The Hopes and Dreams of Cloud Atlas
At the 4 minute and 27 second mark of the trailer for the film Cloud Atlas, a gruff, revolutionary war era looking Hugo Weaving delivers the following line, “There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well.” For all intents and purposes, Weaving’s character may as well be critiquing the Hollywood film industry. Indeed, Hollywood has long been settled in certain clichés, styles, and techniques in order to give the American public the most entertaining film they can, even if it may not be the most entertaining film. Rarely is there a film that doesn’t follow this formula and instead breaks away from the conventions of the three act structure and the one cohesive story. With a few exceptions, those films and their filmmakers are never seen again, their ideas rejected in favor of the status quo. Weaving’s line reinforces it all; Hollywood film making is no place for rebels.
Thus, it’s fitting this line comes from a film such as Cloud Atlas, which seemingly aims to change everything in one fell swoop. Based off the critically acclaimed bestselling novel of the same name by David Mitchell, everything about Cloud Atlas is both different and massive. The film features three directors (Matrix creators the Wachowski siblings and German director Tom Tykwer), an all star cast featuring four former Academy Award nominees (including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry), a plot with several intertwining stories of different genres, and even a trailer over five minutes in length (the normal length of a film trailer is a little over two minutes). All of it combines to make Cloud Atlas a rare breed; an ambitious film that is going for broke. Not since Inception two years ago has a film appeared to have bigger aspirations and dreams than this.
The fact that Cloud Atlas is so “go for broke” does make sense, if only when one sees the involvement of the Wachowski siblings. More eyes are on them than the cast or Tykwer, as both entities are established or young enough to withstand the possible failure of the film. Andy and Lana Wachowski however have likely met their crossroads. Since their underrated debut film Bound in 1997, the Wachowski’s have forever been pushing the envelope with their films, combining numerous genres, ideas and techniques. The result has been mixed; films like Bound and The Matrix managed to juggle huge ideas while being entertaining, while the two Matrix sequels (Reloaded and Revolutions respectively) were too excessive for their own good. Only Speed Racer and V for Vendetta (both adaptations of other sources) have been able to find middle ground regarding success or failure concerning the Wachowski’s (though I’d argue Speed Racer is to this date their magna opus that was/is misunderstood by critics now and upon its release). Thus, not only is Cloud Atlas their biggest film to date but the ultimate test. If the film succeeds, the Wachowski’s will once again be darlings of the film industry, with the sky the limit. If it fails, this will likely be the end of high profile gigs for the siblings, ultimately remembered more for what might’ve been.
In a way, that not only makes Cloud Atlas more of a must see, but it also makes the Wachowski’s more admirable. Ask yourself; how many filmmakers have there been that have actually put their careers on the line for a film of this scope? You would likely not find many. I personally can only recall one film that could make or break careers like this; Michael Cimino’s infamous Heaven’s Gate. That film, released in 1980, ultimately failed critically and commercially, and while its reputation has risen in recent years, Cimino still has never recovered from its initial failing. As flawed as it is though, Heaven’s Gate is the perfect example of a filmmaker rolling the dice and aiming for the fences, and regardless of your opinion of it, it’s clearly one of the bravest films ever made. Cloud Atlas seems destined to join that discussion one way or another, and for that, the entire cast and crew of the film has earned my respect. Other than The Dark Knight Rises, I haven’t been this excited to see how a film turns out in a long time.
Ultimately, the first inkling of the Cloud Atlas’ quality will be revealed to the world this Saturday, when the film makes its premier at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival (Cloud Atlas will debut in U.S. theaters on October 26th). Whether or not it’s a modern day masterpiece or one of cinema’s most interesting failures I cannot say for sure. What I can tell you is that the sheer promise of this film is enough that it deserves a viewing from the most ardent of film goers. In the end, I keep going back to the Weaving quote from before and what it means. And it very well may turn out that Cloud Atlas and everyone involved with it won’t fare well in the long run. If that is the case, may it be shown that at the very least, Cloud Atlas tried to go places most films wouldn’t dare dream of. If you cannot admire that in a film, then what, I ask, is the point of film making at all?