Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cloud Atlas

So finally I got a chance to see the "Cloud Atlas" movie this past weekend, so I can offer up my complete review of the book and the film.

I read the book Cloud Atlas, by David Michell, in November during a business trip to Korea.

The book tells 6 different stories that are set in time periods ranging from the early 19th century to the distant future.  All of the stories are linked in such a way that one of the characters in next story (chronologically) is able discover a record of the previous story.  Additionally, the stories are intertwined in a nested fashion.  That is, the earliest story, written as a journal set in the early 1800s which ends abruptly. The main character in the next story (set around 1920) finds the journal, but he tells that his reading reading cut off abruptly (just like us) and he is missing the second half of the Journal. In a similar way, each story leads to the next until we find ourselves in the far distant post apocalyptic future.  This final story, chronologically, is in the middle of the book, which creates a weird effect in that the overall story ends halfway through reading the novel.  At  the end of the story set in the far distant future, the main character recounts the ending of the  previous story, this continues until the novel ends by revealing the second half of the lost journal from the early 1800s.  

I think that the author's motivation behind nesting the stories the way he does is to give the reader a sense that our lives our connected to both the past and the future.  In doing so, he has written a novel that gives the reader a  real sense of the magnitude and scope of human society in a way that a novel set in a single time period does not.  I found myself particularly immersed in the story set in a future Korea since I was reading it while on a business trip there.  Overall, David Mitchell has written what I (and many others) consider to be a classic of modern literature where he explores some very important themes that reflect our place in the whole of human society.

In 2012, a film adaptation of Cloud Atlas was released starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. 

In truth, the film version should really be thought of as a supplement to the novel, since it would be utterly indecipherable had I not read the book.  Judging by the number of people who left the theater before the 3 hours of film had completed, I don't think this is an unreasonable assessment.  Nevertheless, having read the book before seeing the movie, I found the film to be quite enjoyable.  There were a few significant deviations from the novel, but most of the main themes where there, and rather than nesting the stories, the director chose to periodically switch between the various time periods.  I also felt that the film had a substantially more optimistic ending than the book.