Audacious Games: The Future is Redeemed in 'Cloud Atlas'

Monday, October 8, 2012

Movie lovers are buzzing about a star-studded film with a dizzying plot that opens Oct. 26. Perhaps one of the most challenging book-to-movie translations to date, Warner Brothers' Cloud Atlas features Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant, and is helmed by A-list directors Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix and V for Vendetta) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run and The International). The film is based on British author David Mitchell's 2004 award-winning novel of the same name.

Jo Alyson Parker, Ph.D., professor of English at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, is an expert on narrative theory and time in literature, both of which are complex in Cloud Atlas. She has studied the novel in depth, and is eagerly anticipating the film. "The book, which is one cohesive novel, takes readers from the 1850s South Pacific to post-apocalyptic Hawaii through six different novellas," Parker says. "Mitchell inserts each story within the next, stopping the action at a crucial moment, which is concluded later when the narrative boomerangs back after the sixth story."

Think: The intricacy of Christopher Nolan's film Inception taken to the nth power.

"The embedded stories, suspensions of closure, boomerang trajectory and 500-year-plus range plays audacious games with narrative and makes this a particularly difficult novel to convert to film," says Parker. "The liberties the filmmakers have taken with the story should help provide coherence for moviegoers – the pairs of lovers transmigrating across time, as well as the visual linkages of having the actors reappear as different characters in each story translates Mitchell's focus on the reincarnation of souls."

It will be crucial for the movie to correctly portray the novel's involved narrative structure, since it is unique to Cloud Atlas, and is an aspect of the book that is popular with its huge following. "I love the way in which each of the stories builds on and enriches what has gone before," says Parker. "When I first started reading, I thought some of the stories were kind of shallow, but by the time I got to the end, everything worked together so beautifully that I was blown away."  

While she says the film's trailer does allude to a redemptory theme, Parker hopes the movie will convey the message found within the interconnected narrative structure, that "what we do now has ramifications for the future, and that we need to be good to each other and environmentally conscious in the present in order to shape a future that we would want our children to inherit."

Parker is vice president of the International Society for the Study of Time, and dedicated a chapter of her co-edited collection Time: Limits and Constraints to Cloud Atlas. She can be reached at, or by calling 610-660-3240.

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