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Our Lives Are Not Our Own: Deconstructing The 'Cloud Atlas' Trailer

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 26, 2012 at 3:29PM

A pleasant surprise arrived today in the form of a lengthy trailer for "Cloud Atlas," the much-anticipated adaptation of David Mitchell's novel by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. Anyone who's read the book -- a sprawling, genre-hopping, puzzle-box of a story -- will know it's a tough nut to crack, but the clip, now available in HD at Apple, suggests that the filmmakers have managed to handle the diversity of the visuals even if it's yet to be seen if the film works as a whole.
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Cloud Atlas Trailer Deconstruction

A pleasant surprise arrived today in the form of a lengthy trailer for "Cloud Atlas," the much-anticipated adaptation of David Mitchell's novel by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. Anyone who's read the book -- a sprawling, genre-hopping, puzzle-box of a story -- will know it's a tough nut to crack, but the clip, now available in HD at Apple, suggests that the filmmakers have managed to handle the diversity of the visuals even if it's yet to be seen if the film works as a whole.

Just under a whopping six minutes, it's an incredibly dense trailer, and one that could be quite confusing for those unfamiliar with the material. So we've dug deep into it to try and help make sense of it, both for newcomers and fans of the book alike. Read on for more, and be aware of some mild spoilers.


Cloud Atlas, Jim Sturgess

0:04

- The first thing we see here is a boat -- most likely the Prophetess, on which American notary Adam Ewing sails in 1850.

0:10 - And here is Adam Ewing himself. We'd figured that Tom Hanks would play him, but in fact, it's Jim Sturgess in the role. He's trying to get home to his wife in San Francisco from the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand, but is treated by Dr. Henry Goose (played by Hanks), who believes he has a deadly brain parasite, as seen in this shot.

Cloud Atlas, Ben Wishshaw
0.18 - And here's Ben Whishaw, star of Tykwer's "Perfume," in the next story to pop up. The actor plays bisexual, bipolar composer Robert Frobisher, who flees London to Belgium to become an assistant to Vyvyan Ayrs, a famous composer (Jim Broadbent, as seen at the 1:05 mark). He rewards his hospitality by sleeping with both his wife and daughter. You can also glimpse here one of the ways the stories are interlinked -- Frobisher finds Ewing's journal from his voyage in Ayrs' home.

0.37 - Frobisher's segment of the tale is told in letters written to a friend, Rufus Sixsmith. He's seen as an old man here (as played by "Master & Commander" star James D'Arcy, under heavy old-age make-up), and also features as a character in the next segment, which stars...

Cloud Atlas, Tom Hanks, bald, goatee w/Broadbent
00:43 - Halle Berry, as Californian investigative journalist Luisa Rey. This section, "Half-Lives" is a straight-up thriller, with Rey investigating a nuclear conspiracy that Sixsmith puts her on to. As you can she, she finds the letters in her possession before too long.

00:49 - As was revealed long ago, and is clear from the trailer, the actors are, for the most part, playing multiple characters, although it's unclear if all will feature in all six storylines. Here, we're in the fourth segment, set in present-day Britain, and we can see Hanks, seemingly as gangster Dermot "Duster" Hoggins, who has written a book, managed by Jim Broadbent's literary agent Timothy Cavendish. We later see him throwing a literary critic off a roof. As far as we remember, the character we see Berry as in the reverse is a new addition, suggesting that the filmmakers have tried to draw the storylines even more closely together.

00:59 - We're back in the 1970s section with Hugh Grant, who appears to be playing Alberto Grimaldi, the CEO of nuclear energy company Seaboard. Grant has said in interviews that all of the characters he plays in the film are bad guys, which should be fun.

This article is related to: Cloud Atlas, The Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Bae Doona, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw