cloud atlas

cloud_atlas_poster I watched Cloud Atlas this week. I have to say, Halle Berry has a beautiful face and Tom Hanks has very pretty green eyes, and many of the nature scenes are gorgeous.

I enjoyed the spectacle and was willing to give the conceit a chance. The theme is love/connection knows no boundaries — race (the biggest hurdle for critics and critical people like me), age, time, gender. It is a very simplistic idea, really, almost naive in the way they tell it. I enjoyed the book — until I got to the conclusion. I can’t explain it, but the way the writer reaches it feels so disappointingly juvenile — disappointing because there are so multiple story lines and characters to track that were extremely absorbing that the end felt shallow. When I got to the end, I was like, really? This is the pay-off? It was like being offered a bag of apple slices when what I really wanted was a disturbingly gigantic chocolate bunny.

The controversial device in the film is they chose to make up actors as different races. A lot of press was written in particular about how non-Asians were made to look Asian — basically, with smaller eyes. They do have Asian actors in the film, including Doona Bae as one of the leads, but all the other actors perform with what looks like an extra layer of play-doh around their eyes, the effect of which elicits a big “huh?” African-American actors also get the playdoh-eye treatment, but wisely, the filmmakers left their skin tone alone, allowing them a shred of dignity in an otherwise ridiculous effect. For some reason, although he’s playing a Korean corrupt restaurant manager, Hugh Grant was inexplicably made to look like a Klingon. What I really noticed is when they dressed up Doona Bae and Halle Berry as white ladies in other stories — they looked so unnatural to me, particularly the way their noses sat in its new caucasian landscapes. Perhaps instead of focusing on eyes so much, maybe the makeup artists should have focused on the schnozes? No idea if that would have helped.

It is entertaining to try to figure out what roles actors are playing in each story line. With some characters, I absolutely couldn’t figure out who it was. It is really fun to see Tom Hanks do a horrible cockney accent as a thug in club wear straight from Staten Island. Jim Sturgess as a rabid soccer fan of Scottish descent is awesome!

So was it racist? I didn’t think so. Stupid, yes. Racist, no. Casting directors always wave their hands out helplessly when encountered with all-white casts and talk about how race doesn’t matter (Not all whites are racially insensitive, however, when someone says race doesn’t matter, that person is usually white.) The argument goes race doesn’t matter in casting since anyone can connect to the truth of the character — I would buy that, if it casting went both ways, meaning you threw parts at nonwhites to play parts that would typically go to whites. In this film, that happens. In particular, Doona Bae gets dressed up as a white lady in the early 19th century, a Latino lady 1970s San Francisco, and some other weird race conglomeration, it did not offend me.

Here’s where the filmmakers are stupid — there is something about film that requires the presentation of the story to be absolutely literal. In theater, you can convey things with behavior, modulated voice that help the audience suspend disbelief and use their own imagination to transform what they are seeing in front of them. That doesn’t happen with film — you need that stuff all spelled out, man. So..these experienced filmmakers? That was kind of a dumb move, man.

But there is something about film that requires the presentation of people to be very literal. In theater, you can kind of name a given and the audience will go with it. But in film, whatever, this approach was amazingly unsuccessful in most of the cases. Because the thing about race — yes, you can definitely connect with people who are not your race or appreciate, but different races kind of look different from each other. How do you deal with that on film? How about…not make actors look like a race they’re not? Just saying.

My lack of being offended though is greatly influenced because I know one of the filmmakers recently came out as transgender and went through a sex change, but stayed with the same partner through each change. I give the story a break because of one of the story tellers has personal experience of love transcending boundaries. I can see the appeal of the material from that perspective.

The only other thing I want to say is that Doona Bae’s main character is a synthetic human who grows a consciousness, but prior to that moment, drinks a product they call “soap” every night and sleeps. There’s a close-up of her drinking her soap box, and it said “beeee-neeeewwww,” which means soap in Korean. I was thrilled that I could call upon my caveman-level of Korean comprehension to translate something correctly. Ha!

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