BTSB At The Movies! Cloud Atlas
For this edition of BTSB At the Movies, Kerttu Kaikkonen and myself, Jesper Simola, decided to do things a little bit differently. Rather than write an article in the traditional way, we decided to sit down and have a conversation that ended up lasting nearly an hour. This way, we could have a more casual yet also more dynamic conversation about the topic of this article, which is none other than Cloud Atlas by directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings. Although the entire conversation was recorded, we've decided to bring you some of the highlights in text form with some slight edits to make it more readable. This was a bit of an experiment but it's something I hope to try again in the future with, perhaps, some adjustments. At the time of our recording, it had been a bit over a week since I had seen the film while Kerttu had just seen it a few hours earlier. Before beginning our discussion of the movie itself, we briefly went over our history with Cloud Atlas prior to seeing the movie. Neither of us had read the book though we both had heard a few things about the movie mostly in regards to the casting of the same actors in multiple roles. Kerttu had read a 4-star review in the movie magazine Empire (in the March 2013 issue) and found that her expectations in regards to the movie were largely met. I, on the other hand, had seen a large amount of very mixed reviews and therefore really didn't have a clue of what to expect.
Our General Opinions on the Film
Jesper: Personally, I really, really enjoyed. It wasn't needlessly complicated but it was quite universal in terms of its themes anyway. I felt that it did a good job of having these easy-to-understand themes but still kind of presenting them in a way that made you think. I don't know, what was your overall opinion?
Kerttu: I really liked it. I liked the way how it kind of mixes different things; all the stories had different themes and atmospheres. So it wasn't... It wasn't plain and simple! I also thought it was really fun! I kind of want to read the book now to see how it succeeds on being a movie made out of a book.
Jesper: So you mentioned the different atmospheres of the movie... There's quite a mix of them. For example, there's one story that's mostly just humorous, by which I'm talking about the old folks home storyline. Then there's the story with Robert Frobisher, the composer, which is a bit more tragic of sorts, and then there's also kind of elements of horror; there's all these different moods evoked in this film. Do you feel that it was a good mix? That it still felt like everything blended in together well?
Kerttu: Yeah, it kind of felt like it was one big story.
Jesper: I thought it was an amazing technical feat. The editing really impressed me! It jumps from different time frames to different areas; it jumps all over the place from story to story to story and back yet it still manages to be cohesive. I was able to follow every individual story. Maybe at the very beginning, it took me like 10 minutes to get into the flow of the movie but from that point forward I was able to follow each plot even though it jumped around as much as it did.
Kerttu: Yeah, I agree.
Jesper: With the editing, they had these great transitions! One example I can think of is towards the end, without giving away too much information, somebody mentions something about a door and that death is kind of like opening a door and seeing your loved ones on the other side, and then they cut to a different story line, and the first thing they show is a door. Kerttu: Yeah, and then someone walks in and sees their loved ones.
Jesper: Yeah, exactly! The editing does a great job of making everything feel connected! It helps the themes feel like they go throughout the story. Even though there are different stories and different time frames and different ears and different places, there's still a thread going through the film.
Kerttu: Lately, I've been paying more attention to the way that editing works. It's kind of like putting different puzzle pieces together and if it works out, it's fabulous. If it doesn't, it's, you know...
Jesper: It's a mess.
Kerttu: For this movie, I thought it was a cohesive story. It's kind of like looking at a picture or a painting with different strokes of brush and they all come together really nicely.
Jesper: Yeah, you can admire the little details but then when you step back and look at it, it still works as a cohesive whole. It's not easy, in general, to edit a movie so that a story feels understandable but the fact that they were able to do it with several different stories at the same time...
Jesper: Yeah, 6 stories, that's a lot! And they were only connected by theme but not by much else... The fact that they were able to make a film with six different stories comprehensible, not to mention riveting, is amazing in of itself!
Our Favorite and Least Favorite Stories
Kerttu: I really liked the one with Frobisher. I think that was my favorite not just because it had Edinburgh in it!
Jesper: Yeah, I really enjoyed that one as well. Ben Whishaw, who played Frobisher, was absolutely fantastic in that role. It was tragic but it wasn't depressing. It was somehow uplifting. I also really enjoyed the old folk's home story which I just thought was hilarious.
Kerttu: I know! I loved Meeks, the guy who always says "I know, I know"!
Jesper: Yes, he had some fantastic moments! Did you have a story that didn't really work for you at all or a story you'd feel comfortable calling your least favorite?
Kerttu: I don't know... I think maybe the one set in the 70s with the journalist. There was just something I didn't like.
Jesper: I think I'm with you on that. It had individual moments that were really great. I especially loved the shot where one character is looking through a peephole and on the other side of the door, another character is pointing a gun at the peephole. They film it so that it's from the side so that you can see the door separating them and you can see them both looking through the peephole. Of course, the person looking into the peephole has no idea that someone is pointing a gun in their face essentially.
Kerttu: Yeah, that was really cool.
Jesper: I felt that was one of the more memorable shots in the film. I do, however, feel that even though it dealt with important issues it still felt kind of anticlimactic.
Kerttu: Probably the last half of that wasn't as cohesive as the other stories.
Jesper: Yeah, it went in an odd direction. It went into this extended action sequence that didn't quite feel in line with the tone that had been set before that. It had otherwise felt kind of realistic and then it got a bit goofy but it was still entertaining anyway.
The Controversy About the Make-Up
Jesper: Last year, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) protested the use of what they called "yellow face" in Cloud Atlas, which is when Caucasians put on make-up to make themselves look Asian. Do you think the controversy is justified?
Kerttu: I don't think it is. All the actors put on make-up to play different races and genders.
Jesper: Here's a quote regarding the controversy from Guy Aoki, founding president of MANAA: "The Korea story's protagonist is an Asian man - an action hero who defies the odds and holds off armies of attackers. He's the one who liberates Doona Bae from her repressive life and encourages her to join the resistance against the government. It would have been a great, stereotype-busting role for an Asian American actor to play, as Asian American men aren't allowed to be dynamic or heroic very often. But instead, they cast Jim Sturgess in yellowface". So, basically, their argument was that it was a missed opportunity not casting more Asians in the film. How do you feel about that?
Kerttu: Sonmi, the heroine, is Asian.
Jesper: I also think that it's kind of an unnecessary controversy. It feels like one that has come from people not having actually seen the film but instead have simply seen pictures or the trailer and have jumped to conclusions. There's Asian actors playing Caucasian roles, there's African-American actors playing Caucasian roles, there's African-Americans playing Asians... There's men playing women, and women playing men yet, as far as I know, there's only been controversy about the so-called "yellow face". There is this horrible history in American cinema of Caucasian actors pretending to be Asian with one of the more notable examples being Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. That's actually a pretty racist portrayal and that's what they (MANAA) say makes the yellow face worse but there's also a history of black face. To me, it seems, they're missing the point. I think one of the themes in the film is that "everything is connected" and I think one of the ways they explore that theme is through the make-up. By having different people play different genders and races, they're essentially showing that race and gender are kind of irrelevant.
Kerttu: Yeah, that's what I thought when I heard about the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. I thought that was the point of the movie or at least the casting of the movie.
Our Opinions on the Mixed Reviews
Kerttu: The film is almost 3 hours long and it's kind of complicated. I think the Empire review mentioned Inception [as a comparison] which had several different stories and was also complicated. It's not a bad thing. I like movies like that but not all people do.
Jesper: I loved the movie. It's been on my mind since I saw it but, at the same time, I can kind of understand why it was so polarizing. It has so much it's trying to do at the same time. I can even understand some of the people not liking the make-up because I think there were a few instances, like Hugo Weaving and his Asian make-up, which really did not work that well.
Kerttu: I thought that the make-up for Halle Berry when she was supposed to be old was also not quite as successful.
Jesper: But there were also a few that worked really well and surprised me. It's a thrill watching a movie and not recognizing an actor in the role.
Would We Recommend This Movie?
Kerttu: I do really recommend that people go see it before they judge it based on what they hear from other people. If you go during the day, it's only 5 euros and something cents for students!
Jesper: Well, there you go! I went on a Sunday so it was quite expensive. I paid like 12 euros or something but I still thought it was worth it. I'll also say that I do recommend that people go see this movie. It won't be for everyone but I'd recommend you go see it in the cinema, if you can. It's a really cool, cinematic experience; the music is great, there's a lot of really amazing visuals in this film, and I think it's worth seeing on a big screen.
BONUS! If anyone is interested in listening to the full conversation that Kerttu and I had, you can find it here: https://soundcloud.com/etipi/btsb-at-the-movies-cloud-atlas/s-h8PtN You can listen to it in the browser or download it. We delve into a lot of stuff that we couldn't fit into this article including some more in-depth, slightly spoilerish discussion (but don't worry, we save the spoilers for the end of the discussion so you can easily avoid them if you want to). This was an experiment so the sound quality isn't perfect but I've done some editing to make it feel at least a bit more professional and interesting. Think of this as the pilot for a potential semi-regular BTSB podcast. We hope you enjoy it!