Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Can A Movie Really Be Faithful To Its Book?

I recently watched the movie Cloud Atlas.

Then, I read the novel Cloud Atlas.

Then, I watched the movie again

I watched the movie the first time because folks were saying contradictory things about it and because Tom Hanks was in it.

I read the novel because the movie hit me like a metaphysical Truth.

I had  to watch the movie again: to compare the two versions and prepare to write this blog post.

Many of you have read a book then watched the movie adapted from it

Perhaps, translated from the book is closer to the truth, since David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, in an article in The Wall street Journal, had this to say:

“Adaptation is a form of translation, and all acts of translation have to deal with untranslatable spots. Sometimes late at night I’ll get an email from a translator asking for permission to change a pun in one of my novels or to substitute an idiomatic phrase with something plainer. My response is usually the same: You are the one with knowledge of the ‘into’ language, so do what works. When asked whether I mind the changes made during the adaptation of Cloud Atlas, my response is similar: The filmmakers speak fluent film language, and they’ve done what works.”

How to describe Cloud Atlas, the movie or the novel………

— Six different stories, begun then interrupted by the next in the cycle, then returned to

— Six genres of story-telling

— A Paean to the Will to live life as a Venture full of Meaning

— A seeming confusion of personal histories that reveal their deep connections, leaving you with more questions than answers

— A Cautionary Tale—a Warning—an Eloquent Admonition

Many movies fail to live up to their books.

Some movies do injustice to their books.

A few lie about their books.

Yet, even though the movie Cloud Atlas isn’t exactly the same, in structure or detail, as the novel Cloud Atlas, the movie does honor the novel

One big difference between them, as regards the integration of the six stories:

The novel might be seen to imply the concept of reincarnation.

The movie works hard to make the potential implication in the novel stand out as a raison d’être

As far as the Structure of the novel, one of the main characters, Robert Frobisher, says it best:

“Spent the fortnight gone in the music room reworking my year’s fragments into a ‘sextet for overlapping soloists': piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor; in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s finished, and by then it’ll be too late.”

As far as the Structure of the movie, the author of the novel (in that Wall Street Journal article) says:

“This ‘there-and-back’ structure always struck me as unfilmable, which is why I believed that Cloud Atlas would never be made into a movie. I was half right. It has now been adapted for the screen, but as a sort of pointillist mosaic: We stay in each of the six worlds just long enough for the hook to be sunk in, and from then on the film darts from world to world at the speed of a plate-spinner, revisiting each narrative for long enough to propel it forward.”

The article that quote is from also has David Mitchell’s five “habits of successful adaptations”—gems of insight

My final thought (final thought in this blog post since I’ll be pondering movie and novel for years):

The Cloud Atlas Experience is extremely valuable as a journey into the depths of the source of purposeful living.

Now, two videos—a multi-person review of the novel and an honest critique of the movie:

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2 responses to “Can A Movie Really Be Faithful To Its Book?

  1. Jane Watson January 3, 2014 at 7:57 am

    These 2 videos were so fascinating I rushed out and bought the paperback copy of Cloud Atlas this afternoon (having already just bought the e-book, lol) because I absolutely felt I had to have every possible variation of it and after this I will watch the film… thank you for this post :-)


    • Alexander M Zoltai January 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Bravo, Jane!


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