Quite honestly, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is a book I probably never would have read, had it not been for all the attention that’s been paid to the recent film adaptation. The New Yorker’s interview with the filmmakers (Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings) about the process of translating this complicated book into film is what first got me hooked. While the film (a German production, by the way) sounded intriguing, I immediately wanted to devour the book as quickly as possible before the movie was released in Germany.
I have to say that the book did not disappoint. It’s made up of six different, yet interconnected narratives occurring at time points in the past and into the distant future — each starts and is interrupted half way through before moving on to the next, in chronological order. By the time the reader finishes the sixth story, the second halves of each of the earlier stories continue, but in reverse chronological order. Confused? Think of it as climbing up a mountain to the story in the far distant future, and then climbing down the other side until you’re back at sea level.
The style of each of the narratives is completely different and I found it impressive that Mitchell was able to offer such distinct voices and flavors in his storytelling. From a notary’s journal during a sea voyage in the mid-1840’s to an oral retelling using a radically altered post-apocalyptic version of English. I found myself completely wrapped up in each of the tales, eager to pull the pieces of the puzzle together. I loved every minute!
The film was also pretty dang entertaining. Much credit to the filmmakers (Tykwer of Run Lola Run fame, and the Wachowskis of Matrix fame), who instead of following the impossible structure of the book, repeatedly flipped through brief, chronological glimpses of each narrative. Because I had just finished the book, it wasn’t too difficult to keep track of the six different plot lines. Otherwise, I imagine it might have been a bit of a (fun?) challenge. Of course, certain details from the book were glossed over or altered, but I generally found these to simplify the story for film without completely losing the essence of the narrative.
The cinematography was amazing and I particularly enjoyed the visual interpretation of the Somni (in Neo Seoul, year 2144) and Zachry (post-apocalyptic Hawaii, year 2321) tales. I also loved that the same group of actors played varying roles in each of the story lines. (Some were easier to recognize than others; the makeup was incredible!) Since the overarching motiv really has to do with karma and rebirth and the interconnectedness of our fates, you could probably spend a lot of time analyzing the connections between characters, as well as how the filmmakers linked the roles of the individual actors.
Overall, I would honestly recommend both the book and the film. If you had to choose only one, I wholeheartedly suggest taking the time to read the book. It’s filled with so much more detail and depth, and is such fun to read!
Have you seen the movie or read the book? What did you think?