Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cloud Atlas

Talkin' 'bout the movie. Never read the book.
And I hate, hate, hate to admit being wrong. Hate it. It's almost as bad as admitting I've been taken in by advertising.

In yonder days of, ummm, oh, about the end of March, I voiced my apprehension about Cloud Atlas. I feared it would be another hollow display of slavish morality dressed up in Hollywood special effects, as per the current trend of the past dozen years. I was immediately admonished by this blog's one steady reader not to review things I hadn't actually seen (though I'm not sure this failing would set me apart from most professional film critics) because Cloud Atlas was apparently a humanist interplay of purposeful action and interweaving causality.

And it is, damnit. I was almost as wrong about this one as I was right about that putrid revival-tent morality play Prometheus. Cloud Atlas is what The Fountain might have been with triple the budget... and a more action-oriented director. Though fate does play a role, it is molded by conscious choice, and nowhere does the revolting supplication before divine figures overshadow self-rule.

I'm amused by the inclusion of a reference to Nietzschean eternal recurrence toward the beginning of the story. The personal, existential touch would have been more appropriate to a subjective, personal story like The Fountain, while the sweeping, world-changing events of Cloud Atlas would warrant more grandiose references. It's not as though human culture hasn't accumulated endless ways of saying "history repeats itself" and I should think one could easily work in some lines about Ragnarok or the supposedly cyclical view of time in the Vedas. Still, for those still wishing to call themselves agnostic, religious references might mistakenly be taken as religious and not literary, therefore confusing the main message of the story in the ways I myself feared before seeing it. Probably best they stuck with old Nietzsche.

Unsurprisingly, critique both professional and popular centers on the complex structure of the storytelling. Not much to say about that. Complexity is not harmful - nonsense is. Cloud Atlas, though much of the causality is amusingly tenuous, makes sense. The causality is there. Moreover, mixed chronology is hardly a new gimmick in literature, as Broadbent's publisher incarnation states apologetically from the start.

There are many minor criticisms I'd bring against the film: gratuitous nudity and sex scenes, gratuitous high-tech chase scenes, an all-too-predictable rescue for the valleyman, a relatively sappy ending, and casting choices made just for star-power appeal like Hugh Grant or Halle Berry. These are not great actors. Passable, professional, even good, but lacking the personality of Broadbent, Weaving, Sarandon or, admit it, Forrest Gump. Though they managed not to embarrass themselves, they add nothing to the film, and there were likely endless better choices especially for Berry's starring role.

Overall though, the movie holds together, which begs the question of what made me so anxious about it. The answer is advertising. The TV spots I'd seen centered on Sonmi saying "our lives are not our own" and were carefully cut to suggest the movie is exactly what it's not, an ode to reliance on things greater than oneself. Granted the new-age version of eternal recurrence falls on both sides of that line and I can see why advertisers would deliberately misrepresent the product to draw in crowds who prefer a religious slant on hippie culture...

But at which point does edging out your target audience hurt you more than you benefit from drawing in an ambivalent crowd? Given that I would've waited to see the movie on video anyway (though perhaps a few months sooner) I'm afraid the advertisers made the right choice in ignoring me.
Don't hate the players, hate the game.
Better yet, let's change the game. No more buying blindly. View, then donate. And kickstart where you can. Art should not be business.

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