Cloud Atlas (Updated!)

(Note: I’ve added and update, because it turned out I had more to say.)

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Original Post: Just saw Cloud Atlas. I think Mrs. Jiwaku’s response is a pretty fair one: “It’s a commercial-deep movie.” Which is to say, a commercial movie can only be so deep, but this one tried for that. (So did Life of Pi, which we also saw recently, but that film failed in my opinion.)

The interracial makeup… I don’t know what to say about it, really, except that I’m a bit baffled. I thought at first it was supposed to convey continuity between lives of characters who are, ostensibly, reincarnating. But that doesn’t quite make sense because of the birthmark: surely the birthmark recurs time after time on the same character, and yet in different subplots, the birthmark appears on different characters: Bae Doona’s Sonmi-451, Tom Hanks’ post-apocalyptic survivor dude, Halle Berry’s character back in the 1970s…

So if the birthmark signifies the serial lives of a single character, then why was it necessary to have Bae Doona go in Whiteface? (Her Whiteface appearance was particularly disturbing, as well the Asianface done with James D’Arcy for the “Archivist” character, which ends up looking kind of, well, not completely human, to be frank, and Jim Sturgess’s Hae-Joo Chang character, which was weird and unsettling but a little less awful.) Of course, there’s a lot of interracial and inter-sex costume and acting: Halle Berry plays a “Jewess” (I’m sure the term is contemporary for the character), and a white man too if I’m not mistaken. Bae plays a white woman and a Mexican woman, and so on.

Minsoo Kang made a good point on Facebook when he noted that pretty much every kind of interacial makeup crossover imaginable actually happens except one: no white people put on blackface. Now that should hardly surprise us, given how unacceptable it is–and what a hot-button issue it is–but it should give us pause. As I’ve noted before, at the height of the minstrel show, performers were not only doing blackface but also playing caricatures of all kinds of immigrant “races.” Most of those seem to still be very acceptable, among them Asian-face performance.

But at the same time, I got that they weren’t doing this to avoid hiring more Asian actors–that there was a story reason for all of this. I’m not saying I think it was a sensible choice, or that I would make that choice, but I can see how someone would have argued for it, and believed it was a good solution to the story problem it involved. This felt very different than, say, the film The Last Airbender, which was insulting and overbearing in its racial reassignments of the characters in a world where everyone was supposed to be nonwhite.

I suppose it’s stereotypically easy enough for me to say this, as a white person but this felt more like a storytelling decision that made me uncomfortable than outright racism… because no race is held up as superior, or excluded as inferior: characters of all races are humanized, and actors of all races play parts within the story.

(Tellingly, one press release I saw from a Korean-American group protesting the film complained that the protagonist of the Sonmi-451 storyline is played by a white man; uh… I thought Bae Doona’s character was the hero of that timeline? This reminds me of when Koreans were all up in arms about the “racist” portrayal of Jin on Lost, when Sun was the only nice, “normal” person on the island… certainly the only one who seemed like a decent, not-totally-screwed-up person. The male characters are always more important than the female ones, huh?)

Hiring more actors of different backgrounds might have been a wiser approach, though: they could have tried to find people of the appropriate races who eerily resembled one another, and used makeup to highlight the resemblance. I’m sure in some future project, it’d be trivial to just digitally map the faces of the performers and so some racial-face-structure morphing to get the resemblance without relying on tricky makeup work.

Anyway, moving away from that issue, I thought the screenwriting and story structure was pretty outstanding: they wove together a pretty complex set of stories in a way that actually made sense to me, and I didn’t often feel lost for long. (The moments I did feel lost were the ones when I was supposed to, momentarily, I think.)

I did find the declaration of Sonmi-451 a little tiresome when I heard it for the Nth time, but I have little patience for that kind of repetition, and I suppose I found the religiosity of some of it grating. But I think most of the storylines were compelling, and I especially found it interesting how this story managed to link up stories from the 1850s to the deep future, all in a coherent timeline. That’s something I haven’t seen many SF storytellers do lately, thought Stephen Baxter has been of course. I’m quite curious to read the book, just to see how Mitchell structured the plots of the different stories, in comparison to the film.

The special effects, and especially the Neo-Seoul cityscapes, were just great. I also rather liked the Seoul-ness of the place: there was enough that was consistent with present-day Seoul, the neon pharmacy signs and so on. They took it seriously enough to bring in someone who knew what they were doing.

Anyway, a pretty good film. Didn’t last long in Korea, though I haven’t heard anyone here talk about it, so I don’t know what the local reaction was… would be curious to hear more about that, actually.

UPDATE (1 Feb 2013): More thoughts.

I’ve noticed online a lot of discussion of this film happened before it came out, especially about the yellowface, and how horrible the makeup was, but also about the politics of racial exclusion in Hollywood. (Mind, this film was independently funded, though the involvement of the Wachowskis is very Hollywood, so… I don’t know where that leaves us.)

So I figured I’d read some of the discussion, and see what Asian-Americans have to say about it. I figured reading more would help me understand what I’m not getting.

And to some degree, I see that better. I’ve come to think that if the racebending thing was to signify what all the people who are “valiantly” defending the film say it was supposed to, maybe the filmmakers should have hired more people of various races–so that everyone in the background of every scene ought to have been eerily interracial. This might have driven home some interesting truths, in fact: the racist sea captain in the 1860s plot could have been an Asian in whiteface, or a black in whiteface, someone who just one or two lives ago was a member of the group he now so despises… because he simply cannot remember his true nature or whatever. Maybe Adam Ewing’s family, waiting for him back home, could have included characters of a wide range of races, all in whiteface?

Or for that matter, I could be moved to imagine Jim Sturgess’ roles being played by an Asian actor (who would have to do whiteface for the earlier roles in the film)–that’s far from a stretch if you ask me.

But at the same time, I’ve seen people mention Birth of a Nation and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in comparison, and that seems a bit much for me to take seriously. I mean, Birth of a Nation was (despite its many technical feats) an exercise in Ku Klux Klan apologetics; Breakfast at Tiffany’s not only used a white actor in yellowface but also depicted him as an obnoxious, ridiculous fool. (And it would still have been racist even if an Asian actor had been hired for the job.) I get that there is a continuity between the two films because of the use of yellowface itself, and that yellowface is going to be offensive.

Still, I have a harder time seeing the racebending makeup in Cloud Atlas being about exclusion or mockery. There obviously are issues throughout the story in its treatment of race (and sex, and sexual orientation) but I can’t class the film with those other films because it is much less callous and insensitive. I couldn’t help but scratch my head when reading this post on Racebending, because some of the criticisms seemed sort of… well, it seemed as if the commentator prefers films involving historical settings to be more ideological than realistic.

(For example, complaining that the Frobisher/Sixsmith romance ends badly when there are in the real world gay relationships that end well… er, well, yes, but not so much in 1931. I mean, Alan Turing–one of the men basically responsible for the technological work that made the Allied victory possible in World War II, not to mention one of the fathers of the computer era–was hounded essentially to suicide by the British government over his homosexuality, and that was a couple of decades later than Frobisher’s story. Just because a story is science fiction doesn’t mean it can or should dispense with historical reality… and on some level, it seems profoundly disrespectful to those who suffered under that hatred and exclusion to pretend that it wasn’t as bad as it was.)

Likewise, I understand the discomfort expressed in that post regarding the earliest plotline, involving the white man and the slave who teaches him how wrong slavery is, and how a white man and a black man can truly be friends. Personally, I found the character Autua much more interesting, and wanted to follow his storyline further instead of following Ewing back to his loving family: where did Autua go? What did he do? Did he struggle, or have slavery? Or did he return to the sea, working his way around the world? But again, the objection in the post is this: “Ewing is the one with real, tangible power in the socially constructed society where White people have actual political clout.” Well… if you’re going to depict the global system of the slave trade realistically, then that’s the unfortunate, ugly reality you need to confront and depict. It sucks, because it sucked.

And that’s perhaps why this film resonated for me, and got me sympathetic: because–and it seems to me this is true of other reincarnation-dramas spanning generations: Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt comes to mind as another example–a lot of these stories are about people trapped within a system bigger than themselves, a system which is oppressive, and which oppresses them arbitrarily because of who or what they happen to be. (Black, gay, old, a synthetic human.) When you start telling stories about this kind of thing, it’s inevitable that you’re going to have to show some ugly systemic features in society, and when that story is set in our world, then the ugly realities of our particular history are going to be the source for all that.

Which is to say, it’s kind of missing the point to which that the gay romance could have ended up continuing smoothly; in the world where this story was set, not only was such a thing extremely unlikely, but the characters trapped in that world simply couldn’t conceive of it. It sucks that the slave character wasn’t empowered in other ways, but then, we’re talking about how empowered a slave character is while placing him in the shadow of a brutal, planet-spanning system of fundamental oppression in which he occupies the lowest rank possible, or very nearly so.

Anyway, all of this isn’t a defense of the casting decisions, or the makeup. All that still kind of makes me uncomfortable… and especially when it’s pointed out that the main male characters are all played by white men. But drawing a line from Cloud Atlas to Birth of a Nation is not going to help convince anyone.

It also reminds me of something I read once. I wish the people who were so offended by this would funnel their energy into making something better. I don’t mean the discussion shouldn’t happen, but, well, if you’re tired of no films starring actors from one or another racial background, or stories not featuring a character of this kind or that kind, and if you really, really care about it: make one yourself. (Or pitch in when someone else tries, either by writing a check, or penning a script, or even just kicking ideas around with creative types you know.) It’s endlessly easy to post complaints online, but that energy could be spent instead of actually injecting something healthy or responsive or critical into the media

And no, I’m not just talking out my ass here. For all the criticism of the exclusion of Asian-Americans in American media, I have to say that Hollywood is, in some ways, light years ahead of what I’ve seen on this side of the Pacific. Most white people in Korean movies are villains of some kind. It’s slowly getting better, but I still see a lot of monsterrific depictions of foreigners (white, Chinese, black) in Korea media, as well as a lot of generalized misogyny. When we got fed up of that crap getting airtime, in the form of news features like this, I drafted up a script for us to work over, until we had something we liked… and then, with the help of some friends, we made this.

(Which a lot of people immediately misinterpreted in a myriad of ways–many of them revealing unsettling cognitive blocks of their own–but that’s another story.)

8 thoughts on “Cloud Atlas (Updated!)

  1. Pingback: @PostApocInfo
  2. I really enjoyed the movie, though I agree the cross-racial makeup was disorienting. (I also haven’t read the book. Didn’t even know there was a book until I saw the movie.)

    Despite the awkwardness of some of the makeup, for me one positive side-effect of the small cast playing across race and sex was the feeling I got of watching a theater troupe at work — the sort of thing where you have a couple dozen characters and only a handful of actors, and every scene involves a quick-change of clothes and makeup, and you see through the illusion on one level but go with it on another because of the actorly energy and effort on display. It makes me want to misappropriate Shakespeare —

    All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players:
    They have their exits and their entrances;
    And one man in his time plays many parts…

    — and re-apply it not to the “ages of man” but to the film’s quasi-Buddhist, New-Agey message that we are all multitudes, and yet we are all one (if we can see past the fear and the greed). Which, on reflection, struck me as a powerful implication of theater itself, and something that we tend to lose in movies where, as a rule, one actor = one character (and a strictly pigeon-holed character at that).

    By contrast, I quickly lost track of the comet tattoo thingy. I noticed it early and then forgot about it, and by the end I had stopped looking for it.

    1. Marvin,

      Yeah, the book’s been around for a while. I remember people back on Brin-L posting about his earlier novel, number9dream, actually. I’d like to get around to it sometime, but there are just so many hours in the day, and so many books on my list!

      I got a bit of that players thing from the film too, though it doesn’t truly respond to all the criticisms: if race truly doesn’t matter, they might be a bit more inclusive, so goes the argument. I don’t have a good response for it except to say that as problematic as North America is with these things, it’s light years ahead of where it once was, and also light years ahead of a lot of the places I’ve been.

      And, I suppose, there’s also this sense where I got the film was made by people who were trying, at least, and had their hearts in the right place. I dunno. Some people took it as a negative that the main female actors were multiracial (black and Asian, specifically) while the men were mostly white… like, that’s somehow more problematic than it would have been in the opposite situation. I can’t help but sense a bit of sexism there, on both sides: it is weird that it counts less when it’s women, but it’s also weird that not one of the most-appearing male actors was nonwhite. I dunno. It’s messy. And the filmmakers having their hearts in the right place,. or close to it, doesn’t make up for their missteps. But going from that to comparisons with Birth of a Nation seems overboard to a degree that will just make it hard for people to take seriously the criticisms being offered.

      I also can’t help but wonder whether the real reason there aren’t more films starring Asian-American actors–and not as kung-fu masters but just as Americans–might connect to the scarcity of Asian-American filmmakers. There are some, surely, but not that many… and while we could say this links to the racism in Hollywood too, I would like to see numbers regarding independent films broken down by the racial demographics of their directors. I’d bet that Asian-Americans are a tiny, tiny proportion of the directors within that scene.

      Which is not to say that white filmmakers shouldn’t be (and shouldn’t be asked or expected to) try be more diverse in their casting, but at the same time: if your voice isn’t being heard, sitting and complaining online about your group not being represented fairly in film is bound to be less effective than going out and making a film that does it… and maybe busting into the scene.

      Which raises the question of whether the issues Wesley Yang raises about possible connections between “traditional Asian upbringing” and the underrepresentation of Asian-Americans in upper-level positions of Americans companies, might also link to deographics of Asian-Americans in the arts? There are tons of Asian-American writers, of course–and more showing up all the time–but that only goes back to the 1980s, and the creation of an Asian-American literary genre. (Oh, how one of my friends, a half-Korean writer, rails against that “genre.”) There are plenty of Asian-Americans in support positions: just watch the credits for any film and you’ll see Zhangs and Chens and Kims and Lees in all kinds of positions. But as screenwriters, directors, and so on? Far fewer, right?

      Now, Asian-American upbringing is bound to be diverse, and Korea’s kind of extreme in most ways, but even so: most of the people I know involving in filmmaking in Korea tell the same story: their family was opposed to it (or any “creative” career) unless or until they got some kind of official recognition. The questions aspiring filmmakers like Mrs. Jiwaku are asked always begin with, “Do you make money doing it?” and “How much does it cost to make a film?” rather than the more usual (in a North-American cultural context) questions like, “Where do you get your ideas?” or “How does one get into that business?” or “Wow, I have a great idea for a film, let me tell you…” Pretty much all the Asian-Canadians I’ve known who felt called to creative pursuits ended up getting family support only after fighting to get into the field, primarily because their parents were obsessed with how someone who does music or writing for a living can put food on the table.

      Which is not a bad concern, but it is a bad obsession, as it can lead to the stifling of creativity. (In Korea, the number of times I’ve heard kids be warned off careers of which their mothers don’t approve boggles my mind… and this was happening at the age where Western parents just smile and say, “Really, Tommy? Why do you want to be a fireman?”)

      Of course, I haven’t seen any statistics about racial demographics for filmmakers in Hollywood, or within the indie scene. There are people doing it, of course. But when I try to think of Asian-American SF writers, I get only a very short list in my mind. While one Korean-American blogger I know derisively dismisses familial pressure to become a doctorlawyercomputerprogrammer, he’s one who became a lawyer himself, and he (like many non-creative types) seems to think that becoming a creative, successful artist is easy and one can do it on the side if one wishes. His position itself seems to suggest a devaluation of the arts–one evident in his parents’ culture as well–but I also worry that the demographics–my sense of them, however distorted it may be–contradicts his notion.

      But to really talk about that, I’d have to get into why I find the Asian-American literary scene frustration, and as a white male writer I am not supposed to do that. Maybe I’ll interview that friend of mine and post it: his rants are far more entertaining anyway.

      And you’re right about the implications of theater itself, which I don’t see as truly carrying over into its mediated dramatic-visual-narrative descendants so much. It speaks volumes to the constuctedness of our identities, and of our cultural systems. Have you read Susan Blackmore’s book The Meme Machine? I read it back in Montreal, over a decade ago (when I thought of it just now, I flashed back to my old apartment for a moment) but it discusses just how deep that rabbit hole might really go!

      1. You’re right, Gord, that the theater-troupe affect doesn’t answer the racial politics of the thing, and I didn’t mean to suggest that it did. I just consider it a happy accident that seems to me to give the movie more energy and depth than I’d anticipated (it’s more compelling expression of interconnectedness than the somewhat contrived symbolism of the comet tattoo). It makes me think that Cloud Atlas should be translated to the stage and become a staple of community theater. (And I haven’t yet read The Meme Machine. It’s one of the many worthy books languishing on my shelves because… Ooo! Shiny! …um, where was I?)

        As for the debate about racial politics and the yellowface…gosh. It seems obvious that there’s no malice in the movie’s use of that makeup effect, but saying that makes me acutely aware of the problem of my white male privilege, and it seems equally obvious that there’s no excuse for not anticipating just how wrong it looks and feels. Whether it’s wrong in an “objective” sense is less clear to me…I mean, in 500 years the racist caricature of a Japanese man in Breakfast at Tiffany’s — as you noted — will still be transparently stupid and cruel, but I can imagine that in 500 years the race-bending in Cloud Atlas will be seen as a well-intentioned but failed experiment in makeup effects, suffering more from its technical limitations, like early CGI, than the racial politics of the early 21st century.

        (Or maybe we’re supposed to infer that those men are the result of some kind of post-human eugenic project to go with the post-apocalyptic totalitarian setting of Neo-Seoul, while borrowing the visual trope of so many manga and anime that prevent you from telling exactly what race a person is supposed to be…? But I can’t quite see that being the case. It’s just too…blerg.)

        From what I’ve read (in the New Yorker, I think) it sounds like the problem of financing did play a big role in the decision to multi-cast the actors and, consequently, do the race-bending makeup. On the one hand it’s the *most expensive* independent film ever made, so you’d think they could afford to hire some more real Asians (and a more diverse cast in general). On the other hand, it’s the most expensive *independent* film ever made, so financial backers were fickle and frequently dropped out in the middle of production, causing the filmmakers to scramble for replacements (but maybe that’s common enough that it’s not really an excuse?). Having some A-list stars helped attract money, but not enough money to have a separate set of A-list stars in each sub-plot. So why not ditch the A-list stars altogether? But then a lot of your financing disappears… And in Hollywood “A list” means white guys, as a rule, plus a bit of Halle Berry.

        So maybe the Wachowskis should have abandoned the big-budget locations and special effects from the get-go, to focus more on well-rounded casting and the actorly dimension of the thing. But then maybe they’re no longer pitching a project recognizable as “the Wachowskis” and have even less of a proposition to make to potential backers.

        So yeah, I just don’t know. The race-bending is failure on many levels, but it’s a failure in the context of a work that is trying to be so good…so is it forgivable? I tend to think so, but again that might just be my white privilege showing.

        Now as for the Asian experience, or the Asian-American experience…what you describe, the tendency to focus on practical professions rather than artistic ones, seems to me to be pretty standard for any milleu where economic and social success hangs by a thread. If we’re talking about the US, how many Italian, German, Irish, and Polish immigrants wanted to see their children grow up to be actors and artists rather than doctors and lawyers and engineers? Not many, I’d guess. It doesn’t mean they disrespected art, necessarily, but it might reflect a general assumption or perception that an average engineer can have a secure profession but an average artist is probably a failure, and the odds are good that your children are more likely to be average than geniuses. Asians have the Confucian thing going on, but is that really worse than the patriarchy of old Europe? I’m not sure. Maybe it just seems different because by the time major waves of Asian immigrants came to the US, much of the European immigration had already happened.

        Put another way, maybe there’s a perception that art as a craft can be mastered on the side (like a businessman who becomes good at bonsai or a proficient painter), and for most people that should be good enough; whereas art as a profession requires genius, so if my child really is a genius then it won’t matter that I pressed him to become an engineer because genius follows it’s own path, but in the meantime genius is rare so I’ll make sure my kid learns a trade. If that’s what we’re talking about, then I don’t think it’s an attitude limited to Asians. Even among Westerners it seems to me that risking a probably-average child on a career in the arts is something that’s only smiled upon in families that already enjoy either a lot of success (so the child always has a plan B and a place to come home to) or a heightened sense of privilege and destiny (like a faded Southern family that thinks its aristocratic roots makes ordinary trades demeaning somehow) or both.

        1. Marvin,

          Yeah, you pretty much sum up my conflicted feelings on the racebending makeup: I don’t see malice intended, but I’m a white guy, and even a lack of intentional malice doesn’t exonerate one of racism, but there’s so much complexity involved in filmmaking and budget is hard and decisions and… this is certainly more complex than, say, The Last Airbender.

          You’re right about immigrant experience and the pressuring of kids to follow “practical” career paths being far from limited to Asian-Americans–hell, I went through it myself! (But then, in some ways my parents were both immigrants to English Canada, and anyway I found more familiar in the family stories of my 2nd-generation Asian-Canadian friends than my white friends.)

          Still, we’re talking about right now, and I get the sense that most of the descendants of Italians, Germans, and Poles in the US have integrated, while plenty of Asian-Americans are only second generation, so maybe it’s their kids who are likelier to throw aside family expectations and become artists, filmmakers, and other creative types in larger numbers.

          I’ll spare you my rant about the lack of appreciation for the arts in Korea generally, and just say that be that as it may, I wonder if all of that also might be part of why there would be a disproportionate number of Asian-Americans directing films, and appearing onscreen as well. There obviously are excellent Asian-American actors out there competing for parts, but I wonder just how disproportionate their representation is in auditions. There obviously are Asian-American indie filmmakers out there: but how many of them are there? Given that most people competing within the arts tend to burn out and fail, and a small proportion make it, perhaps underrepresentation is part of the problem. (That’s not to discount the real and powerful racism in Hollywood, it’s just to suggest it might not be the only problem.)

  3. I did read the book and loved it. And I, too, was amazed at the screenwriting feat. The book just tells the first half of each story before going to the next one. The middle of the book is the post-apocalyptic part and then moves back in sequence to the other halves of the stories. The screenplay cut to the stories when there was some type of character or plot rhyming between the stories. I was quite happy with what they did.

    The make-up was hugely distracting. The people in Seoul did look like aliens. I’m sure there were better ways of doing the make-up. Funnily, the make-up won an award somewhere.

    One of the main themes of the original story, as said by the author, is the way some people use their power over others. What was the line? “If you don’t eat, you’re meat?”

    So, continuing the relationship between Sixsmith and Frobisher would have been a distraction. The center of that story was how the old composer was using his power over Frobisher.

    I also liked how they tried to stay true to the media forms of each story. Not only is each story in a different timeline and a different genre of storytelling. They also each pass into the next story in different forms–a journal, letters, a novel, a movie, a holocron.

    Aa an aside, it’s uncanny how my taste in movies syncs with Roger Ebert. I feel the same way as he does in that this is one of those movies that begs multiple watchings because of all the layers. I saw Lincoln. I liked Lincoln. But the only reason for me to re-watch Lincoln would be to pick up all that dialogue I missed because it was so quiet.

    1. Zenkimchi,

      I haven’t read the book, though I am curious. I’ll post about it, I’m sure, if I ever do get around to it. I’m aware of the structure of the novel–basically 1 2 3 4 5 6 5 4 3 2 1–and that obviously wouldn’t have worked in a film, so yes, the skipping-across-plot-rhymes worked better… also, because it helped emphasize thematic plot elements.

      The makeup was more than distracting, it was awful, and its winning an award anywhere is ridiculous. I’m sure they did a better job than most people would, but so what? The proof is in the pudding, and I am sending my pudding back to the kitchen. It just looks wrong.

      That theme you mention–I hadn’t heard the author’s comments, but don’t need to–is spelled out in the like, “The weak are meat, and the strong shall eat,” if I remember right. It’s a clear thread through all the timelines, and I suppose it’s the fact that people critiquing the plot for not giving Frobisher or Autua a happier ending are missing the point that bothers me most. I’m all for empowering roles for POC and other “minority” characters–good lord, yes, and more of them in central roles in narratives, please–but to imagine a world where a gay couple in 1931 can simply walk off into the world happily is stretching the limits, as is imagining a slave ship where a white man doesn’t hold the upper hand over a black man. There are other stories to tell that might imagine that–I have a few in mind myself to tell–but this amounts to a criticism of the filmmakers being at all historically accurate in their depiction of 1931 or the 1860s.

      (To the retort that “realism” might require that Asians don’t look like aliens, well, I agree. That is a flaw in the film. But it doesn’t discount that the stories in 1860-something and 1931 panned out in a relatively believable-for-crappy-context way.)

      So you’re saying the book uses different modes for each section of the narrative? That the Frobisher stuff is in letters, and the stuff about Ms. Rey is in the form of the novel the neighbor kid wrote, and so on? That’s interesting… I guess a sort of 2.0 version of the old epistolary frame story thing they did in so many 19th century novels.

      As for Ebert, that’s funny. I’ve got to say sometimes I’ve found his tastes and opinions somewhat baffling, to be honest–I get the sense he’s more easily satisfied by what Mrs. Jiwaku calls “commercial-deep” than I am.

      1. Well, they did do that in the movie. Frobisher is reading Adam Ewing’s journal that he found in Mr. Ayrs’ bedroom. Luisa Rey is reading the letters from Frobisher that she found in Sixsmith’s room. Cavendish gets a novel manuscript in the mail about Luisa Rey (didn’t say anything about the kid writing it), Sonmi-451 watches a move based on Cavendish in Hae-joo Chang’s apartment, and Zachry watches the orison of Sonmi.

        Some other notes. It was also an independent movie mostly filmed and financed in Germany. In fact, I think the German government helped finance it. And it’s also the most expensive independent movie. Not sure if any of that has any relevance.

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