How Did the Wachowskis Make Cloud Atlas? Barely

Photo: Jay Maidment/Warner Bros.

Cloud Atlas has faced a lot of bumps on the road to movie-dom, all of which are lovingly enumerated in a profile of Lana and Andy Wachowski in this week's New Yorker. It's a tough book to adapt in the first place; financing was a nightmare; the shoot itself was plagued by illness and injury. And yet what's clear from the story is that Cloud has one final — major — hurdle standing between it and success: Everything about it sounds insane.

Around Thanksgiving, I visited the set in Babelsberg and sat behind the Wachowskis as they shot a scene from the post-Fall story line, in which Hanks’s Zachry takes Meronym (Berry), one of the last of a tribe known as the Prescients, people who still have some access to pre-Fall technology, to a defunct satellite-communication center, where she hopes to put out a call for salvation for her people. Old Georgie (Weaving), a hallucinated devil whom Zachry can’t shake, urges him to kill her. (In addition to Zachry and the malevolent Dr. Goose, Hanks also plays a thieving hotelier in the thirties, a nuclear scientist in the seventies, a memoir-writing thug in the present, and an actor who plays Timothy Cavendish in a movie in the twenty-second century.)

Once upon a time, The Matrix sounded insane too. But Cloud Atlas could be good! Or it could be a noble fiasco, or a total failure, or any number of other outcomes. But whatever else it is, this movie will indeed be a tough sell.