Rereading Cloud Atlas

I started rereading Cloud Atlas, as many of you already know, in anticipation of the upcoming movie. I wanted one last "pure" reread before the imagery in my head got supplanted by famous actors, overwhelming visuals, an epic and soaring soundtrack.

I've touched on this before. And I really need to read Hila's book because I'm sure it will add to my understanding and thoughts in this area. In many ways, I think one movie is more destructive than ten. There are so many Jane Eyres floating around, I feel perfectly free of a single paradigm when I read the book. I imagine what I will.

But one movie emerges as a sort of single embodiment of a book, threatening to displace what was there already. It's like trying to think of a deity as something other than a bearded white guy after that's the single image you're presented with over and over.

I'm resentful of my mind's eye being subverted by this process, of losing permanently and totally that personal, unshared visualization I had. Now, the movie could be a wonderful thing, a work of art in its own right. But, still, I will have lost something.

What that something is, is delightfully non-specific. I don't know what other people imagine when they read (it's something we seldom talk about when we talk about reading). I know we all imagine. But is it detailed? Are faces filled in? Do the voices intone a certain way, lisp, stutter? For me, not so much.

I don't hold maps in my mind, nor dwell much even on dress, unless it's described in detail. I only see colours too when they're called out. My focus is felt rather than perceived. Only when the writer calls out some visual or aural detail, my senses sharpen and I envision that specific detail, but then I revert to a hazier, more felt kind of imagining.

I find myself more apt to imagine vivid scenes when books are set in either familiar or iconic settings, when the story is rooted in place. But most of the books I read are not so ostensibly written. The sets in my head are often characterized by a Beckettan sort of sparseness. Unless I'm lead to do otherwise, I'm more apt to embellish the interior life of the characters than the external ones.

And faces are always hazy. I never pick a face for a character. Their lips, eyes, neck or hair may come into focus, again when called out, but I never piece it all together, making a brand new face for Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennett. So, it's not a matter really of a movie "living up" to what I imagined. Because what I imagine is not movie-like.

A movie concretizes and fills in details that my mind omits. It sharpens the visual and numbs the ineffable, for me. In doing so, it sometimes kills some of the magic, the parts left unimagined, wholly vague and unrepresented. It also creates logic and order in visual sequences that as a reader I do not always demand. I don't need to lay down maps and floorplans in my mind's eye. But a movie does all that as it endeavors to build a physical world. Of course, a good movie also creates its own new form of magic and that can be truly wonderful as well.

I was a third of the way through rereading Cloud Atlas when the trailer came out. It looks swashbuckling and Hollywood-esque, the thematic threads it weaves are already more staunchly defined and concluded than the ones I drew from my own reading of the book. And for the rest of my rereading, that 11-minute trailer stayed with me. I saw Halle Berry as Luisa Rey. I heard Tom Hanks voiceover when a more philosophical line was delivered.

It didn't ruin it. I want to be clear here. I'm not giving the movie or trailer a thumb's down. But the book is already changed for me. And I think, as a reader, it's worth paying attention to the reading experience and how it alters through time and the cues it takes from external sources. It all intrigues me really. But I also admit to feeling a sense of loss. Cloud Atlas, the one that was just mine, has changed into something else now. I hope it will be as good.
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