It has been somewhat fashionable in the run-up to Cloud Atlas's release to pin the proverbial "unfilmable" label on the David Mitchell novel from which it is inspired. Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski have proved that theory partially wrong. Cloud Atlas could, in fact, be made into a movie. Whether or not it could ever be made into a good movie remains to be seen. This version, a cross between Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Howard Zinn's The People's History of the United States, is not just a bad movie. It is a half-dozen bad movies for the price of one.
The novel and the film contain six stories. In the first, an American aids a runaway slave in the South Pacific and runs afoul of a doctor with sinister intentions. The second takes place in the 1930s and consists of letters sent by a bisexual composer to his lover while he is working on a musical composition with the same title as the film. In the third, a 1970s investigative reporter uncovers a conspiracy surrounding attempts to create an accident at a nuclear power plant. In the fourth, a scenario set in the early part of the twenty-first century, a book publisher attempts to escape a nursing home. The fifth storyline consists of the pre-execution statement of a genetic slave (called a "fabricant") who has participated in a rebellion set in the future of Seoul, South Korea. In the sixth and final segment, a post-apocalyptic "valleysman" meets a refugee from a technologically advanced civilization.
The novel's central conceit is that each story is being "read" by a character in one of the future stories. This device helps create structural unity, since these stories ...1