25 Days To Read Cloud Atlas Before Tom Hanks Ruins It Forever – The Awl

IloveDavidMitchellandIlovetheessayhehadintheTimesmagazinethispastweekendabouttheexperienceofhavinghisnovel,CloudAtlas,madeintoamovie。

Hewritesaboutthewayseeingamovieofabookchangesthewayweseetheimageryofthebook。

Anditmademevery,verygladformydecisiontohavereadCloudAtlasthispastmonth,beforeIseethemoviethatTheMatrix-makersAndyandLanaWachowski(andTomTykwer!

)createdoutof?

it。

“Perhapswheretextslidestowardambiguity,”Mitchellwrites,“filminclinestospecificity。

Anovelcontainsasmanyversionsofitselfasithasreaders,whereasafilm’sfinalcutvaporizeseveryotherwayitmighthavebeenmade。

Funnythingis,noteventheauthorisimmunetothiscolonizationbythemovingimage。

WhenItrytorecallhowIimaginedmyvanity-publishercharacter,TimothyCavendish,beforethemovie,allIseenowisJimBroadbent’sfacesmilingback,devilishly。

Which,asithappens,isfineby?

me。



I’mgladthathe’shappywiththewayitcameout。

FromwhatlittleI’vereadabouthimpersonally,heseemslikeacharming,down-to-earthguy。

Everybodyravedaboutthebookwhenitwaspublishedsixyearsago,includingtwofriendsofminewhosetasteinbooksIappreciate,andmywife,whosetasteinbooksIalsoappreciate,andwhoknowsmytasteinbooksaswellasanybody。

Butmywife(whoreadsfivetimesasfastasIdo,andsobasicallyscreenseverythingthatcomesoutbeforeIgettoit)recommendedthatInotreadit。

SheguessedthatIwouldnotlikethewayitjumpsaroundintimeandvoice,takingonthestylesofvariousliterarygenres(Azimoviansci-fi,PatrickO’Brien-stylehistoricalfiction,ElmoreLeonardcrimestories)oritsoveralltheme,whichisslightlyspiritualandfantastical。

Sheusedwordslike“experimental”and“conceptual,”whichareoftenredflagsforme。

(BecauseI’msuchaclose-minded,conservativejerkofabookreader,Iguess。

)SoIgaveitamiss,andfeltokayaboutfeelingleftoutwheneversheandmyothertwohuge-Cloud-Atlas-fanfriendswouldgettogetherandgushabout?

it。

Then,acoupleyearslater,shereadanotherDavidMitchellbook,BlackSwanGreen,andimmediatelyuponfinishingthelastpage,said,“Youhavetoreadthis。

Youwilllove?

it。



IwasalmostfinishedwiththebookIwasreading(CormacMcCarthy’sNoCountryForOldMen,whichIthoughtwastotallyexcellent?

—?

andinfact,sincewe’reonthesubjectofthenexusofbooksandmovies,readmorelikeamovietomethananyotherbookI’veeverread。

Probablyrelatedly,themovietheCoenBrothersmadeoutofitisthemostfaithfulfilmadaptationofabookI’veeverseen。

)SoIpickedupBlackSwanGreenandreaditoverthenextcoupleofdays。

(It’sshortandreadsquickly。

)And,yes,sureenough,loveditverymuch。

PartofthatlovespurredfromthefactthatIamaboutthesameageasDavidMitchell,andsowasaboutthesameageasthemaincharacterinBlackSwanGreen,whowas“comingofage”inthebook,setin1983。

Thebookisapparentlysemi-autobiographical,andsothatmeansthatDavidMitchellgrewupinaplacesimilartowhereIgrewup,thesuburbs,atthesametimeIwasgrowingupthere,andthoughtaboutthingsinmuchthesamewaythatIthoughtaboutthings。

(Probablyinmuchthesamewaythatlotsof13-year-oldsuburbanboysthinkaboutthings。

)Becausereadingthatbookwasoneofthosetimesthatmademefeellikesomeonehadbeenspyingonmymemorywithoutmyeverknowingit,andthentranscribedthethoughtswithuncannyaccuracy。

Thishappenswiththebestbooks,right?

The“Oh,man,that’sexactlythewayIfeel!

Whydidn’tIwritethat?

”thing。

Ithappensmorewithbooksthanmovies,Ithink,somethingthathastodowithanovelcontainingasmanyversionsofitselfasithasreaders,asMitchellsaid。

Theslidetowardambiguitymakesiteasierforustograftourspecificexperienceoftheworldatopthewriter’sversion。

(Orviceversa。

)Butitcanhappenwithmovies。

WatchingDonnieDarkoforthefirsttimewaslikethatforme?

too。

Anyway,IlovedBlackSwanGreensomuch,andwassoimpressedwithmywife’sprognosticativeability,thatIfiguredshemustberightinpredictingthatIwouldnotlikeCloudAtlas。

SoIstilldidn’tread?

it。

Afewyearsafterthat,Mitchellpublishedhisnextbook,TheThousandAutumnsofJacobDeZoet,andmywifereaditandwasabsolutelydoingbackflipsaboutit。

Ithinkshemightsaythisisherfavoritebookwrittenthiscenturyorsomethinglikethat。

Iwouldimagineit’sonherTop10list,alltime。

TheThousandAutumnsofJacobDeZoetisalovestorysetataDutchEastIndiaTradingpostinlate-18th-centuryJapan。

ThissoundsaboutasfarfromanybookIwouldeverpickupasanydescriptionofanybookI’veeverhearddescribed。

But,man,didsheloveit!

ShestartedtalkingabouthowDavidMitchellmightbeherveryfavoriteauthorandallthat。

So,since,IlovedBlackSwanGreensomuch,andsincemywife,whosetasteIappreciatesomuch,apparentlyloveseverythingDavidMitchellwrites,andI’dalwaysheardalltheseotherpeopletalkabouthowCloudAtlaswassuchamasterpieceandall,IgottothinkingmaybeIshouldtakeacrackat?

it。

ButIneverdid。

Therearealwaystoomanyotherbooksto?

read。

Acouplemonthsago,Ilearnedaboutthemoviethattheyweremakingaboutit。

Andbesidesthinking,howwilltheymakeamovieoutofthisexperimental,conceptualbookthatIknowweavesseveraldifferentstoriesacrossseveraldifferentcenturies?

IalsothoughtthatIbetterreaditrightthen。

BecauseifIsawthemovie,Iwouldcertainlyneverreaditafterthat。

Idon’tthinkI’vereadabookafterhavingseenamovieversionofthestory。

Itseemssortoflikeanimpossiblething。

Bothforreasonsofneedingthesuspenseofnotknowingtheplottopullmealong,andalsobecauseofwhatMitchelltalkedaboutinhisessay:Iliketoimagineabook’sscenesinmyhead,thewaythewordsmakemeimaginethem,nothowsomeoneelseinterpretsthem。

Ijusthadaconversationwithacoupleofkidsaboutthislastweekend。

They’reelevenandthirteen,andI’mfriendswiththeirdadMark,andIaskedthemwhattheirfavoritebooksandmovieswere,andtheybothmentionedTheOutsiders,bothS。

E。

Hinton’sbook,andthemoviethatFrancisFordCoppolamadeoutofitwithRalphMacchioandMattDillon。

ThatbookwasafavoriteofminewhenIwasakid,too。

Seeingthemovieofitwasoneofthegreatmomentsofculturalbetrayalofmyyounglife。

Inthebook,thecharacterDallas,or“Dally,”wasdescribedashaving“small,sharpanimalteeth,”andhair“soblondeitwasalmostwhite”andeyesthatwere“blue,blazingice,coldwithahatredoftheworld。

”Iimaginedhimasnearlyalbino。

Andthinandlankyandwounded-looking。

Andthislook,hisshocking,sortofghostlyappearance,withitshintsofinbreeding,becameabigpartofmyunderstandingofhischaracter。

Hispsychicwoundscameinpartfromlookingsodifferentfromeveryoneelse,sounhealthy,thiswaspartofhisoutsiderness。

Buttheninthemovie,theycastMattDillonasDally。

Brown-haired,brown-eyed,super-handsomeMattDillon!

Andtheydidn’tevenbleachhishairblonde!

Ifkidshadsaid“WTF?

”backin1983,Idefinitelywouldhavesaidthat。

(IwonderifDavidMitchellwouldhave,too。

Ibethewould’ve。

)Iwasfurious。

Thisdidn’tmakeanysense,anditreallyrobbedsomethingfrommethatI’dfoundinthebook。

IexplainedthistoMark’skids,andtheyagreed,buttheywerenotasupsetbyitasIwas,and,apparently,sortofstillam。

They’reprettywell-balanced-seeming,Mark’skids。

Ithinktheymighthaveevenseenthemoviebeforereadingthebook,somehow。

Idon’tknowhow。

Buttheywerelike,“Oh,yeah,Dallydidhaveblondehairinthebook,didn’the?

Huh。



ThecasewithCloudAtlasisevenworse,oratleast,morefraught。

Because,thinkingback,despitehowwronghishairlooked,MattDillonwasactuallyreallygoodinTheOutsiders。

HedefinedadifferentDallythantheonethatIhadknown,butitwasnotaworseDally,Idon’tthink。

(Itmayhavebeenamoresympatheticone,andsothereforelesscomplex,somaybethat’snotsogreat。

ButIdon’tknow。

Itwasalongtimeago。

)Indeed,MattDillon’sversionofpoutyemotionalwoundednesscametorepresenttheessenceofallofS。

E。

Hinton’sworkonfilm,didn’tit?

AndIdon’tthinkthatissobad,isit?

MattDillonhasgoneontobecomearealfavoriteactorofmine。

(HewassogreatinWildThings!

)ButCloudAtlashappenstobestarringTomHanks。

TomHanks。

TomHanks!

Now,ofcourseIlovedTomHanksin“BosomBuddies”and“FamilyTies”andBachelorPartyandNothinginCommonwithJackieGleason(especiallyNothinginCommonwithJackieGleason)andSplashandallthat。

ButthenhebecamesoTom-Hanks-America’s-Favorite-Nice-Guy-SuperstararoundthetimeofALeagueofTheirOwnandSleeplessInSeattle。

AndPhiladelphia,which,Iadmittothinkinghewasverygoodin,butstill。

AndthenForrestGumphappened,andeverybodystartedtalkinginthathorriblyannoyingmentally-disabledwayhedidinthatmovie,andIsawthemovie,andI’msosorryIdid,becauseitmakesyouwanttopukeinyourshoesandwashyoureyesoutwithlye,butitwon’twork。

Youcanneverunseesomethinglikethat。

AndthenIrememberseeingafull-spreadtwo-pageadintheTimesonedaywhichshowedhiminthatdumbwhitesuit,andthey’dmadeahugeAmericanflagoutofallthestarsthatdifferentreviewersatdifferentnewspapersandmagazineshadgiventhemovie。

Anditsaidsomethingtotheeffectof,“AMERICAAGREES:FORRESTGUMPISTHEMOVIEOFTHESUMMER!

GOSEEITAGAINBECAUSEEVERYONEELSEISGOINGTOSEEITOVERANDOVERAND?

AGAIN。



IrememberseeingtheadandfeelingmorelikeIwaslivinginafascist,totalitarianstatethanI’deverfeltbefore。

Fairtothemanhimselfornot,IsworethatdaythatIwouldneverwatchanotherTomHanksmovie?

ever。

(Ihavesincebrokenthatvow,I’mashamedtosay。

IsawApollo13,andSavingPrivateRyan,andCastAway,whichwasgooduntilTomHanksstartedtalking,and?

—?

thisreallymessedwithmymind?

—?

IevenreallystronglyverymuchlikedaTomHanksperformance,inTheRoadtoPerdition。

Nothing’sassimpleasyouwantittobe,notevendisdain。

)

Butstill。

Reliablyvacillatingbetweenover-earnestnessandsimpering。

Rememberwhenhebrokethefourthwallandgavethecameraagleaminglittlehalf-winkattheendofthetrailerforExtremelyLoudandIncrediblyClosethatwas,initscontext,sodisgustingandshamelessinitsmanipulationandexploitationof9/11?

That’sthesecondthingthat,eventhoughitprobablywasn’thisfault,I’llneverforgiveTomHanksfor。

(Well,maybethethird。

I’veneverTheGreenMile。

Butthosetrailersweretraumatic,too。

)

Soon,manyofus,likeDavidMitchellhimself,willbeneverbeabletoenvisionahostofthecharactersfromCloudAtlasaslookinganyotherthanlikeTomHanks,because,asweknowfromthemovietrailer,he’splayingmorethanoneofthem。

It’snottoolate,though!

Themovieitselfdoesn’tcomeoutuntilthe26th。

Here’sthetrailer。

Don’twatchitifyouhavenotyetreadthe?

book。

Mywife,itturnsout,waswrong。

(Somethingthathappenslessofteninourhousethanwouldbeoptimal。

)IenjoyedCloudAtlasverymuch!

Ididn’tfinditpretentiousorexperimentaloranythinglikethat。

Well,oneparttellsastorythroughaninterview,butit’snotatalloff-putting。

AndanotherpartemploysaheavypidginEnglishthatseemsabitstrong,abittoomuchlikeUncleRemusatfirst,butonceyougetyourbearings,it’snotsobad。

Ifanything,actually,IwouldthinkitsoneofthemoreaccesiblebooksI’vereadinawhile。

It’sbasicallysixdifferentstoriesthattakeplaceatsixdifferenttimes,insixdifferentplacesintheworld,toldinsixdifferentvoices。

Butallofthemaretoldrelativelystraightforwardly,andinunusuallybeautifulprose。

The“Russian-doll”structurethatpeopletalkaboutalotisnovel(hey!

):fiveofthestoriesarebrokeninhalf,andarrangedleadingforwardintimeuptothemiddle,andlaststory,andthenbackwardsintimetiltheendofthebook。

Butjusttheorderofthestories,notinternallywithineach。

It’snotlikeMemento,or21Gramsorthatepisodeof“Seinfeld”whentheygotoIndiaforthe?

wedding。

Thewaythestoriescometogetherandreflectoffeachother,loosely,subtly,abstractly。

Morethematically,Iguess,thananythingelse。

(UnlessImissedsomething,whichisalwayspossible。

)It’sgreat,I’mtellingyou。

(I’mprobablynotthefirstpersontohavedoneso。

It’saverypopularbook。

)Infact,it’sabookthatIhaveahardtimeimagininganybodynotliking。

It’saction-packedandsuspenseful。

It’sgotalittlesomethingforfansofalldifferenttypesofbookstolike,andnotalotnottolike。

(Iknowonepersonthatdislikedit,whoreadhalfwaythroughandputitdown。

Ihavenotyettalkedtoherenoughaboutwhy。

IthinkshegotturnedoffatthestartofthepidginEnglishpart,andgaveuptooearly。

)Itactuallyreadsalotlikeamovie,inthewaythatNoCountryForOldMendid。

Well,itreadslikesixmovies?

—?

whichwouldseemtobethechallengeofbringingittothescreeninundertwelvehours。

That’soneofthereasonsI’minterestedinseeingit。

Toseehowtheycutitdownandputthepiecestogether。

(EvenwhenIknowI’mboundtobedisappointed。

Curiosityvaporizedthecat’sliteraryexperience。

)

I’mleftperplexedbywhymywifeguessedIwouldn’tlikeit。

Youthinkotherpeopleknowyou。

Buttheydon’t。

Notevenyourwife。

Nooneknowsanybody,really。

Notthatwell。

We’rebornaloneandwediealone,andwereadbooksalone。

Youcanwatchmovieswithotherpeople。

Andlaughorcryalongtogether,orsneerandjeerandgroantogether。

(Inwhispervoices,onewouldhope,ifyou’reinatheater。

Justbecausethere’snoGoddoesn’tmeanweshouldbeimpolite。

)Iguessthat’sonebenefitofhavingthepure,mind’s-eyeexperienceofreadingcolonizedbythemovingimage。

Laughingaloudwithabunchofotherpeopleinacrowdedtheater,manyofthemstrangers,isoneofthegreatpleasuresofmodernlife,oneofthosetimeswhenwe’reremindedofthewaysinwhichwe’renottotallyalone,oneofthebridgesthatconnectsustootherpeopleandletsusknowhowmuchthey’relikeus。

Itwouldn’tbepossiblewithoutthecolonization。

Astext’sslidetowardsambiguityallowsforamorepersonal,intimateexperience,film’sinclinationtospecificityopensitupforshared,universalexperience。

Real-timecommunalexperiencesarenottheonlythingsthatopenupsuchbridges,though。

Thesamemiracle(or,asyoumaychoosetothinkabout,pleasantdelusion),canhappenthroughsolitaryendeavors,too。

ThatfeelingthatIgotthatDavidMitchellwasspyingonmythoughts?

—?

thatservesasthatsamekindofbridge,too。

Andinso,readingceasestobeasolitaryexperience。

Andonethatachievesasortofloopholeinthetime/spacecontinuum。

Orevenjustintalkingtopeople,sharingideas,aboutbooksandmovies,say。

Anytimewefeellikewehonestlyunderstandorsympathizewithsomethingsomeoneelseissaying(somethingthathappensalltooinfrequently,consideringhowfrequentlyitsoppositioncarriestheday,andhowawfulandlonelythatfeels。

)Maybethat’shappenedtoyou,atsomepointoverthepastsixorsevenhoursit’stakentoreadthisblogpost。

MaybeyouhadthatsamefeelingwhenyousawthatForrestGumpadintheNewYorkTimes18yearsago,andmadethesamepromisetoyourself,andthenbrokeit。

AndarenowfeelingeventheslightestbitwarmedbythethoughtthatIhavebeenrighttherewithyou。

Inguiltandshame。

Itismyloftiesthopethatthismightbethe?

case。

IntheabsenceoffaithinGod,sharingideaswithotherhumanbeingsintheonlythingthatpopstheexistentialbubblewhereinwespendmostofourtime。

Evenjustforamoment,beforetheysealusupagaininouressentialsolipsism。

(Iguesswhenyoutakedrugsyoucangetthatfeelingofcommunionwithadogoratreeorapatchofmossortheskyorthewholeuniverse。

Thatcanbenice,too。

But,again,it’salwaysfleeting。

)


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