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Cloud Atlas - Huge Book Becomes Epic Film

'Drink your soap, Sonmi!'
(Plot Spoiler Alert!) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is one of my favourite books, a sprawling beast of a thing, with many disparate characters telling generally unrelated stories across the centuries. Six tales, structured in a way that can infuriate, then reward. Tricky thing to film, Cloud Atlas. The only possible solution would be to get three great directors on board, mix all the stories up, make everything even more dramatic, especially the chase sequences, and get some of the best actors working today. Thankfully, the producers went for the only possible solution.

Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski divvied up the six stories and some of the actors. The theme of reincarnation/karma wasn't pushed strongly in the novel but, by using the same actors in the different stories, the film really goes for this idea. We are united across time; by ideas, by actions and by cosmic chance, possibly including rebirth. All the actors are superb, with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry excelling in so many key roles, especially a joint-smoking Berry looking about 25 years old as investigative reporter Luisa Rey in the beautifully filmed 1970s sequence.Tom Hanks was less successful as an Irish thug (!), but good effort all the same. But my favourites were Doona Bae (The Host) as Sonmi-451 and Ben Whishaw (Q in Skyfall). Whishaw is superb as rakish young composer Robert Frobisher (my favourite character in the book) and you really, really want his outcome to be a positive one. Sob.

The Sonmi-451 story happens in a nightmarish future, the teeming metropolis of Neo Seoul, where soulless corporations control free thought and clones serve junk food to the masses. Nothing much new there then. But this element of the film has been injected with extra imagination, adrenalin, epic sets and edge-of-seat action sequences. Doona Bae is simply perfect as the clone that rocks the boat, with Jim Sturgess equally good as Hae-Joo Chang, her rescuer and lover. Again, I wanted a good outcome for who had become my favourite character in the film. Sadly, the outcomes have to be shared out across all the characters. In my opinion, the Sonmi-451 storyline would make a great film all on its own.

While the book was all about the characters, Cloud Atlas the film tries to do more, with superb cinematography, sound and effects. It's all about love, karma and the need for constant revolution. Its message is very timely, for Earth in 2013 is a dull and nasty place for most. Can this film transcend its pure, epic entertainment value and flick some switches inside its viewers' heads? The Matrix worked in the same territory but life has become unarguably less bearable since that release. Will Cloud Atlas cause a Sonmi or two to wake from their soap-induced stupor and lead us towards to a society where love, truth and fairness actually matter a damn?

Is everything connected or are we selfish, egotistical beasts? Big questions from a big film.

Gary J Byrnes, The Writer and Other Stories

Gary J Byrnes, 2013

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