Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

So I just saw Cloud Atlas.


And now since I saw it I have to talk about it. That is kind of difficult. Apart from the fact the Lana Wachowski had the guts to tackle these issues the movie is impressive because it uses a bunch of what's best decribed as media tricks to communicate its ideas.

Look here's the thing I was already on the freedom, dignity, volition bandwagon. I'm the "Do what you feel" guy. The best the movie could hope from an ideological stand point is to maybe point out some of my own hypocrisies but other than that it's just a confirmation of a bunch of stuff I more or less already believe.

I am its choir, or at least like to view myself as such.

Nope what impresses and interests me is not what the movie says but how it says it.

Alright let's back up. Couple things you may need to know. First off who Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski are.

What Does the Matrix have to do with anything?
The Matrix is one of my favorite movies.

Hell part of the reason why I choose my name is because I dug one of the characters.

By the way, that's why there is a y instead of an i. I named myself after Cypher. Here's hoping I don't lose hope and betray all my friends and ideals then die horribly  via a vengeful lightning bolt to the chest. Eh he got all the best one-liners and can effortlessly translate code.

Anyway I have studied the film academically and I don't just mean I wrote something on my blog about it. I mean discussed in college philosophy and film courses. IT IS DEEP! I am not going down that rabbit whole (see what I did there. See. See) but am only using it to say. I really respect this direction/writing team. And that unless Cloud Atlas was really off the rails which it is not I would probably still enjoy it as a part of their ouvre.

That said many of the themes, philosophies and autistic of The Matrix are left intact in this movie. You could more or less rename the Neo-Seoul segments "The Third Renaissance" or "Morpheus Explains It All 2 Electronic Boogaloo"

Hugo Weaving is more or less reprising his role as Agent Smith in at least 2 of the six stories. More depending on how I look at it.

He more or less copies his performance from the Matrix's interrogation scene in Neo-Seoul.  Same thing new context. At that point in the Matrix we didn't know what we were dealing with. He was just a g-man. A little creepy sure, but not yet a reprehensible villain. Here it's clear from the beginning that he's a tool and on some occasions the mouthpiece of oppression. The guy who justifies all of the abstract concepts the movie wants to knock down. Racism, tribalism, privilege, sexism, homophobia, classicism. He is the cog that keeps the machine working in most of the segments of the film.

While The Matix could be read as a film about human rights and freedom all of that stuff felt abstract and too a degree unreal. In this movie several of the characters are physically restrained. Physically kept from having the power to direct their own lives. How did I put it elsewhere.  Freedom is the ability to act on your own self-interest or desire without fear. Physical constraint is the most black and white lack of freedom I can imagine. There isn't a lot of philosophical wiggle room about what "self interest" means in that case. I want to move myself from here to the other side of the door, is it.

While I love The Matrix, it didn't spend a lot of time explicitly telling the audience how it defined freedom. At least the last two didn't. Why is the matrix, an artificial construct, unknown to most of "the prisoners" inherently unreal, inherently not free?

On Lana Wachowski

I don't want to say anything stupid and want this post to mostly stick to my own interpretations of the film but a lot of the themes the film do seem to draw inspiration from Lana's coming out of the closet as a transgendered woman.

In this respect I am not a reporter if you want the facts there there are better places than here to get them. When it comes to media I don't have so much of a problem giving priority to my own thoughts and interpretations, what it means to me,  but with real people, especially in issues of identity and "who they are" I don't want to do that.

All the same the film's themes of universal freedom, dignity, the general universality of ideas regardless of gender, race, time and place do seem a bit like a personal manifesto on her part. And I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention it as potentially part of the authorial intent of the film.

So I've been dancing around this. The film is actually centered around six stories that share themes and actors. Unlike most stories like this they aren't clearly delineated as an anthology would be.  The editing juxtaposes similar shots, characters, and set pieces to highlight the similarities between them and demonstrate the universality of the themes in each one.

Thematic Elements vs Specific Elements
In a way it feels like you're watching 7 movies at the same time, each of the six smaller ones and a larger more abstract thematic story. I am of the opinion that the six smaller stories serve largely to augment and comment on the larger thematic story so that's going to be important and difficult to talk about.

Damn you sideways thinking.

See in a way each of the 6 stories are telling what amounts to the same story. But not quite. The movie asks the audience to figure out how each story is different and why each story is different.

For instance most the actors play characters with the same roles in most of the stories but occasionally they don't. For instance in the 1930's story "Thematic" Tom Hanks is instead played by Jim Broadbent.  All of this threw me for a loop putting me in a mental "you don't know everything, Miles." place.

All the same the connection of the same actor playing similar roles said something. "Everythin' After" Tom Hanks is more or less the same guy as 1850's Tom Hanks, 1930's Tom Hanks,  and 2012 Tom Hanks. But his arc is despite himself not doing the sort of stuff that make those guys the villains of their respective stories and for the most part succeeding. Though to be fair he's also in the same story playing and combining elements of thematic Jim Sturgess. So take that with a grain of salt.

And Hugo Weaving, like I said in almost every one of his arcs. is the guy justifying the unjust status quo which includes slavery and nazi style "final solution" tactics. Watch Morpheus explain NEO-Seoul and you more or less get what's going on. Seriously that segment IS The Matrix done tighter, without the flab not that there was much to begin with... at least with the first one.  Oh and there is some Blade Runner mixed in there for good measure as Weaving is simultaneously playing both Smith and Deckard.

I'm actually surprised Rutger Hauer didn't get a cameo in this baby. I ought to rewatch that one. Nope! Not now! Move on Miles. Cyberpunk night later. Can I watch Existenz? You can watch Existenz.

Anyway it's heavily implied that thematic Hugo Weaving has had an epiphany and seen the light by the end of the movie.

The Words We Have
Another thing that's interesting is the use of slave speak. Thematically the movie talks a lot about dignity human rights, and the other. It wants to divorce slavery from just our concept of American Slavery, though it does comment on that as well.

To do that several of the characters speak in broken English implying that in their story they are thematically slaves or at the very least the unprivileged of that particular story. And while various character may treat them without dignity the story never does, inviting the audience to empathize with them and draw thematic connections to the other thematic unprivileged.

How is Mexican immigrant Bae Doona the same as ... Korean Replicant Bae Doona the same as "Everythin' After" Tom Hanks the same as 1850's David Gyassi. What do these people have in common in their stories?

The Words We Leave Behind
Another interesting theme is that each of these characters, at least the ones who can, know of the others via the records they left. "Everythin' After" Tom Hanks watches the video interrogation of Replicant Bae Doona. 1970's Hale Barry reads the letters of 1930's, who read the journal of 1850's Ben Sturgess.

Despite being in different times and places all of these characters are able to draw strength from each other's experiences via the words they left behind.

The story posits that these ideas, these truths are meaningless on thier own. What makes them powerful is their ability to be transmitted to others and transcend our own deaths, to be applied by other people in other places.

God bless the writer.

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