The Trouble with Quibbles: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas is inescapably epic. The nearly three-hour-long film has three directors–Lana Wachowski, Tom Tywker, and Andy Wachowski–includes 6 different stories spanning over a thousand years, chronicling the karmic ripple effect as the ramifications of several characters’ actions “echo through eternity.” The cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving, Keith David, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon, all of whom play multiple characters. There’s no arguing whether or not the film is epic. And the only thing that surpasses the filmmakers’ ambition is their zeal. Bryan drank the Kool-Aid. Having little interest in its saccharine mix of schmaltzy spiritualism, morality tale clichés, and overblown take on the Golden Rule, I did not.

BRYAN: So, we are here because after much complaining and hesitation, Adam saw Cloud Atlas. Now we can discuss this very unique and interesting movie. Was it as bad as you thought it would be?

ADAM: First off, you were the one complaining about me not wanting to see it. Secondly, yes and no. I didn’t completely hate it, but I definitely didn’t love it.

BRYAN: Okay. Well, I never understood why you didn’t want to see it. I’m always curious about something so adventurous.

ADAM: I didn’t want to see it because it looks exactly like the muddled, clunky, cheesy, sophomoric rehash of a philosophy 101 course that it is.

BRYAN: But on film!

ADAM: Yeah, the multi-million dollar equivalent of a student art film.

BRYAN: I think it has a lot more ingenuity and creativity than that.

ADAM: Where? I saw nothing new mixed in that mess of a film.

BRYAN: You’re a sad man.

ADAM: I saw some things I liked, but nothing that blew me away.

BRYAN: Well, I don’t think I’d describe it as being blown away. But it wasn’t a mess.

ADAM: It’s totally a mess.

BRYAN: Explain yourself… maybe start from the beginning

ADAM: Too many cooks. That’s as simple as it gets. For me, there is no cohesion.

BRYAN: So, your main complaint in a movie all about connectedness is that there was no cohesion?

ADAM: The stories of Neo Seoul and 106 winters after the fall work nicely together, but as a whole, no. And yeah, that’s a problem for me. Just having the same actors play different parts in multiple stories within the same film doesn’t automatically mean that they all flow together.

BRYAN: Was it the different genres? Did you not like them blending like so?

ADAM: I can’t dislike the film for “blending” because it doesn’t do that.

BRYAN: Well, the different actors in different parts was meant to be each character being reincarnated, not just some Nutty Professor shenanigans

ADAM: Yeah, I get that. I got the movie. I just didn’t like it.

BRYAN: Well, it should be said, this isn’t a difficult movie to understand. The theme… the message is simple. The individual stories are straightforward. It’s in the telling that things are made complex.

ADAM: It’s not complex. It’s convoluted.

BRYAN: I found it interesting how little exposition there is up top. The movie just starts, cuts from the 6 time periods and they don’t explain how things got to this moment. I liked that.

ADAM: I hated it. For all its harping on about interconnection, I found that opening immediately divisive.

BRYAN: After like 15 min they finally give the year and location. Like “106 winters after the fall,” but they let us fill in the blanks. It’s on us to infer how we got here and why the language is different. Same with Neo Seoul. We can figure it out. I dug that.

ADAM: Those are the only sections I truly enjoyed. I could’ve done with just that movie, cutting back and forth between Neo Seoul and After the Fall.

BRYAN: Well, that was going to be another thing I asked you. Individually did you enjoy the stories at all or not or was it the cutting between that did you in?

ADAM: I did not like the cutting back forth between the stories, which made me more and more annoyed with all the stories I didn’t care about for taking me away from the stories I did care about. I liked After the Fall and Neo Seoul. And the 1973 story was interesting, but like the rest of the movie, it just didn’t mesh with everything else for me.

BRYAN: Man, do I disagree.

ADAM: I hated the 1850 storyline, and I still haven’t decided if that’s just because of the whole “white savior” thing. Didn’t care about the story in the 30s.

BRYAN: I thought that was the most romantic. It helped inform the bigger emotional punch of the other stories.

ADAM: Might have enjoyed the 2012 story if its cartoonishness wasn’t so awkward next to everything else.

BRYAN: But you do see that was on purpose?

ADAM: Yes, there is nothing subtle about this movie.

BRYAN: I mean, you call it a mess but everything was well thought out, even if it didn’t work for you.

ADAM: Just because it was what they meant to do, doesn’t mean that it worked or that I have to like it.

BRYAN: Right. But I think calling it a mess is wrong. I think every cut is purposeful and impactful.

ADAM: It IS a mess. And all that spiritual gobbledygook.

BRYAN: Well, that’s something else entirely.

ADAM: I think it’s a ham-fisted clusterfuck of a film that could have been infinitely better if made by an individual director. I think Jean-Pierre Jeunet could have made this better and shorter and with more cohesion, instead of the cinematic equivalent of watching th Wachowskis and Tom Tywker wrestling with the remote.

BRYAN: I didn’t feel like there were too many cooks. Best example is: I wouldn’t have guessed who directed what. I think they were very much on the same page throughout. As for the spiritual hooey. I went with it. It’s hippie nonsense, but it’s hard to argue with karma. That’s an obvious message, but when put to picture, the way they present it, the emotion got me in the end.

ADAM: It’s not hard to argue with karma. I live in the real world and I have eyes. Karma is bullshit.

BRYAN: But it’s a romantic ideal. And THAT is always cinematic.

ADAM: I don’t believe in karma or reincarnation.

BRYAN: I’m talking cinema not real life. This stuff works on a screen


BRYAN: You mean you don’t root for the bad guy’s comeuppance in EVERY movie ever made?

ADAM: Not if the bad guy is more interesting than the hero.

BRYAN: Don’t twist my words

ADAM: I literally just answered the question you asked.

BRYAN: Look, I wasn’t always with this movie. I kept going in and out with it. Every time I was drifting the film would grab me again. And more times than not, during a very long run time that didn’t feel long at all, I was with it. I think finally the concluding emotional high got to me and they stuck the landing. I also do indeed give it bonus points for what they went for. Sure it’s a little fluffy, but they went all in and I think it mostly pays off. I certainly think it’s a movie everyone should see

ADAM: Strike that, reverse it. It’s mostly fluff and a little pays off. I don’t think it’s a movie that everyone should see.

BRYAN: I’m curious. Did you want more of a through line from timeline to timeline? Did you want more symmetry like The Fountain?

ADAM: I don’t really like The Fountain either.

BRYAN: Okay, but did you expect more obvious connections or something? Like what was missing for you? Or did you just think it was entry-level philosophy told in an uninteresting way?

ADAM: The last one.

BRYAN: I made that too easy for you

ADAM: Yup, just like this movie.

BRYAN: Well can you agree that the acting was good? The fx, makeup, camera etc.?

ADAM: I’ll give you the acting and the visual effects, though some of the matte-shots were god awful. But the makeup was kinda shitty, like J. Edgar shitty. All rubbery and obvious. Reminded me of Trash Humpers.

BRYAN: The only makeup that didn’t work for me was old Hugh Grant. Otherwise I bought into the conceit. I mean you’re not suppose to be fooled, most of the time.

ADAM: It’s not a matter of being fooled, it’s a matter of the makeup looking like bad theater makeup. Susan Sarandon’s nose in the 1850s. Hugh Grant in 2012. Doona Bae in 1973.

BRYAN: Mexican Doona Bae… the fact that a film has that should be points in its favor.

ADAM: Absolutely not. And white Doona Bae was pretty creepy also.

BRYAN: How about Korean Keith David!!!

ADAM: That was awful. Jim Sturgess was the only one who looked passable in Korean makeup.

BRYAN: I was having fun with it. The whole movie. It was fun to see who would pop up where. It’s a joyous film.

ADAM: Gag.

BRYAN: Jim Sturgess is slowly starting to not annoy me. First THE WAY BACK, now this.

ADAM: I’ve seen him in more bad movies than good, but I don’t dislike him.

BRYAN: Can you pick a favorite performance?

ADAM: Tie: Tom Hanks and Hugo Weaving in After the Fall. Close 2nd: Doona Bae in Neo Seoul

BRYAN: I think I go Doona Bae Neo Seoul

ADAM: It’s basically 3-way tie.

BRYAN: But I did really like Ben Whishaw and James D’Arcy

ADAM: I did not. I don’t think I like Ben Whishaw.

BRYAN: Any reason?

ADAM: Nope. It’s not a definite yet. We’ll see how he does in Skyfall.

BRYAN: The score was pretty great. Any time you have to write a piece of music that is supposed to be great in film and you succeed is a huge accomplishment. Like the One-ders.

ADAM: It’s a fine piece of music

BRYAN: Any other things you want to shit on in this fine film?

ADAM: Let’s see… shitty makeup… ham-fisted cluster fuck… 3 out of 6 stories that just made me wish I was watching one of the other 3… spoon-fed rehash of philosophy 101… ridiculously convoluted take on an extremely simple idea that a more skilled director probably could have done better in a shorter period of time… That’s probably enough.

BRYAN: And you started by saying you didn’t hate it. You lied to me and worse you lied to the readers.

ADAM: I didn’t lie. I said I didn’t completely hate it. I hated most of it. I really liked Neo Seoul and After the Fall. If they do a special edition DVD like Sin City, that has each section separated, I’d watch those to again.

BRYAN: “I’m not racist, some of my best friends are white” <—You right now.

ADAM: You don’t wanna open that door right now, not with this movie and its “white savior.”

BRYAN: She’s Korean.

ADAM: Are you trying to make a joke? I can’t tell. You know jokes aren’t funny if you have to explain them, right? “We’re moving back east to join the Abolitionists…” aren’t we great. Fuck you. What happened to the black guy who saved your life?!

BRYAN: I am fucking with you, but the point remains. Criticizing that aspect misses the point. A white guy does one nice thing, but then so does the black guy. And those decisions echo through eternity. It’s no different in that scene than in Neo Seoul.

ADAM: If I punch you, will that echo through eternity? I hope so.

BRYAN: So you’re the dick in every timeline? I’d pay good money to see Female Nurse Adam

ADAM: Ugh… there’s no such thing as reincarnation or karma. That’s what I hate most about this movie, people talking about how everyone needs to see it and it’ll change your life. They don’t and it won’t. We’re all still assholes.

BRYAN: I know I am

ADAM: If you don’t think you’re an asshole, then you’re an even bigger asshole.

BRYAN: But while I won’t go that far, I will say it is nice to see something sincere. I don’t need every film to portray my worldview. It’s a big sloppy hug of a movie, sometimes you need to hug that shit back.

ADAM: Ha! You called it sloppy. You called it sloppy. I win. I win! That’s the true true!

BRYAN: Sloppy emotionally, not structurally. Ah, fuck it.

ADAM: I didn’t hate this movie as much as I hate all the empty platitudes about how it’ll change lives. Bullshit. You change your life through actions not through watching movies. When there’s some Cloud Atlas foundation with a list of accomplishments, then I’ll be okay with all this, “everyone needs to see this movie” shit. Till then. I say bullshit. Being nicer to people because “it echoes through eternity” is bullshit and selfish, then you’re just doing it for yourself. It’s the same as being good because you’re afraid of going to hell.

BRYAN: I think everyone SHOULD see this movie, but not for some life affirming reason. They should see it cause it has KOREAN KEITH DAVID! And MEXICAN DOONA BAE! And it has 6 different genres in one movie, and there’s action, and there’s romance, and yes there are ideas, however simple, they are there, and it’s very entertaining and kind of miraculous that it got made at all. That’s why everyone should see it.

ADAM: Ugh.


12 responses to “The Trouble with Quibbles: Cloud Atlas

  1. Sorry, bro, I’m with Bryan on this one. Teeheee

    • I’m not surprised. You both like The Master too. I was never interested in seeing this movie. It’s not my cup of tea. And I’m diametrically opposed to the idea that any work of art should appeal to everyone. If everyone likes your art, then your art is probably boring.

  2. There’s a difference between appealing to everyone and thinking everyone should see something.

    • 1) There is no such thing as a movie that everyone should see. 2) If you’re suggesting that someone should see something, you’re implying they’ll like it… otherwise you’re just an asshole who likes to start arguments.

  3. Can’t I be both?

  4. Jose Garcia Jr.

    I did not like it. I think it is exactly what the film makers set out to do. But overall I think the stories just weren’t that interesting. Its pretty much six short films that intercut with each other. If you look at each story individually they were kinda dull. The Fabricants story was the only entertaining one. Maybe the book is better but on film it wasnt very cinematic, story wise.

  5. I kind of agree with you there. The stories, on their own, are just okay. Individually they are passable and indeed not the most cinematic. But I think in the telling the filmmakers bring them to life and make it extremely cinematic. It kind of shows off the power of film. It requires the techniques and the editing to become engrossing.

  6. During the first 15 minutes I was completely convinced that I wasn’t going to enjoy the film. By then end I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes it had problems, no it won’t change your life but it was fun and engaging in a way that I haven’t really seen before. Being original doesn’t automatically make it good or interesting but this one worked for me. I don’t understand 100% of what it was going for but I don’t care. I didn’t 100% LOVE each individual story but I don’t care. Overall this film was ambitious in a way that wasn’t completely alienating as so many other “experimentations” are. I also disagree with the notion of to many cooks, I expected that it would feel that way and yet I could not begin to tell who directed what, it felt plenty cohesive in style. Jim Broadbent was absolutely my favorite in it, I loved the 2012 storyline. Terrific film… well worth watching.

  7. That’s how I felt too. Like I wasn’t exactly with it right away, but when it came together the cross cutting eventually had an emotional effect. It doesn’t matter that the “lesson” is simplistic. It matters if it felt dramatic and engaging in the moment and I think this film did.

    Another thing I liked but didn’t mention is that the movie is also a love letter to storytelling and how keeping records and telling stories is its own kind of immortality. The letters from story 1, the sextet from story 2, the novel about what happens in story 3, autobiography in story 4, TV movie in story 5 and the archivist, scripture in story 6 and campfire tales etc.

    I like it the more I think about it.

  8. Pingback: Grant Me the Serenity – “Flight” Review | Shooting the Script

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