As documented in Empire, co-directors Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer have completed principal photography on their adaptation of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas—a feat that anyone familiar with the book will recognize as a success in its own right. After all, this is a project that could cause some sort of reflexive, postmodern collapse of the very fabric of reality, or at the very least, turn into a garish, gibbering mess: Mitchell’s novel skips through multiple interlinked stories and characters across different timelines, locations, and genre styles, everything from 19th-century seafarers to muckracking 1970s journalists to clones working in the fast-food industry of a grim near-future, making a linear film adaptation seem next to impossible. But using their respective talents for bleak dystopias and nonlinear narratives, the directors of The Matrix and Run Lola Run have put their three heads together in an attempt to fashion all of this into some sort of comprehensible progression, hiring a huge, surprisingly A-list cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, and Hugh Grant—with many of these playing more than one role.
In short, Cloud Atlas is either destined to be an out-there, mind-bending triumph, or find itself slotted next to Southland Tales in the “admirable fiasco” file to be marveled at for years to come. In the meantime, of course, all one can do is speculate, and the first official image above should give fans just enough to get them talking. It shows the Wachowskis (who are, understandably, very publicity-shy these days), Tykwer, and seated way in the back, Mitchell himself amid an assortment of props from the film’s various locales and eras: tribal statues, either from Chatham Island or post-apocalyptic Hawaii; a grand piano from the “Letters Of Zedelghem” section; a VW Beetle driven by Berry’s reporter character; from Nea So Coprus, a hover-bike and some egg chairs from Papa Song’s, etc. Whether all these pieces add up to a cohesive whole remains to be seen, of course, but in the meantime at least they seem to be getting some of the details right. Right?