Adaptation Integrity and Reincarnation in Cloud Atlas
Warning: Some spoilers ahead for both the book and movie version of Cloud Atlas.
The tagline for the film adaption of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas reads: “Everything is Connected.” These three words succinctly communicate the theme of both the book and film version of the story. However, while the theme of connection is generally the same in both the movie and the book, the film’s specific treatment of it results in a vastly different presentation of reincarnation.
The book version of Cloud Atlas certainly hints at the idea of reincarnation, most explicitly (and ironically) through publisher Timothy Cavendish’s decision that The First Luisa Rey Mystery should be edited to remove the implication that Luisa Rey is the reincarnation of Robert Frobisher. Connections and similarities between other characters are also drawn, but never so overtly that reincarnation is certain.
On the other hand, the directors of the film adaptation chose to use the same actor or actress to portray different characters in different stories across different time periods and even different races. This artistic choice indisputably asserts that reincarnation takes place in the story, even though this was never evident in the book, tampering with the novel’s original theme. Moreover, the choice to use makeup and prosthetics in an attempt to chance the race or gender of the actors and actresses actually distracted from the movie’s story and generated considerable controversy besides.
Obviously, writing and film are two different mediums, and certain changes must be made when adapting any book to the screen. Furthermore, the directors’ choice to use the same actors and actresses was in line with the spirit of the themes of Cloud Atlas. However, “Everything is Connected” does not mean the same thing as “Everyone is Connected,” and the first phrase most certainly does not translate into “Everyone is Reincarnated.” It is choices like these that cause fans of popular books constantly complain when their beloved story is adapted as a movie, grumbling that “it wasn’t as good as the book.”
The film adaption of Cloud Atlas therefore prompts the question: how much leeway can screenwriters and directors justifiably take when it comes to changing fundamental elements of a story in order to adapt it to the screen? This answer will vary from adaptation to adaptation, but one thing is for sure: the directors of Cloud Atlas took the theme of reincarnation too far in the movie as compared to the book.