Bob Davis: Cloudy politics – Film adaptation of ‘Cloud Atlas’ likely to raise deeply political questions
Oct 07, 2012 | 3804 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Eight years ago, liberal filmmaker/provocateur Michael Moore released Fahrenheit 9/11. It arrived just in time for George W. Bush’s 2004 bid for a second term in the White House. The film was highly critical of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks. It captured millions of dollars at the box office. However, if Moore’s aim was to swing the election in the favor of Bush’s presidential challenger, John Kerry, he failed.

In 2008, the nonprofit conservative organization Citizens United produced Hillary, The Movie. The film was a broadside against Hillary Clinton, a hedged bet that she would win the 2008 Democratic nomination for president. Planned screenings of the film were thwarted because of campaign finance laws barring “electioneering communication” 30 days before a general or primary election. The main point of the film — attacking Clinton — became moot thanks to the surprising success of her challenger, Barack Obama.

If Citizens United lost the battle, it won a larger ideological war against campaign finance limits. Today, “Citizens United” is shorthand for the landmark Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates for unions and corporations to pour limitless amounts of money into political campaigns.

This year, conservative author Dinesh D’Souza released 2016: Obama’s America. It’s a film treatment of D’Souza’s book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, a work that suggests the president is driven by anti-colonialist fervor to see the United States in decline. In advance of 2016’s release, the author connected his project to Moore’s 2004 film. “When he released Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 ahead of the election, it sparked intense debate. I learned some lessons from Michael Moore, and hopefully he might learn some lessons from me about handling facts,” D’Souza said.

A Washington Post reviewer dismissed the film as “destined to irritate the president’s supporters while mobilizing his detractors, even as it is doomed to win precious few converts. It’s a textbook example of preaching to the choir.” Say what you will about that choir, but it has been willing to spend money. The film’s distributor reports movie ticket sales totaling $32 million since August. By way of comparison, Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 earned $119 million in 2004.

Just before the Nov. 6 election, a film with deep political undertones makes its way to movie theaters. Based on the 2004 novel with a fairly innocent name, Cloud Atlas may be the most political (nonpartisan division) of any of the aforementioned films. Granted, I’ve not seen the film version but if it’s faithful to the novel it will most likely be more understated than either 2016 or Fahrenheit.

Also, don’t expect politicians to touch on the issues raised by novelist David Mitchell in Cloud Atlas. They are far too complicated to be reduced to 15-second sound bites. No, these subjects — the spreading influence of corporations and subsequent rampant consumerism, the mistreatment of the elderly that society has no use for, the lack of compassion for the suffering for our fellow humans — are the sort usually spoken of in only vague generalities by politicians, if they are mentioned at all.

In practical terms, the novel is an advertisement against both sides of our political divide, a searing indictment that we are missing the big picture while distracted by something shiny and trivial. It moves through time, unveiling disturbing threads of human nature and promising teases of enduring acts of kindness. We pass through the Pacific islands in the mid-19th century, 1930s Europe, California in the mid-1970s, present-day Britain, a futuristic Korea where a “corpocracy” rules and a more distant era simply known after “The Fall.”

The film project was led by the two Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, who are famous for the futuristic Matrix series. The film was so complex it required a third director, Tom Tykwer.

Early reviews have been positive, but it’s hard to know how much impact Cloud Atlas will have on moviegoers. It’s safer to suggest that its release won’t move the needle on 2012’s presidential preferences. That’s not the point. The deeper questions in the novel are too serious for retail politics, anyway.

Still, there’s a lesson here in need of heeding during our contentious and fact-challenged political season. Sonmi-451, a Korean slave clone living in the future “corpocracy,” notes: “Truth is singular. Its ‘versions’ are mistruths.”

If we didn’t know better, we’d say she’s been watching the 2012 presidential campaign.

Bob Davis is associate publisher/editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or bdavis@annistonstar.com. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis.
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