Cloud Atlas the movie has a lot more soul than Cloud Atlas the book. Unfortunately, it’s stuck in a paradox of accessibility: to like or even understand the movie, you probably have to have read the book, and if you liked David Mitchell’s chilly and intricate ruminations on How We Are All Connected, you might not appreciate Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings reducing all of those grand intellectual thoughts into love stories.
But wow, I did. Tykwer and especially the Wachowskis actually made me care about the characters by turning Mitchell’s vague reincarnation tales into stories of lovers losing and finding each other through the ages. Some of that effort didn’t always work out - poor combover-scientist Tom Hanks got about 45 seconds of chatting with investigative-journalist Halle Berry before deciding he was in love with her, and then dying. But adding romance to the post-apocalyptic Hanks-Berry story worked a lot better than I expected, and the Jim Sturgess-Doona Bae relationship just got me. I loved that the Wachowskis gave us that emotion to hang onto, that they emphasized the importance of Adam Ewing’s wife and gave that couple the happy ending in the past to make up for their tragic ending in the future. I also liked the decision to make the Sonmi/Hae-Joo relationship sincere rather than to stick to the novel’s plot and have him manipulating her, with her knowledge. Sturgess and Bae were just ridiculously sweet and sad together, and while I spent the movie waiting for his duplicity to be revealed, I’m glad that it ultimately didn’t exist.
The Sonmi storyline also reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from Battlestar Galactica — a scene also involving an android, played by a Korean(-American) woman, with a complicated love life and a martyr complex. The beginning of Galactica's first-season finale, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming,” shows the android Sharon shot by her human lover after he discovers the truth about her. That couple eventually gets their happy ending, but not before death and other tragedy comes to some of the Sharon characters.
What made that Galactica episode memorable is how that scene is intercut (sound familiar?) with several other simultaneous stories, while a fugal piece of music (sound familiar?) plays over it all. I’ve been listening to the Cloud Atlas soundtrack on Spotify nonstop since leaving the movie - it’s addictively, beautifully, maddeningly repetitive and keeps the stories alive in a way that the book never did. I haven’t listened to a piece of pseudo-classical music this intensely since Galactica aired that episode and handed the entire opening sequence over to Bear McCreary’s Passacaglia. Which is still in heavy rotation on my iTunes, because every time I hear it I think of Lee’s fight and Kara’s betrayal and Boomer’s attempted suicide while her clone fights with her lover, because that piece of music actually managed to transform what was otherwise a decent episode of a good sci-fi TV show into something that’s still memorable and inventive, years later. The movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas has the same striking effect on me - it might not be a commercial success, but it’s unexpectedly touching and memorable.