take this with a pinch of salt, or just not read it at all)
What’s the main problem with this movie? The problem about every amateur writer starts out with: didacticism. Let me spell it out for you in bold, H1 font:
EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED
They spell it out on their posters, and they repeat it about every ten seconds. Not only do they literally spell it out, they make such a big deal of having six stories staggered in different timelines and places acted by the same actors. I can just imagine that production meeting:
Dude A: “How do we convey this HUGE, MEANINGFUL theme? How do we show the effects of KARMA and BUTTERFLY EFFECT?”
Dude B: “How do we cut costs? How do we make sure our cast is all-star when we have so many characters?”
Dude A and B at the same time: “LET’S MAKE THE ACTORS ACT DIFFERENT ROLES!!!1111 AND MAKE IT OBVIOUS TO THE AUDIENCE!”
You know how when you go to exhibitions to laugh at the descriptions of art pieces (well, I do that at least)?
“My sculpture exposes the depraved side of human nature. Voiceless, headless and dejected figures serve as indignant messengers for a narrative about the loss of innocence, trust and power. Ironic humor contradicts the serious undertone of the content as physical interaction with certain pieces reveals their audacious nature.“
“My image works to observe over the past decade close to the human nature and the experience of their own lives and explore Neo- Platonism under the flesh and soul divergence a reflection point of view, My image documents to discussion love, desire and death issues. Creation to Image of Post-Performance Art as a means to still and motion images and video art for creative expression.”
“This piece explores the state of interstitial space within the urban fabric. Places of which are without an agenda of sorts and that of which exist on the transitional boundaries of excessive design.”
Cloud Atlas is like the mainstream version of this. Instead of using words like “liminal” and “interstitial” it summarises everything into three very simple words “EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED” and keeps blasting it like the pasar malam auction held in the field just downstairs. And then as if that’s not enough, they added a secondary, mandatory, utterly unrelated message:
LOVE TRANSCENDS EVERYTHING
or maybe it was
LOVE CONQUERS ALL
God knows, but we just need a message about love inside. Because which Hollywood movie is complete without an explicit inclusion of it?
What’s the next thing that’s wrong? About every racial, sexist, tribal, whathaveyou stereotype out there.
Apparently in the future women’s rights seem to have regressed, because nobody’s making an objection to genetically modified identical females who serve customers who insult them in a sexually offensive way. Forgetting of course about every ethical consideration we are currently having about genetic engineering, because I assume that since it’s in the future they’ve had that debate and decided that these considerations are moot.
So we have a scared, shivering genetically engineered Asian female (who apparently has perfectly proportioned features) who’s picked out to be speshul even though we have no idea how so, and has to be saved by a bunch of males who seem to have it all worked out and now need a figurehead as their revolution leader. On every possible road said female is hesitant and has to be reassured five hundred times to follow strong, intelligent male, who looks suspiciously white (when I was watching it I thought it was supposed to be, you know, futuristic, which explains everything, but I have now found out it’s just bad make-up). Does she have a choice in whether she is to be revolution leader? Considering that she just escaped from her captives due to their persuasion, I can totally see her surviving out on her own when she says no.
What about the tribal plot? At every point we see it, we see it through our lens: the tribal way of life is backward, superstitious, and an utterly stupid way to live. When the daughter lies dying from pufferfish poison it is up to woman from developed place to save her, and all the villagers’ fears of the mountain (where Cloud Atlas is) being a cursed place seem unfounded to us. There is no attempt to understand their way of life whatsoever. Because hey, who will choose to live such a life if they only knew about our awesome ones where we have SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY and NO MORE SUPERSTITION?
The bigger point is that characterisation is weak. I only ever care about the gay couple because they rise slightly above cliches; everyone else falls back to a template we are used to. Do I have more to say? No, because I don’t care and can’t remember the characters.
Is this interweaving of many stories a novel concept? It’s been used to death in fiction, let me tell you. In fact, any omnipresent sort of narration would have used it to look at different characters and create opportunities for interaction. And you would know that if you actually read.
If you aren’t looking to waste your time, I recommend watching Tomboy instead, a French movie that doesn’t seek to slam you over the head with a stinky tuna chanting WE ARE ALL CONNECTED