Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Unparalleled: Cloud Atlas
As audiences return to The Matrix courtesy of cinematic visionary Lana Wachowski’s latest outing, now seems like a good time to once again highlight her most unusual, ambitious, and downright jaw-dropping work: the 2012 opus Cloud Atlas, co-directed Lana’s sister Lilly, as well as their frequent collaborator Tom Tykwer (director of Run Lola Run). It’s a movie experience unlike any other we’ve ever seen (and remember, we’ve seen a lot).
The format of Cloud Atlas makes it difficult to summarize. In the 1840s, an American doctor (Jim Sturgess) develops a relationship with an enslaved man (David Gyasi) and becomes an ardent abolitionist. In the 1930s, a gay composer (Ben Whishaw) pens a quintet as an ode to his boyfriend (James D’Arcy), only to have it stolen by another composer. In the 1970s, the composer’s lover helps an investigative reporter (Halle Berry) expose eco-terrorism. In the present, an aging author (Jim Broadbent) involuntarily committed to a nursing home plots his escape. In the distant future, an anti-totalitarian rebel (Sturgess, again) kidnaps a cloned fast-food worker (Doona Bae). In the even more distant future, a tribesman (Tom Hanks) guides a scientist (Berry, again) to an abandoned communication station in hopes of escaping a dying Earth.
Understanding the plot (or plots) of Cloud Atlas only begins to scratch the surface of this puzzling, spellbinding cinematic experience. In essence, the film tries to visualize how lives interconnect over time, and how love guides us back to one another from one life to the next. To love is to find true immortality: something disease, revolution, cataclysms and old age can’t ever defeat. Cloud Atlas argues that our minds–and indeed, our love–transcends time, race, gender and sexuality. The Wachowski’s manifest this rather abstract concept by using their cast in multiple roles: Halle Berry plays a Jewish woman. Hugo Weaving plays a woman. Korean actress Doona Bae plays a white woman. We are the points of light across space and time, no matter how we look from different perspectives. Our love connects those points into the tapestry of time.
Cloud Atlas makes the radical statement that love is love, and moreover, love will save us all in the end. It’s a film unlike any other ever made–one that explores the fluidity of sexuality and gender–and a thrilling cinematic experience. The Matrix may have put the Wachowskis on the map. Cloud Atlas proves their real brilliance.
Streams on Netflix, HBO Max, Amazon, YouTube & VUDU.
Note: This article contains portions of previous posts on Queerty.
I love this film. Wish it had been better received. Is it flawed? Yes. However, no film is perfect. Even Halle Berry couldn’t ruin it for me.
After seeing the film I had to find a copy of the book so I could immerse myself deeper into the message of the film. Man was I disappointed. The book is nothing like the film. It has it’s own narrative gimmick however it serves no bigger purpose thematically. I didn’t even finish reading it after I realized what the gimmick was. Stick to the film. It’s one I watch at least once a year.
I, too, bought the book to immerse myself more into the world of Cloud Atlas but gave up about a third of the way through. This is one time that the movie is better than the book. But it’s not a popcorn movie. It takes paying attention and ruminating over what is happening.
@Dunnedin Yeah, the book was a huge disappointment. For me books usually expand upon on film’s or television show’s universe. Sometimes I like the book more but still appreciate the live action adaptation too. This is the perfect balance for me. It allows me to appreciate both bodies of work. Though at times the book is just so much better than the film or television show and vice versa.
I remember when The Mist (the film, not the show) came out and people who loved the book hated the ending. I had not read the book yet so I had to look it up. Even just reading the ending of the book I preferred the way the film ended so much better. It’s dark. So, so much darker. Probably the darkest ending to a film I’ve ever seen. Stephen King agreed to allow the writer/director to change the ending after reading it. He has said many times it’s a much better ending for the film. That his from the book wouldn’t have packed such an emotional punch.
Circling back to Cloud Atlas; definitely agree that it’s a film that requires thought and attention from the audience. For me though I do that for every film or show I see. Even if it’s just fluff. When I was in college I went to see the first Fantastic Four film with some schoolmates. After it was over we were talking on the ride home and they mentioned they had never seen me smile and laugh so much. One asked if it was because I thought the movie was great. I said I liked it but it was nothing spectacular. It was kind of cheesy and silly but I allowed myself to just be in the moment while watching it and I had fun. I leave the analyzing and debating for after. I’ve seen some pretty terrible films over the years, but most of the time I can find at least one thing to compliment. Even if it’s just a small one. That’s hard to do when you don’t give all your attention over to what it is you’re watching.
“The Matrix Resurrections” was a total waste of time.
I agree The Matrix Resurrections, was a bust. They should stopped while they were ahead, i.e, with just the first three movies. The initial one is still by far the best.
I loved David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, which is actually slightly different when it comes to the differing editions, since Mitchell rewrote parts of it when it appeared in the US, and liked the movie but not as much. It flattens out the novel’s complexity, which is really a text about the power of texts, threaded through time, and a hypertext novel in codex form, though it could easily have been adapted into the sort of hypertext fictions that were big in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s a remarkable, groundbreaking work and worth revisiting.
In terms of the film, though the acting and directing are very good, and the ingenious (no spoilers!) solution in terms of the characters across time merits high praise, I found the novel’s invocation of an imagined world more compelling. I know people who found the film a wash, and even some critics hated it (as some lit critics did the novel), but such is the effect of work that push against the grain. But each to his/her/their own, and both are worth checking out.
I don’t recall the critics reviews nor the box office success of this film. I never allow some critic to steer me away from my interest. I just remember I really liked it, and it was much more fascinating than I expected.
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