My favorite type of adaptation is where you take a beautiful jigsaw puzzle and rearrange its pieces to create a new picture that is at once the same as and different than the original intended picture! The Wachowskis do more than that with their adaptation of Cloud Atlas. They take six completely different jigsaw puzzle sets, and combine them into one perfectly interlocked farrago. You can either reassemble the fragments of the different sets in your head into their individual stories, or think of them as a single harmonized unit, where all the sets coalesce to form a continuous whole!
To make such an adaptation, one needs to make sure all the existing puzzle pieces perfectly interlock and tessellate with each other in spite of being rearranged! The shape of each piece in relation to the others is therefore important in order to find the perfect placement!
The six stories in this movie look incompatible, completely opposed in character, like they belong to different worlds. The stories are set in the past, present, future and distant future, in many different places all over the world. The characters too move from story to story, and morph themselves into many other characters, oftentimes even changing gender and race. So your job as the audience is to suss out the differences and commonalities in their different personalities, and place them in context of the larger message that the soul transcends time and space. When you finally see them fit together seamlessly, it becomes clear that every instance in the world is comparable, analogous and homologous with every other!
In the plant world, epiphytes are plants that live on other plants or objects, not as parasites but by gainfully deriving nutrients or support from them! In the phone and tablet world, one might think of mobile apps as epiphytes that depend on the technology they are on to be operative! In Cloud Atlas, the Wachowskis create an epiphyte-like narrative structure, where each story impels the other stories forward, as their scenes play out alternately, propagating their motive into each other. In this way, we move forward, while also being kept continually on edge with multiple cliffhangers throughout the movie. The cumulative effect of all this anxious uncertainty, is the equivalent of watching six completely different period-suspense films at once that also have profound philosophies behind them. It is a multitudinous mental exercise! Not to mention, how every story, however fantastical, is in fact disturbingly real.
February 2013 Filed in: Films
Bugs Bunny: It's true, Doc. I'm a rabbit, alright. Would you like to shoot me now or wait 'til you get home?
Daffy Duck: Shoot him now!!!! Shoot him now!!!!
Bugs Bunny: You keep outta this! He doesn't have to shoot you now!
Daffy Duck: He does so have to shoot me now! (to Doc) I demand that you shoot me now!
I am partial to these switcheroo plots where nothing is as it seems: where fates are reversed; the good reveal themselves as bad or vice versa; the line between reality and fiction blurs and bends and the two swap places!
Martin McDonagh's metafilm is about the misadventures of a man writing a screenplay about seven psychopaths, of which some are fictional, some are inspired by real people, and some inadvertently turn out to be real, including that of his two dog-kidnapping friends. The trio then work together on finishing the screenplay, while also running from a mobster psychopath who is after their lives for stealing his dog; Subsequently, one friend becomes so invested in the film that in wanting to write a climactic shootout ending with all the psychopaths in it, he devises a real-life climatic ending involving the mobster psychopath coming for his dog, and things go to hell, as planned!
It's a matryoshka doll story: a screenplay about writing a screenplay, a spoof about a spoof, a story within a story, and in fact a story about a story that gets mixed up with reality and becomes a spinoff of a story yet to be written. In essence a total Charlie Foxtrot!
There has been a rise of these self-reflexive films in recent times, with filmmakers paying homage to a film genre, but in a less spoofy, more layered and provocative way: like Hugo, The Artist, Harishchandrachi Factory, Super 8, Argo, Tropic Thunder, Adaptation, Barton Fink, The Player and The Seven Psychopaths, of which the last four are centered around scriptwriters. It's like their way of getting back at us for not taking notice of them. They are smack dab in the middle of the story!