From Time’s Boomerang to Pointillist Mosaic: Translating Cloud Atlas into Film


In a Wall Street Journal article appearing prior to the U.S. premiere of the film Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell addresses the challenges of turning his complex novel into a film. Revealing that he considered the novel’s “there-and-back” structure as “unfilmable,” he comments favorably on the new structure devised by the screenwriters/directors Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy, V for Vendetta) and Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run; Heaven): “It [the novel] 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” (Mitchell, “Translating”). Significantly, whereas the “there-and-back” structure—or “Time’s Boomerang,” as Mitchell calls it in a sly self-referential section of the novel (147)––suggests a dynamic state of affairs, the pointillist mosaic metaphor suggests a quasi-static one.1 I would argue that, through its restructuring, the film shifts its emphasis from a future in flux to a future that is fixed––as in a frame.

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