Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cloud Atlas: Book vs Film

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's sweeping epic tale of six paths connecting over time and space does not leap off the pages as the easiest book to adapt for the big screen. However, Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski didn't let a little thing like complexity stop them adapting it onto the big screen.

The book was one of the most challenging novels I have ever read but man, was I proud when I reached the end of it. The book spans our past, present and future with six different storylines that are connected in some way as each person's soul continues to move through time. One man writes a diary that is read by another, one composes music that is listened to by another....

What made the book such an impressive piece of literature, though, is not just the complexity of weaving six storylines together as one. What Mitchell has managed to achieve with this book is nothing short of miraculous. He uses different styles for each - letters, diary entries, transcribed interviews - and alters the language to suit the era. His intricate prose is simply stunning to behold. It is all about the language he uses but thanks to his insane skill as a writer, the story becomes so much more than the words on the pages.

To adapt this 2004 Man Booker prize-winning book onto the big screen then, presents no end of problems. How do you cater for the sheer number of characters required? How do you compress all the intricacies of such a complex plot into just one film? How do you convey the subtleties of the customs and linguistics of the book in something as overt as a film?

Well first of all, the stellar cast enlisted for the film each played a different role in each of the six storylines, showing the connection between them all the more overtly. The layout has been altered too. While the book stuck with one story, moved onto the next and then worked its way back, the film jumps between them all continuously. This, once again, serves to reinforce the inate connection between everyone.

What the film manages to capture is sublime. With an incredible cast, perfect direction, six different worlds that are entirely immersive and plenty of action, drama, romance and intrigue, the film manages to remain compelling irrespective of its length.

Somehow, though the beautiful language and prose used in the book isn't exactly conveyed onto the big screen, the book adds as an aid. The pair work well as just that - a pair. Understanding the basic concepts of the book beforehand makes it that much easier to follow how each story is linked in the film. If you went into the film knowing nothing, it would probably be a jarring experience that would leave most viewers baffled. It is hard to enjoy something, after all, that just flies over your head. That said, it isn't essential to read the book before seeing the film. A lot is explained and a little research beforehand will suffice.

When I first read the book a couple of years ago, I only gave it 3/5. Yet now, having seen the film and given more thought to the story and what Mitchell achieved, I can appreciate it for what it is. Both book and film are challenging, require constant focus and attention and are certainly not easy to follow but if you have the time and patience, they are both thought-provoking and stunning to behold.

Book and film - 5/5 FOBLES


  1. It was always hard to imagine how the book could be adapted to film, and I'm intrigued to see it. Thanks for the review :o)

  2. Great article. I'd just add that the film also stays true to the book's sense of fun and bold inventiveness.

  3. The book and the movie complete each other very well. Neither is perfect, but when you take them together you have something great.