I can’t wait to see the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tywker‘s Cloud Atlas again. It’s a stunning piece of filmmaking, and one of the best films I’ve seen all year. The ambition, thoughtfulness, and majesty of the picture are a wonder to behold, and I’m glad that the filmmaker took some time to talk about the movie. The Wachowskis are notoriously press shy, but they’ve really opened up when it comes to Cloud Atlas, first with a piece in the New Yorker and now an extended interview with Hitfix. In the interview, they talk about the music, establishing the film’s tone, keeping the tonal balance across six different genres, the structure, casting Tom Hanks, their next picture Jupiter Ascending, and much more.
Hit the jump to check out what they had to say. Cloud Atlas opens October 26th.
Speaking to Hitfix, Tywker, who also co-composed the score, talked about the music:
“It was crucial and elementary from the start. It’s a method that I’ve worked with since, I think, my first film. Even in my first short film, there was music that was done before the filming was done. But on this one, it was even more so. Obviously, it was technically needed because you have people playing the piano and you want to know what they’re playing, and the actors should know what they are supposedly listening to in the film. When Halle Berry is standing there in the record shop, she should know what it sounds like so she can relate to it. But also, it was for us. I always feel like the first deep atmospheric research you do on a movie is discovering its music, because it’s not yet visual. It came along sort of at the time we had done some of the visual explorations, but we hadn’t defined the film yet totally, so it was in the in-between period, and the music started to grow. For me, at least, and I think they say I’ve spoiled them forever…”
“Oh my god, it’s just the most hideous thing, and it was like slavery. It was just like, ‘This is the way you do it.'” She gestured to Tom. “And then we meet this guy and he’s like, ‘What are you, crazy? No, I do my music when I do my design at the very beginning of the movie.'”
Tykwer spoke about the film’s opening and establishment:
“The opening of the movie, that montage before the stories start to unfold in detail, everything that is pre-title leading to Ben putting the gun in his mouth and then you see the title, that’s basically what Lana had written that first day. And it’s also like a blueprint for the audience. ‘Okay, this is what you’re going to get.’ And of course, it’s overwhelming. But the insanity of it seemed like it was flowing and there was a possibility that we could keep going like this. We would probably need to help the audience get themselves organized a little bit, but that we might be able to be completely fluidly constantly cutting from story to story because they are all one story.”
“I sort of built this thing that sort of suggested a potential introduction to a new structure that was going to somehow work as a single narrative. I was like, ‘We can’t start over an hour and a half into a movie.’ We knew we couldn’t do the structure of the book, so we’d have to create a single flowing narrative like music, a full symphony, and this was the preamble experiment. We read it together, and kind of went…”
Andy arched one eyebrow, hyper-dramatically dropping his voice to a whisper. “‘Oh my god, this could work.'”
Tom nodded. “It was awesome.”
Lana Wachowski commenting on the tonal shifts and cutting them together:
“And then we watched it and we were like, ‘Oh my god, it makes the tenderness of this scene seem completely false and shatters it, and the funny thing is just not funny anymore.’ And so we had to really go back and very tenderly put tone spacers in between the wide tone shifts.”
“Even just rhythmically, the final product wasn’t the same as the script. After the preamble and the title, it immediately just started going. And we were all exhausted after the first screening because it was just this unrelenting rhythm that was buffeting you and battering you, and so we had to pull back from that a little bit. We had to change the structure a little bit in the beginning, and so that after the preamble, when you’re shaking the audience and saying, ‘PAY ATTENTION!’
“The whole idea of him being the most relevant everyman actor since Jimmy Stewart invited even more this idea that the characters he’s playing are having this very particular evolution, the idea that the best of us can come from the worst of us. He’s an evil murderer, but there’s this learning process, and meeting this girl once, twice, and then finally realizing he’s going to have to change, and when he meets her in the ’70s, there’s that feeling that even though he’s working for the, you know, the evil empire, maybe he can help her. Maybe he can do something better. And then he fails and he dies, and so he comes back as the writer, and do you remember the moment when he sees Halle Berry in the bar, and you think, ‘Oh, there she is! Go! Go!’ But he doesn’t. He decides to do bad instead. He decides to do something very bad and kill the critic instead.
So he keeps going, and ultimately he meets her again in the far future, and he gets to really, really change. He gets to change perspective. He becomes this new being who sees the moral consequences of things. And the idea of having this person who slowly, complicatedly learns to be a better person be played by this particular actor that has such an iconic dimension to him that it’s not like… him being the bad guy is so much more impressive because you don’t know it that well. And at the same time, because he can pull it off so amazingly… he sort of embraced it, and he enjoyed getting to be evil, like when he’s playing Dr. Goose, there’s this potency of… you trust him to be decent… and once you find out that he’s poisoning Ewing, it’s shocking. You think because he’s Tom Hanks, oh, he’s this quirky doctor, and he’s going to save him. How nice to have him around. He’s going to protect him, like maybe protect him from the bad captain or something, and he’s the horror. If it had been somebody we are used to seeing in ambiguous roles, you would have immediately projected it all differently.”
“Hopefully it will inspire other people to take a few more risks. We felt that while we were making it. If this movie works, if this kind of strange international equity money from all over the world, if we somehow pull this off and it pays these people off, it will inspire other people to try the same kind of a thing, because it will prove there is an audience for this sort of risky material. And if it doesn’t, then it will end up being one of those cautionary tales which will continue to reinforce the conventional wisdom that risky material is too risky.”
They talked a bit about their next film, “Jupiter Ascending,” which sounds like a big science-fiction action piece that will star Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis. The stories they told about casting the two stars and their reactions to the news were endearing, and it sounds like they’re neck-deep in the world-building part of the process right now. When I commented on how much I loved the water-based surfaces of the streets in the Nu Seoul sequences in “Cloud Atlas,” Andy talked about how hard it is to be fresh and cohesive when you’re designing architecture and infrastructure, and how that’s always the hardest part with a science-fiction film. Lana talked about how they have a big visual idea for “Jupiter Ascending” that is like the evolutionary jump from bullet-time, but how it’s going to be expensive and difficult, and might not be possible.