Sunday, October 14, 2012

Finding Form: Cloud Atlas

So...I have a bit of an obsession with the trailer for the upcoming movie Cloud Atlas. Every couple of days I'll watch it at least three times in a row, and this business is getting a bit embarrassing now. I think  my fondness for it is partly because the trailer different from everything else out there; it's made up of these diverse and reverberating parts and is just a puzzle. I really hope the actual movie can live up to the trailer! Anyway, the movie is based on the book by the same name by David Mitchell. I can't get my hands on a copy just yet, but I read up on the book and it turns out it has an interesting structure and I thought it was worth covering in this series of blog posts. There are three things of note in the structure:

  • there are six nested stories
  • the first five are cut off halfway and each are finished in reverse sequence after the sixth story (which is presented whole)
  • each previous story is presented *as a story* in the story that succeeds it (you can see how this might function in the bit of the trailer about the Pacific journal)

That's just the skeleton of it. From what I can glean from the free Kindle sample, each story is written significantly differently. The first story is set in the nineteenth century and is written in the elaborately literate language often used in that era. One of the later stories is evidently presented in the mystery genre. My takeaway is that this is like six interwoven short stories that are a bit meta about each other, which has been done by other writers before, but I think this is the first time nesting has been used (if you know of other examples, let me know).

Incidentally there is a lot of controversy surrounding the movie and how it uses the same actors to portray different ethnicities and even genders. Hollywood has a long history with whitewashing, which is tragic, but I don't think the movie is actually engaging in whitewashing since the actors are being used to portray the same character (or soul) as present in different embodiments through various times (and non-white actors are portraying white characters...though I don't know if that in itself is a defense against whitewashing). The point is, the story examines the same characters in different time periods, as different people, and I think that is also relevant to the story's form. This examination dictates the story's structure, so even though the structure is weird, it would be awkward or impossible to look at the characters and their development in a more linear fashion.

I hope to get my hands on a library copy soon rather than breaking down and getting the Kindle version, because this looks like a fascinating read. If I can, I'll report back on the blog.

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