According to Warner Brothers, Cloud Atlas is about “how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.” If the audience you watch it with is as representative as mine, 75% of you will not know this until you read the box cover, 25% of you is a liar and 100% of you will embarrass yourselves trying to explain it.
Adapted from the multiple-award-winning 2004 novel by David Mitchell, it was said by many to be unfilmable. Technically those people have been proved wrong and for the record, I was one of those people. But if this is what it feels like to be wrong, then I don’t want to be right. Unlike at school where you’d tolerate a turgid BBC adaptation with actors on the Rada minimum just to avoid engaging with the text, you’d actually be better served just reading the book.
There are some very big names on the box cover – Halle Berry, Tom Hanks etc – actors who undoubtedly read the treatment and saw an opportunity to play roles they’d never encounter on any other screen project. These are just some of the roles: showboating Irish gangster-author, tattooed tribal shaman, 23rd-century cannibal and futuristic Hawaiian hillbilly. I would tick three-quarters of those options if they were available on eHarmony but I can’t ever imagine a second date with Cloud Atlas.
The problem is that when you read a novel with scope and ambition, the imaginative connections required are more easily made. There are no leaps of faith necessary when your imagination can override any ambiguities and enforce a coherent narrative. But like a golfer who ignores the lake and tries to drive the green from 300 yards, you’ve got to admire the effort.
Ultimately this is an argument about comprehension. If you can keep up with the plot long enough to engage with the cast, and come to care about the ending instead of wishing it were all over, it’s quite possible that you’ll enjoy it. I didn’t, I couldn’t and I made two early leaps off the sofa incorrectly anticipating the credits.
CLOUD ATLAS ARRIVES ONTO BLU-RAY and DVD on 1 JULY 2013