Cloud Atlas was co-written and directed by Matrix duo Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer (The International), who transformed David Mitchell’s prize-winning novel into a cinematic treatise on the cyclic nature of human history and social order. It cost more than $100 million to produce, runs almost 3 hours long, and employs the talent of several A-list character actors and actresses.
The first screenshots from Cloud Atlas have been unveiled, offering an early look at some of the characters being brought to life by people like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent (Moulin Rouge!, Harry Potter), and Ben Whishaw (the young ‘Q’ in Skyfall).
Mitchell’s source novel, for those unfamiliar, is composed of six separate storylines that span from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future. The first half of the book moves in a linear fashion, as each story partially unfolds before being cut off (by the next in chronological order). However, the second half progresses backwards, culminating with the original 19th-century setting and narrative thread.
It’s an example where the form of storytelling reflects themes of spiritual rebirth and the cyclical nature of human experiences throughout history, as explored in Mitchell’s source material (where characters are implied to be re-incarnations of those in a proceeding story). Hence, members of the Cloud Atlas cast are reused over and over in the film’s separate narrative threads.
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Tyker and the Wachowskis challenged their cast to tackle an eclectic (even bizarre, at times) collection of roles in Cloud Atlas. Those characters include: an embittered composer living with syphilis during the 1930s (Broadbent); a Californian journalist investigating misdeeds at a nuclear power plant during the 1970s (Berry); a rare survivor of the global apocalypse (Hanks) – and a cannibalistic tribesman thriving on a remote island (Hugh Grant), among others.
Mainstream appeal might not be in the cards for Cloud Atlas, despite the big-name cast and high production values. The film is nonetheless a daring venture that seems destined to provoke some interesting discussions about how successful (or not) Tykwer and the Wachowskis are in their efforts. Select cinephiles can check it out this upcoming September, when it screens at the Toronto Film Festival.
Cloud Atlas begins a regular theatrical release in the U.S. on October 26th, 2012.