Tag Archives: film reviews

Hey, Hollywood, Take a Cue from the Success of ‘It’ and Make These Books Into Movies Already

So, the film version of one of Stephen King’s best novels (in my humble opinion), It, just became the highest grossing horror film ever, surpassing The Exorcist. Why is that? It might be easy to chalk it up to King’s popularity, but given how badly The Dark Tower, another film based on a successful King book (actually a series of books), fared over the summer, it’s clearly more than that. Of course, there’s unarguably a phenomenal difference in quality between those two films, and that certainly made a difference. But I think it’s more than that. I think the concept of coming-of-age stories combined with horror often work so well because there is just something innately horrific about blossoming adolescence, this strange transformation from child to adult, all the weird new feelings and awkwardness, and the sense of horrible unfairness that comes from a growing awareness of oneself and one’s place in the world while you are still legally powerless to do much of anything about it. It capitalized on that perfectly by pitting 12-year-old kids who don’t fit in at school and who are dealing with their own problems at home against a shape-shifting monster that only they can see.

If you think about the film that It replaced in the top spot, The Exorcist, you should quickly realize that it actually dealt with the same theme of budding pubescence being that time of life when we are most susceptible to evil. But there was only one child in that story. Here you have seven, each of them a sort of archetype of uncouth adolescence. Bill Denbrough is the quiet kid still processing the tragic loss of his beloved younger sibling; Ben Hanscomb is the sensitive fat kid; Richie Tozier is the smart-ass who covers his insecurity with constant jokes; Mike Hanlon is the rare black kid in a predominantly white town; Eddie Kaspbrak is the kid whose Smother has made him neurotic; Stanley Uris is the brilliant Jewish nerd; and Bevery Marsh, the sole female in the group, is the abused kid. Most of us can find ourselves in there somewhere, if not in just one character then in a combination of them. (I think I’m equal parts Stan, Ben and Mike, with a wee smidge of Bev.)

Anyway, the formula of tweens and young teen(s) confronting the supernatural clearly speaks to all of us on some level. When done well, these tend to be among the strongest horror cinema: The Sixth Sense, Let the Right One In (and its American remake Let Me In), The Lost Boys. When done superbly, they are unforgettable. It has now attained that status. Will the sequel live up to the first film? With the same director and production team behind it, I suspect it’ll be pretty good but will ultimately not achieve the same degree of critical acclaim. Not unless it uses plenty of flashbacks. While the scariness of Pennywise was certainly important,  what ultimately made It so successful was the kids. They were well-written characters, and the young actors playing them had real chemistry.

And that’s why Hollywood needs to strike while the iron is hot and put these other properties that use basically the same formula into production. And which properties are those, you’re wondering? I mean the ones I wrote about in this article from 2013, which has never been more timely. To varying degrees, they all pretty well fit this theme:

Five Horror & Dark Fantasy Novels That Need to Be Movies Now

In addition, I will add one more.

Neverland – Douglas Clegg

The kids here are a bit younger than It‘s protagonists, but they still are left largely to themselves to deal with the growing evil on the island where their extended family vacations every summer. This is my all-time favorite of Clegg’s novels. The Southern Gothic elements combined with kids confronting a Lovecraftian horror is a match made in heaven. Or hell. Either one. The monster, largely unseen in the book, allows more for the imagination than Pennywise (and therefore will save on special effects budget), meaning there’s a lot more focus on the kids and the growing unease we experience as we watch them become slowly corrupted by whatever cosmic entity resides on Gull Island. Oh, and there are ghosts too.

With its beautiful coastal island setting and quirky Southern characters, this is a horror novel begging to be put onto film. Besides, it’s high time Hollywood showed some love for one of the best American horror writers around, a man just as hardworking and prolific as King, and for my money anyway, often a stronger writer. Even with his less successful works, Clegg knows how to sell his characters. But this is definitely one of Clegg’s best books, and it really ought to be a movie.

So, come on, Hollywood. Get on these pronto, but only if you want to make money. 😉

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Why Horror?: Film Review

Recently I created a music-themed survey for my friends and family on Facebook, and I began it by answering all of the questions myself.  The last question on the survey was, which song would you say best sums up who you are?  For my part, after a bit of mental seesawing, I finally arrived at Tool’s Forty-Six & 2. If you don’t know the song, it deals with Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow.  Very simply, in Jungian psychology, our shadow is our (mostly) hidden dark side, those aspects of ourselves that are negative and that we don’t like to face, as well as a personal repository for all the social stigmas and taboos we must process in order to be a functional member of society. In the song, Maynard expresses his desire to boldly face down his shadow, to move through it and past it in order to fully become who he is.

This is a concept I am fully invested in, and for me at least, the horror genre has long been my preferred route through my own shadow. Which is why I am not only a fan of the genre, but also fascinated by the psychology of horror fans generally. What exactly is it about horror that attracts its true fans? Are such people well-adjusted or not? How do horror fans stack up against non-fans when it comes to life coping skills? In the documentary film Why Horror? (directed by Nicolas Kleiman and Rob Lindsay), the film’s subject, Tal Zimerman, sets out to answer some of those questions, and for the most part, he does so quite spectacularly.

Zimerman begins his examination of horror by peering into its history, beginning with religious iconography. Having grown up in a small Southern town, I am certainly aware of the human monstrosity and violence that permeates Christianity. This is the religion whose central symbol is a guy nailed to a tree after all, and whose holy book describes, among other atrocities, a dude getting a tent stake nailed through his head, a young woman being gang raped and then ripped to pieces (with her father’s approval no less), God causing disobedient followers to devour their own children, God causing bears to maul forty-two boys because they teased a bald guy, God giving his blessing to Moses and his followers to murder all the Midianites they’d conquered, including the little boys, and to save all the virginal young girls for themselves . . .

Are you detecting a trend here? Not to make this political, but I know Westerners tend to believe that Christianity is less gruesome than Islam; however, anyone who’s read the Bible beyond just the popular passages knows that’s absolute hokum. It’s fitting, then, that Zimmerman starts with Christianity, because so much of its history is absolutely glutted with blood and brutality. Not just what’s chronicled in their sacred text, but all the historical violence wreaked upon others in the name of furthering the faith: the Crusades, the witch burnings, the religious conversion at sword-point, and of course the many and varied tortures and murders committed by the Holy Inquisition during its roughly three hundred year reign of terror. Modern Christianity may be a kinder, gentler incarnation, but I think there is something about all of that murder and mayhem ingrained in our collective psyches, and that has surely had an effect on our appreciation for horror. Of course, the irony is that Christians these days will more often than not condemn the appreciation of fictional horror even as they downplay or whitewash their own religion’s abominable history of actual bloodshed and persecution. You gotta love the irony.

The cultural transition from religious to secular horror is embodied for Zimerman in William Hogarth’s famous print series The Four Stages of Cruelty. These pieces depict the evolution of viciousness in human beings, starting with school children tormenting animals and ending with a hanged man’s corpse being dissected by medical students. He notes here that, contrary to the popular opinion that constant exposure to fictional violence desensitizes people and makes them bloodthirsty and heartless, he himself is rather humbled by horror. It constantly reminds him of his own mortality, and is therefore an incitement to always be a good person. In that sense, the entire horror genre serves as a kind of memento mori for Zimerman, and by extrapolation, for many others as well. I think he’s definitely onto something there, as most of the real horror fans that I’ve met have been gentle and benevolent souls who wouldn’t hurt a fly . . . because, well, the fly might be one of us after all.

By contrast, Zimerman posits that most Americans actually go out of their way to avoid death, that they have an unhealthy relationship with it, making them ill-equipped to deal with their own mortality. I’m not so sure about this. Americans love their cinematic violence. They may not go whole hog with it like some of us, but bloody action films and thrillers remain quite popular, and anyway the horror genre itself has now moved into the mainstream. I do think that by and large other cultures may have a more sophisticated relationship with death than we do. Zimmerman does too, and his touchstone for this is Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, an annual celebration of the dead that, unlike its American analog of Halloween, is not about fear but rather respect for the dead. In Mexico, death is viewed not as something to be afraid of; it is instead a divine mystery that should inspire awe and reverence. I have to say, given the rising levels of violence taking place in our southern neighbor these days, this doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Nevertheless, it is something to be admired, I agree.

There are some fantastic highlights in Why Horror?—the interviews with directors George Romero and John Carpenter, the segment on J-Horror (which is actually rooted in Japanese kabuki and noh theater), an animated mini-history of the genre in cinema—but no part of the film lagged or failed to capture my full attention. In fact, my only real complaint is that, other than the J-Horror bit, it really didn’t spend much time on monsters or the supernatural side of the genre, both of which I prefer to Zimerman’s obvious slasher obsession. It does get into monsters a wee bit, including one of my all-time faves, Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, and how that particular monster’s story came into being. An entirely plausible theory about monsters is put forth here—they are said to be a projection of our dark side (our shadow, if you will) in symbolic form, which is then usually destroyed, much to the relief and satisfaction of filmgoers. Well, some filmgoers anyway. Me? I like when the monster triumphs. 🙂

Grade: A-

When Monsters Are Born: ‘Carrie’, ‘Firestarter’ & ‘Silent Hill’

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The birth of evil is always a tragedy, and the most heartbreaking tragedy of all is when the most innocent become the most monstrous.  It’s tragic because we know, even when we don’t witness it firsthand, that the path that led there was one of horrendous pain.  That is the case in three fantastic horror stories, two of which began as novels and one as a video game but have all since been made into films.  I speak, of course, of the Stephen King works Carrie and Firestarter, and the original Silent Hill film, all of which feature young girls who have become corrupted by the physical and mental tortures and unthinkable betrayals that they are subjected to.

I have discussed before that I think Stephen King’s early work is his strongest both horror-wise and writing-wise.  One reason I think this is so is that there’s a kind of desperation that undergirds those early novels, and this probably arose from being a still struggling author raising a young family.  Once he became the most popular writer in the known universe, the desperation pretty much fizzled out.  Nothing wrong with that–it’s probably the best trajectory the King of Horror could’ve taken, but it also means the nature of his work was bound to change.  It certainly did, sometimes for the better (his imagination was able to fully blossom, and thus it ultimately gave fruit to what I consider to be his magnum opus, The Dark Tower series) and sometimes for the worse.  In addition to losing touch with that desperation that made his early work so compelling, he exchanged the raw, elemental power that drove it for a more complex and convoluted spiritual world, the dark side of which is ruled by a being with nearly as much invented mythology as the devil himself, and the light side of which has an Eternal Champion to give both Moorcock’s creation and Jesus Christ a run for their money, and that ain’t a bad legacy for any writer.  Not.  At.  All.

But with Carrie, King captured lightning in a bottle, and it’s easy to understand why it was this novel that broke him into the published author camp.  Talk about desperation!  It’s practically stitched into the very being of Carrie White, a weird, awkward, repressed adolescent girl who is an innocent in nearly every respect.  Having only recently entered puberty (quite late), she is horrified to learn that her body naturally bleeds, and this ignorance leads to the infamous scene in the girl’s locker room where she is taunted and tormented by the other girls in her class.  The interesting thing about Carrie is that it contains no otherworldly beings, no ghosts or haunted houses, no murderous psychopaths.  None of the usual antagonists or tropes of your standard horror fiction are to be found here.  Yes, there is a supernatural element in the form of Carrie’s powers, but they aren’t external to Carrie.  And there are the kids and Carrie’s mother whose cruelty pushes her over the edge, but they are nothing out of the ordinary.

So, the horror of Carrie isn’t something alien which invades the girl’s tranquil and otherwise normal world.  No, the real horror of the story is that we have been given a front row seat to the birth of evil in its most terrible incarnation.  We are, in effect, watching the character we have come to empathize with the most transform before our very eyes into the monster.  Carrie White has nothing but good intentions and the purest heart in the beginning, but by the end of the story, under the weight of the final degradation she is forced to endure, she has become a cyclone of violence and hatred who murders her classmates and finally her own mother, acts for which she can never be redeemed.  And she isn’t.  Instead, she dies from the stab wounds inflicted on her by her mother, or alternately, in the Brian Di Palma film, from a combination of the stab wound and suicide (by psychically destroying her house with her still inside of it).  However, King does offer a note of hope in the novel in the form of another little girl whose mother sees her daughter’s abilities as a gift rather than a curse from God.  Incidentally, there is no such hope offered in the Di Palma film, which fits the bleakness trend of late seventies cinema to a T.

But Stephen King wasn’t finished with this theme, for he would go on to pen Firestarter a few years later, a novel which in some ways takes the concept even farther than Carrie did.  (Douglas Clegg, whose Goat Dance I reviewed recently, also owes a little something to Firestarter with his novel Dark of the Eye–more on that when I give it a proper review of its own.)  The focal character, Charlie McGee, a little girl with pyrokinetic abilities, is even more of an innocent than Carrie White.  Here, however, there are external malignant forces at work in the form of the Shop and especially the hit man John Rainbird.  But these evils are not where Firestarter‘s ultimate horror lies.  Once again, what is most horrific about the story isn’t the evil which already exists but the evil that emerges from Charlie herself, and again the path that led there is one of suffering.  The ultimate irony of the story is one similar to that inherent in the relationship between Carrie and her mother: Margaret White sees in her daughter an abomination, and through her maltreatment of Carrie, contributes to making the girl into exactly that.  Likewise, the secret government agency that fears Charlie is the very agency which eventually turns her into something to be feared.

It is a difficult scene to get through when Charlie, dealing with the death of her father and learning of her betrayal at the hands of Rainbird and the Shop, turns her power up to ten and destroys everyone and everything in her path.  But King again supplies a tincture of hope here, because Charlie is perhaps still young enough to recover from her murderous turn and live a normal life, and there may be redemption in exposing the Shop’s atrocities to the world, as Charlie ultimately does.  But because Charlie has become cynical of the media, she only trusts one publication to get the story straight.  She will never again be fully innocent; she has become corrupted by her experience, wizened to the ways of the world.

There are several contenders for the inheritor of King’s birth of evil motif, but perhaps none is as powerful–or as dark–as Silent Hill.  I can’t speak much for the game because I have never played it, and I’m also aware that it differs significantly from the film.  It is the film which most interests me anyway, because it more than any other fully embraces the concept of the good girl gone monstrous.  Alessa Gillespie was once a normal little girl who was ostracized by other children for being born out of wedlock, became a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of the school janitor who targeted her because she was isolated and disliked, and then, as with Carrie and Charlie, suffered a final degradation which corrupted her, blackened her soul, and hers is by far the worst: she is burned alive and survives.  In the process her soul divides into two parts, Dark Alessa and Sharon.  Sharon is of course adopted by the movie’s heroine, Rose, but winds up back in the town, drawn in by Dark Alessa, who needs a worthy vessel in order to be able to enter the only place in Silent Hill that is forbidden to her in her dark form: a church sanctuary.  It is Rose who winds up becoming the vessel, however, and when Alessa finally is able to show up in the sanctuary both in body and spirit, she too, as with King’s young girls, succumbs to a mass slaughter of those who tormented her in a scene that would give Clive Barker’s Cenobites pause, or maybe send them running in terror.  And again, as with Carrie and Firestarter, it’s also a terribly sad scene because it makes explicit how much the girl was twisted and corrupted by her experiences. You shed tears watching the darkly beautiful scene unfold, for you know that, while you are horrified by the slaughter, you are also disturbingly satisfied by it on some level.  These people got what they deserved, no?

You see, we as the reader/viewer, have followed the trajectories of these characters from young innocents to raging, hateful monsters (albeit somewhat obliquely in Alessa’s case), and we have grown with them.  Charlie’s monstrosity may be temporary, and that’s some consolation.  Carrie dies, so she no longer poses a threat to anyone.  Ah, but Alessa . . . she becomes queen of her own little dark corner of hell.  The good part of her, Sharon, exists but is still trapped in Silent Hill (along with Rose) by film’s end.  And we are right there with them, left to contemplate how we have arrived at this point, how we have come to identity with the monster.  Mourning the fact that we too, somewhere along the way, have lost our innocence.  We too have loosed evil at some point in our lives, and once it’s out there in the world, wreaking havoc, there is no way to take it back.  In fact, one of the functions of horror fiction is to remind us of that.  So be good to your fellow man, folks, lest you give birth to monsters.

Cloud Atlas: A Moral, Philosophical & Political Examination

The 2012 sci-fi film Cloud Atlas, directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings, was nothing if not polarizing.  As such I decided to forgo viewing the film when it was released and wait a few months until it came out on DVD or cable.  Which is unfortunate on one level because the film was gorgeous and I would’ve liked to have seen it unfold on the big screen.  Even so, I am convinced I made the right decision, having finally caught this epic mindfuck (and I mean that in a good way) of a movie on HBO yesterday, well over a year after it’s theatrical release and many months after it hit DVD.

The plot, such as it is, follows six story lines that are both metaphorically and literally (the film jumps back and forth liberally between all six threads as it unfolds) woven together.  At the heart of this cinematic hydra is the “Cloud Atlas Sextet”, a modern classical masterpiece composed by one of the characters in one of the story lines, which serves as a kind of MacGuffin to anchor all of the metaphysical/philosophical stuff, but in truth it is probably extraneous.  Even so, it is not insignificant that it is a work of art.  But then, all the best MacGuffins are in one way or another.  What matters most here is the driving notion that everything is connected and that one act in the past, be it good or bad, will echo through time and space for decades, centuries, perhaps even eons—basically, it’s the butterfly effect composed as a moral outline.  The film also seems to take reincarnation as a given, which I think is probably the real gripe of many Western critics who disliked the film, even if they were smart enough not to air their ethnocentrism openly in their reviews.  Americans especially just seem to have a hard time readily accepting another culture’s religious assumptions as a backdrop to a story, even though we regularly impose ours into our media with nary a complaint from outsiders.

Needless to say, I think the film is brilliant.  Yes, it was often confusing, but that is not in this case a hindrance to its enjoyment.  Indeed, as Roger Ebert attested with regard to another such film—the haunting political thriller Syriana—such deliberate mystification and uncertainty can sometimes serve a symbolic purpose.  I think that is the case here, at least  initially.  Yet, I have seen the film only once and I still do not feel like my mind was overtaxed by the experience or that the story was somehow lacking because of its complexity and unconventional nature, largely, I think, because I also do not subscribe to that other Western conceit that there is some ideal emotional formula that all good fiction—be it in film, book, television show, or whatever medium—must adhere to before it can be deemed a success.

But there is a point here, and it holds a nigh Campbellian mythic stature: it is the idea that there are two major unconscious forces in the vasty cosmos.  One is cyclical, the other diasporic, and neither of these forces is inherently moral, but within them moral or immoral actions have grave consequences because they will be repeated over and over again or exponentially enhanced, respectively.  Likewise, there is within these great dumb movements conscious forces which can take advantage of them to some degree for their own ends.

Thus, you have entities which gravitate to either movement.  In the case of the cyclical, because it is an innately conservative force, you see throughout time repetitions of the oppressive establishment, here slyly represented most often by Hugo Weaving, who has already been imprinted upon the collective consciousness as an avatar (in the form of Agent Smith) of the same in the Matrix film series.  There are nods to other famous film and book oppressors as well, such as the amusingly Ratchet-esque Nurse Noakes.  On the opposite end are those who stand for the elementally progressive force of outward dispersion, which is to say a breakout from the cycle, represented here by the various incarnations of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Doona Bae.  Note that when I say conservative and progressive here, I do not refer to any political ideologies so designated but only to the nature of the forces themselves.  To be sure, if you consider it carefully you will see that that which is cyclical cannot be ultimately progressive and that which is progressive cannot be ultimately cyclical, or these terms would lose all meaning.

That being said, it is the case that those most often served by the unchanging nature of cycles are agents of the iron hand, and thus it is little surprise that the same types of people are inevitably behind the movements to maintain the status quo.  There is inside all of us a natural-born resignation to the cyclical because parts of nature itself is cyclical.  Rituals can be comforting and most of us need them in some form; the trick is not to let our rituals, even if they are in service of the sacred, become sacred in themselves, because once they do, then anything, including other people, can be sacrificed in the name of maintaining this order.  Ideals then become more important than thinking, feeling beings. In the same vein most of us require change on occasion, and change too can be creative or destructive.  The most oppressive of governments are often tolerated by their subjects because these states, as horrible as they are, at least maintain the comfort of order, whereas revolutions can lead to the worst forms of instability and even outright destruction.  Or they can lead to something approaching utopia.  But it’s always a gamble which way it will go, and it never goes smoothly, does it?  The key to everything lies in understanding and reinforcing balance; if I have a mantra, that is it.

Within nature itself this balance already exists.  Indeed, it cannot be escaped, although it can be manipulated.  But one must understand that to manipulate it is not to destroy it but merely to change its shape, and its shape is dichotomous, or rather approximately dichotomous.  You may consider the yin-yang symbol as the simplest and most easily discerned model for reality, but in truth there is no easy division between good and evil, or between light and dark, or between the realms of mind and body, or anything else.  All of it is a continuum.  Humanity is no different, whether in the universe as a whole (consensus reality) or in the microcosm of our own selves, for we do not exist in a vacuum and all we say and do has consequences not only for ourselves but for those around us.

Here is where the philosophy of political conservatism breaks down, because it assumes that everyone and everything can be viewed as independent, and therefore individual responsibility is seen as quite literal.  Yet political conservatism is ultimately hypocritical by design, for any legally sanctioned power beyond the individual—whether accorded to the state, to an army or to the owner of a corporation—can then only be justified if one ignores the principle of independent responsibility.  To the conservative, the concept of harm is one-dimensional and shortsighted; it is merely that which can be measured directly and immediately.  This position does have value, particularly in the realm of law.  If we punished everyone for all the harm they generated, directly and indirectly, then every human being’s life would be nothing but a series of endless court cases.  Therefore, harm in the legal sense must be interpreted somewhat conservatively if the courts are to operate effectively.  This does not, however, mean that indirect harm isn’t real or important, and therein lies the flaw in the pure conservative philosophy.  Actions have consequences not only for those directly impacted by them but ultimately for everyone who shares this physical continuum we call a world; ergo, a truly moral political philosophy must take this fact into account, and this is what, in my estimation, justifies the use of the state as a tool to serve the greater good.

Of course, it must be remembered that the greater good is in some sense subjective, and therefore democracy best serves the overarching moral philosophy of the day.  This is not ideal, but it is inevitable in a genuine democracy; it is thus incumbent upon all of us who would do so to make our moral arguments through appealing to those things we all share, more or less, via the marketplace of ideas.

In that light we can better understand the recent conservative backlash against science.  At one time science may have served conservatism because it appeared that all things and all peoples were independent.  The entire science of taxonomy is founded on this notion, and all sorts of iffy political worldviews were once justified on the back of science, such as Social Darwinism.  The latter is even openly expressed in the film in the motto of Tom Hanks’ earliest incarnation Dr. Henry Goose: “The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.”  However, this boils down to early misconceptions of how nature works.  In recent years we have learned not only that species aren’t always easily divisible but that the entire progress of nature (the process of evolution by natural selection, for example) is a continuum.  More importantly, it is progressive only in the sense that it is in a constant state of motion; humans hold no special place from the perspective of nature—if nature can be said to have a perspective—and if we were unable to adapt to our environment then we could be crushed under her heels just as easily as any other species.  Furthermore, though we are currently the reigning champions of the earth, we could easily lose that status under the right conditions and become just another species living by instinct, losing our faculty for rationality.  Cloud Atlas reminds us of this uncomfortable fact in its post-apocalyptic scenario, in which much of humanity has regressed to superstitious atavism (as is often the case in post-apocalyptic stories), including a clan of vicious cannibals.

The film does have some weaknesses.  The choice to show reincarnation, even if you accept it as merely metaphorical, by having the same actors perform these assorted roles results in some at times head-shaking makeup jobs, although to be fair the more outlandish ones are often played for humor, as in the case of Hanks’ Scottish thug-cum-author Dermot Hoggins and the decidedly unfeminine Hugo Weaving in drag as the aforementioned Nurse Noakes.  And it tends to lessen the confusion, I suppose.  Or maybe it enhances it.  I suppose that might depend on your penchant for investing emotionally in faces.  Or something.  Bottom line, it was sometimes an unwelcome distraction.   The story can also seem relentlessly dark, though it does manage to end on a hopeful note.  This wasn’t necessary to convey the story’s power but it was a wise choice, just as it was in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  In an epic of this magnitude, one that could just as easily have ended after the execution of Sonmi-451, say, why not end on the positive?  For, although humans and humanity in the larger sense are bound to go through periods of darkness, I believe we prefer to seek the light, whatever that may be for us.  And the choice to show Hanks as an old man surrounded by a gaggle of happy grandchildren certainly doesn’t take anything away from the film, so why not?

Also, though I myself do not consider this a detriment per se, it should be noted that this is a quintessentially Eastern film in terms of its philosophical approach, which, as I pointed out earlier, will put off many Americans who are disturbed by the idea of reincarnation.  For my money, the fact that the most oppressive of all the various societies shown herein is set in Asia, where social collectivism is more traditionally valued than it is in the West, is not lost me, nor is the fact that one member of the most oppressed group of people in this world—genetically engineered “fabricants” born and bred for slavery and service to mankind—ultimately becomes the most important revolutionary in it, as well as the patron saint of the post-apocalyptic one that falls chronologically last in the series of story lines.

What makes Cloud Atlas so special then is that it is no less than a distillation of all of the  abstruse forces that lie in eternal conflict around us: little guy versus the establishment, freedom versus oppression of all sorts, order versus chaos, knowledge versus faith, hope versus self-destruction, even determinism versus free will (at one point—while sharing a joint no less—one of the characters asks another, “Do you ever feel the universe is against you?”)  All of these big ideas could never really be solidified into a hard and fast plot, hence the experimental structure, which moves so quickly between the film’s various threads that it becomes aptly impressionistic.  The original novel’s author David Mitchell has called the film’s structure “a sort of pointillist mosaic” actually, which is as accurate a description as any.  However you choose to describe it, this is clearly not a Hollywood film, despite its relatively large budget.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I am exceedingly happy this isn’t just another Hollywood sci-fi action adventure film, all bells and whistles and no soul.  This is one of those movies I will enjoy watching again and again, noticing the little things I missed before, and proud to be a member of the species that produced such a magnificent work of art.