David Mitchell on Translating 'Cloud Atlas' Into the Language of Film - Wall Street Journal | Literature & Psychology | Scoop.it

❍ “My 2004 novel "Cloud Atlas" opens in 1850, with a notary on an island-hopping voyage from the South Pacific to San Francisco. But that narrative gets interrupted by another story, set in the 1930s, about a young composer who finds a memoir written some decades earlier by the notary; which story in turn is interrupted by another, involving a journalist and a physicist, whose letters recount the 1930s narrative; and so on, for a total of six different time frames. In the novel's second half, the "interrupted" narratives are continued, and the novel ends with the conclusion of the 1850s memoir.

 

This "there-and-back" structure always struck me as unfilmable, which is why I believed that "Cloud Atlas" would never be made into a movie. I was half right. It has now been adapted for the screen, but as a sort of pointillist mosaic: We stay in each of the six worlds just long enough for the hook to be sunk in, and from then on the film darts from world to world at the speed of a plate-spinner, revisiting each narrative for long enough to propel it forward.

 

Thinking about how a novel's structure must be made "film-shaped" has led me to these habits of successful adaptations.”

 

• “First, the bagginess of novels becomes cinematic tautness. …”

 

• “Second, suggestiveness in novels becomes exactitude in film. …”

 

• “The third habit of adaptation might be called "Honey, I Shrunk the Cast." …”

 

• “Fourth, just add music. …”

 

• “Fifth, and last for now: All roads lead to closure. …”

 

❍ “Adaptation is a form of translation, and all acts of translation have to deal with untranslatable spots.”

 

The film of Cloud Atlas on my Cinematic Narrative site: http://tinyurl.com/CinematicCloudA