David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is a fascinating puzzle of a novel, with stories broken in half, then reassembled in a way that gives each added resonance and power.
It seems like an unfilmable book because of its construction (more on that in a moment). But Mitchell has met his equal in the teaming of Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings (they were formerly the Wachowski brothers, until Larry transitioned to Lana) to create a film of Cloud Atlas, opening Friday (10/26/12). Together, they find their own way of reconfiguring the puzzle of these half-dozen tales, doing it in such a way to maintain their essential mystery while refocusing the way they resonate and echo each other -- beyond the inclusion in each segment of a character who bears a birth mark in the shape of a comet.
Consider the various symbolic meanings of both the birthmark specifically and comets in general. Then take your choice: That little image can represent what you want it to. It's just lagniappe, that little extra bit that goes with this fantastically stuffed film. There is so much going on here -- emotionally, intellectually and metaphysically -- that to focus on one small bit of it is to miss the bigger, much richer picture.
What is Cloud Atlas about? In various ways, it examines the nature of tyranny and the human instinct toward freedom. It is about the search for truth and the many obstacles that stand in the way of that search. It is about the pure joy of creativity -- and the envy it can incite in other, less talented individuals.
And it is a look at the way man's worst impulses forever push him toward disaster, even as his better instincts try to pull him back from the brink. Ultimately, there's only so much a good person can do, this movie seems to say, so save yourself and hope to fight for what is right again in the next battle.
All of that, of course, is one critic's extrapolation from a multi-tiered yarn that travels back and forth in time and around the globe. Many members of the wide-ranging cast of actors play more than one character, moving between stories to play dissimilar roles in different strands of the film.
This review continues on my website.