What a day for new film releases! There’s To The Wonder, the latest from Terrence Malick, who could film paint drying for all I care and I’d go watch it. Mama, a taut horror film with Guillermo del Toro as Exec Producer. And Cloud Atlas, which is…
Actually, just what the hell is Cloud Atlas?
It’s safe to say no other film this year will screw quite as much with your brain. It’s an art movie that cost $100 million to make; a costume drama that starts in the 19th century and ends 500 years later as a dystopian sci-fi epic; a blockbuster informed by Derrida and deconstruction. It ambitiously interweaves six narratives across six time periods, linked by the notion that reincarnation dooms people to repeat the actions and relationships of their past.
And it’s by the makers of The Matrix.
Most attention-grabbing of all is the cast, which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon. It’s not so much their combined star wattage that makes you sit up, as the fact that each takes several roles within the film, swapping ages, genders and even race along with the time zone. Without wanting to spoil all the surprises, yes that is Halle Berry gob-smackingly unrecognisable as an elderly Asian doctor, and Hugh Grant as a war-painted cannibal chief (check out the very funny gallery from UltraCulture, http://bit.ly/UKRGnE).
Sometimes this degenerates into a game of ‘spot the actor’: on set, the stars sometimes didn’t even recognise each other. But it’s mostly a thrill to see a terrific cast get stuck into one of the greatest challenges of their careers. All were committed: the film is one of the biggest-budgeted independent movie ever, and a sizeable chunk of the funding fell out at the very last minute. The stars’ agents advised them to walk. Led by Tom Hanks, they stood by the project. In the end, the film-makers put up their own houses and other assets to secure the missing millions.
It was a characteristically bold move from the Wachowski siblings. In 1999, The Matrix changed the face of action movies overnight. V for Vendetta, which they scripted, became the emblem of the Occupy movement. And if Speed Racer in 2008 was pure bubble-gum, they were making up for it off-screen with their complex private lives, as Larry Wachowski changed sex to become Lana Wachowski. That’s why this tale of gender-bending reincarnation was personal enough to grip them throughout the many years since Natalie Portman first gave them the book.
“My brother this week had the sweetest line ever,” Lana Wachowski told the A.V Club website before the US release: “[He said] ‘Of course I believe in reincarnation—look at my sister.’ We, in our own lives, reincarnate as well. We have new lives. I’m sure there are people in your life who would see this version of you, as opposed to 20 years ago, and would say, ‘Wow, you’ve changed.’”
If the half-baked mysticism behind Cloud Atlas leaves me cold, that at least I can relate to. It was the genesis of my own sci-fi script, Time Squared, in which an assassin travels back in time to face his most dangerous enemy yet – himself as a young man. It’s just a pity Looper got there first, as I detailed here: http://bit.ly/XPxSel.
NB: Portions of this post first appeared in The Book magazine, http://bit.ly/XATWcb