The Mediascape Roundtable: ‘Cloud Atlas’ and Race

One of the most striking features of Cloud Atlas (2012)—directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski—is how its actors and actresses play across race with the aid of makeup and prosthetics. To discuss the portrayal of race in the movie, the Mediascape Blog convened a roundtable of two film studies graduate students. Their conversation can be read or listened to below, or downloaded in MP3 format.


Click to download “TheMediascapeRoundtable_CloudAtlasAndRace.mp3” (38 minutes, 34.2 MB)

Moderator: J.M. Olejarz

Mediascape Blog: Hi, and welcome to the Mediascape Roundtable. I’m Josh Olejarz, coeditor of the Mediascape Blog. Today we’re going to be talking about Cloud Atlas and its race issues, or maybe it’s more accurate to say the role and portrayal of race in the movie, and whether that is an issue. Before we begin, why don’t I let our other participants introduce themselves, and then we’ll get started. Continue reading “The Mediascape Roundtable: ‘Cloud Atlas’ and Race” »

Mapping Out Multithread Narrative in ‘Cloud Atlas’

Image 1: James D’Arcy and Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas

In breaking through the boundaries of conventionality, as referenced during a dream sequence voiceover that marks the film’s most poignant moment of self-reflexivity, Cloud Atlas employs a sprawling range of storytelling scope in its creation of six interrelated narratives that span centuries of human existence. Unlike David Mitchell’s 2004 novel from which it was adapted, the film capitalizes on the capacity of its medium by applying a multithread narrative structure to simultaneously shape each story rather than containing them within individuated sections. While these distinct plotlines are independently functional, it is the manner in which they intersect and coalesce that generates the film’s impact. A consistent use of crosscutting allows each of these narratives to unfold with internal linearity as parallels between the circumstances, characters, actions, and thematic issues are highlighted. This multithread framework allows each of the six parts to function as individual, yet essential, components of the whole, with the film’s totality deriving its significance from the interplay of the complementary layers of narrative. Continue reading “Mapping Out Multithread Narrative in ‘Cloud Atlas’” »

Digital Faith: Visual Effects and Religion in ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Life of Pi,’ and ‘Prometheus’

Equipped with ever-improving technology and visual effects, filmmakers have often used new tools to turn back time. As Svetlana Boym notes in The Future of Nostalgia, filmmakers used developments in computer-generated imagery to recreate the past: the titular sinker in Titanic, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the Colosseum in Gladiator. Faced by a perceived acceleration of time in the age of modernity, progress “didn’t cure nostalgia but exacerbated it,” Boym says. As I have previously explored, David Fincher has also employed cutting-edge digital technology to revive the San Francisco of the past and literally reverse the life cycle of one Benjamin Button.

In 2012, a different trend emerged. If a desire to turn back time is implicitly rooted in a fear of impending death, then last year’s visual effects–driven cinema offered an alternative: transcending time and death. All released within months of each other, the big-budget features Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, and Prometheus explored issues of faith and religion and asked questions about our existence. Continue reading “Digital Faith: Visual Effects and Religion in ‘Cloud Atlas,’ ‘Life of Pi,’ and ‘Prometheus’” »