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Fantastic Fest Review: CLOUD ATLAS, David Foster Wallace And The Cinema Of Moralism

Hulk embraces the conceit of CLOUD ATLAS and he thinks you should too. 

Fantastic Fest Review: CLOUD ATLAS, David Foster Wallace And The Cinema Of Moralism

A CRITIC CAN SERVE MANY FUNCTIONS. THEY CAN CONTEXTUALIZE. THEY CAN CAN DECONSTRUCT. THEY CAN PROFESS THE MERIT OF A PROPERTY. THEY CAN CHAMPION A MOVEMENT. AND OCCASIONALLY, WITH HOPEFULLY GOOD REASON, THEY CAN ARGUE FALSE MERITS.

HULK DOESN'T EXACTLY KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH WITH THIS PARTICULAR MOVIE, EXCEPT TO SAY THIS: YOUR ABILITY TO ENJOY CLOUD ATLAS WILL DEPEND ON YOUR ABILITY TO EMBRACE THE CONCEIT.

AND IT IS THIS HULK'S OPINION THAT YOU VERY MUCH SHOULD.

***

EMOTION. LOVE. WONDER... SCHMALTZ.

WE ALL HAVE VARYING DEGREES TO WHICH WE CAN TOLERATE THESE CONCEPTS. SOME OF US HAVE THAT AUTOMATIC TRIGGER WHERE SIMPLE EMOTIONAL CUES CAUSE US TO CRY DURING COMMERCIALS. AND THEN SOME OF US TREAT ANY INSTANCE OF GENUINE EMOTION IN A MOVIE AS SOMETHING UTTERLY WRETCH-WORTHY.

FOR ALL OF HULK'S FLOWERY NOTIONS ABOUT LOVING AND RESPECTING CINEMA, HULK IS PRETTY DAMN LOGICAL ABOUT IT ALL. AND THAT'S JUST BECAUSE HULK HAPPENS TO BE A PARALYZINGLY CEREBRAL CREATURE (HULK ISN'T REALLY TOUCHED BY THE CUE ITSELF, HULK WATCHES HOW THE CUE PLAYS OUT AND THEN THE STRENGTH OF EXECUTION USUALLY ACTS AS A CUE... IF THAT MAKES SENSE?). BUT IT JUST SO HAPPENS THAT SO MUCH OF THAT HYPER-CEREBRAL APPROACH HAS LED HULK TO REALIZE THAT THINGS LIKE EMOTION, LOVE AND WONDER ARE THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF NOT ONLY GOOD STORYTELLING, BUT PERHAPS SOCIETY AT LARGE. IF YOU THINK ABOUT IT, THERE IS A WEIRD WAY IN WHICH DECENCY IS ACTUALLY THE DRIVING FORCE OF SURVIVAL; THE ABILITY TO "PUT DOWN" THE METAPHORICAL BONE IN 2001 IS HOW WE ACTUALLY MANAGE TO MOVE ONWARD AND UPWARD AS MORE NOBLE BEINGS.

OF COURSE, TERRIBLE THINGS HAVE BEEN DONE IN THE NAME OF DECENCY TOO (OFTEN IN GUISE OF PURITY). HECK, RIGHT NOW WE HAVE AN ENTIRE ANTI-GAY MOVEMENT UTTERED IN THE NAME OF DECENCY AND "FAMILY VALUES" (THE GROSSEST KIND OF HYPOCRISY IMAGINABLE). BUT IT'S AMAZING TO HULK HOW MANY PEOPLE, WHO ARE PERHAPS RIGHTLY DISGUSTED BY THE REFLEXIVE NATURE OF FAUX-DECENCY, ARE STILL WILLING TO THROW OUT THE BABY WITH THE BATHWATER ON THAT ACCOUNT. UPHOLDING THE VALUE OF DECENCY CAN REALLY BE WORTH SOMETHING IN A CRUEL WORLD.

TRUE DECENCY CAN BE OUR HIGHEST VALUE.

***

CLOUD ATLAS IS A BEAUTIFUL FILM.

HULK MEANS IT'S NOT ONLY PRETTY, BUT IT GOES ABOUT MAKING STATEMENTS OF DECENCY WITH REAL GUSTO, EFFORT, INSIGHT AND LACK OF CARE FOR CYNICISM. OH, IT'S NOT NAIVE. IT VERY MUCH UNDERSTANDS WHAT CYNICISM CAN BE. IT UNDERSTANDS IT SO WELL IT SORT OF BECOMES THE IDEOLOGICAL ENEMY. BUT THESE IDEAS ARE TRULY THE FOUNDATION OF THE FILM. AND THEY NEED THAT FOUNDATION BECAUSE IN AN EFFORT TO BE SO BOLD AND BROAD, WHILE STILL TELLING SIX UNIQUE STORIES, THINGS ALMOST SPILL WILDLY OUT OF CONTROL... ALMOST. SOMEHOW, THE FILM ALWAYS FINDS ITS FOOTING.

AND TO BE HONEST, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT IS MOST INTERESTING IS THE WAY THE WHOLE "CRAZY MAKE-UP" ELEMENT OF THE FILM IS HIGHLY ENJOYABLE. THERE ARE A LOT OF WORRIED FOLKS (WHO HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET) WHO THINK THE MAKE-UP LOOKS CHEESY OR NOT BELIEVABLE, BUT THE THING ABOUT THE FILM IS YOU LEARN SO QUICKLY THAT IT'S LESS ABOUT IT "WORKING" AND MORE ABOUT THE STATEMENT BEING MADE WITH EACH MAKE-UP CHOICE.

FOR INSTANCE, HOW BEAUTIFUL IS THE IDEA THAT THIS IS THE FIRST TIME HALLE BERRY GETS TO DO A PERIOD FILM WITHOUT HAVING TO WEAR A SLAVE OUTFIT? HULK FINDS THAT IDEA ENTHRALLING. AND THE FILM MAKES STATEMENTS WITH EVERY SINGLE CHOICE. THE GAME OF "WHO IS WHO" ISN'T JUST DELIGHTFUL, BUT MEANINGFUL.

WHICH MEANS IT IS ONE OF THE RARE CASES WHERE THE PROCESS OF THE FILMMAKING IS PART OF THE ACTUAL MESSAGE. AND LIKE SO MANY THINGS IN THE FILM, HULK FINDS IT BEAUTIFUL.

***

APPLICABLE TANGENT WARNING!

SO BRET EASTON ELLIS RECENTLY WENT OFF ON TWITTER ABOUT DAVID FOSTER WALLACE.... THIS GAVE HULK PAUSE.

MANY OTHERS FELT THE SAME WAY. MANY PEOPLE EVEN WENT SO FAR AS TO SAY BRET EASTON ELLIS IS A COMPLETE IDIOT WHO HAS NEVER DONE ANYTHING GOOD IN HIS CAREER... THAT'S NOT REALLY TRUE. HONESTLY, HULK FINDS SOME OF HIS WORK TO BE RATHER GOOD. HULK PARTICULARLY LIKES AMERICAN PSYCHO A GREAT DEAL. AT TIMES, B.E.E. APPEARS TO TAKE ON THE ROLE OF THE GREAT SATIRIST AND THAT IS TO BE COMMENDED IN HIS ART... BUT WHAT HE'S TAKEN TO DOING ON TWITTER IS BASICALLY JUST FIRING UGLY SHOTS AT EVERY SINGLE SACRED COW HE CAN THINK OF, SEEMINGLY TO NO OTHER PURPOSE THAN HIS OWN DELIGHT.

ON THE FLIP SIDE, DAVID FOSTER WALLACE IS ADMITTEDLY ONE OF HULK'S HEROES. HE WAS A CERTIFIED GENIUS. A MAN OF BOTH THE LITERATE AND MATHEMATICAL MIND. A GUY WHOSE INTELLIGENCE OFTEN PARALYZED HIM IN THE CONTEXT OF HAVING TO ACHIEVE NORMALCY... BUT THE THING ABOUT DAVID FOSTER WALLACE IS THAT, LIKE SHAKESPEARE, HIS GIFTS FOR LANGUAGE AND PROSE WERE REALLY JUST INVITATIONS INTO SOMETHING BIGGER, SOMETHING ACHINGLY HUMAN. DAVID FOSTER WALLACE, UNDERNEATH ALL THAT VOCABULARY AND DENSITY, WAS SOMETHING OF A SIMPLE MORALIST. BUT WHAT MADE HIM UNIQUE, WHAT SPOKE TO HULK IN THE DEEPEST OF WAYS, IS THE WAY D.F.W WOULD DIVE STRAIGHT INTO THE LOGIC OF THESE IDEAS AND SUSS OUT EVERY BIT OF ARGUMENTATION. HE WOULD COMB THROUGH ALL OF IT IN THE MOST INTELLECTUAL MANNER, JUST TO PROVE THAT THESE LITTLE CLICHES YOU'VE HEARD BEFORE, THE "CHICKEN SOUPS FOR THE TEENAGE SOUL" IDIOMS, NOT ONLY HAD WEIGHT, BUT HAD ALL THE MEANING WE COULD EVER NEED.

THOUGH UNPARALLELED GENIUS, HE FOUND SIMPLICITY. A LOT OF PEOPLE DIDN'T LIKE IT. THEY FOUND HIS MESSAGES CHEESY AND HOLLOW. AND THE FACT THAT HE DRESSED IT UP SUCH INTENSE VOCABULARY AND MUCH-TOO-LONG APPROACH TO PROSE AND ARGUMENTATION JUST MADE THEM ALL THE MORE ANGRY. BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WIT, AND THEY THOUGHT HE WASN'T WITTY HULK GUESS. IN FACT, THEY CONSIDERED HIM THE HEIGHT OF PRETENSION. THE FALSELY WORSHIPPED IDOL.

AND THERE WAS B.E.E., YEARS AFTER D.F.W.'S DEATH, LEADING THE FAMILIAR AND CYNICAL CHARGE.

BUT WHAT REALLY STUCK IN HULK'S CRAW WAS HOW SOMEONE ON TWITTER (SORRY, IT SO LONG AGO, HULK CAN'T FIND WHO DID! PIPE UP IN COMMENTS) DIRECTED HULK TO THIS ARTICLE, IN WHICH A MAN WHO EDITED BOTH OF THEM COMMENTS ON THEIR RESPECTIVE GENIUS AND THEN GOES ON TO MAKE A CURIOUS STATEMENT.

THE IMPORTANT PART IS AS FOLLOWS:

David’s 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, “This is Water,” has assumed the stature of a manifesto and ultimate statement. But, soul-pocked baby boomer that I am, I don’t buy it as a guide for right behavior. It feels uncomfortably close to those books of affirmations, no doubt inspiring but of questionable use when the hard stuff arrives. I truly believe that David was the finest writer of his generation, but his design for living seems to me naive and likely to collapse at the first impact of life’s implacable difficulties. It badly needed an injection of Montaigne or Marcus Aurelius.

Me, I find Bret Ellis’ scalding, cynical, brittle, savagely unillusioned worldview curiously refreshing. He is the Loki or Trickster of the literary world (or maybe the Lou Reed), poking sharp sticks in our eyes and daring us to figure out if he could possibly mean that. Deal with it. In a culture that has the phrase “Good job!” on endless rotation, he dares to say, over and over, “You must be fucking kidding me.” He’s incorrigible, he’s not a nice boy, he doesn’t care if you become a better person, he is not in any way seeking your approval. Good for him. Some brave college should ask him to do a commencement address.

HULK'S OBVIOUS PROBLEM IS THE FOLLOWING: THE WORLD (AND ESPECIALLY THE INTERNET) IS SO MUCH MORE FULL OF B.E.E. THESE DAYS. NOT THE D.F.W.'S. AND THAT'S WHAT MAKES HIM ALL THE MORE IMPORTANT. IN A WAY THE AUTHOR OF THE ARTICLE SO SPECTACULARLY MISSES THE ENTIRE POINT. D.F.W. WENT TO EXHAUSTED LENGTHS TO ARTICULATE EVERY LITTLE ARGUMENT THE B.E.E.'S OF THE WORLD COULD EVER MUSTER. AND IN THE END HE ARTICULATED WHY THOSE BASIC PLATITUDES MATTER SO DAMN MUCH... ESPECIALLY FOR THE BIG STUFF.

HULK DOESN'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT HULK HAS DEALT WITH MORE OF THE KINDS OF "BIG STUFF" THAN A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE. AND IN TIMES LIKE THAT THE B.E.E.'S OF THE WORLD MADE HULK FEEL DISILLUSIONED. BITTER. ANGRY. ALONE. AND FORGIVE FOR GOING FULL-TILT HERE, BUT HULK HONESTLY BELIEVES THAT THE WRITING AND HUMANISM OF DAVID FOSTER WALLACE SOMEHOW SAVED HULK'S LIFE. THERE IS A CLEAR LACK OF USE FOR THE FIRST, AND SUCH A NECESSARY, PROFOUND USE FOR THE SECOND.

SIMPLY PUT, HULK HAS NO IDEA WHAT WORLD THIS GUY IS LIVING IN. THE IDEA OF "GOOD JOB" BEING ON ENDLESS ROTATION? WHAT IS THIS GUY TALKING ABOUT? IF HE THINKS BRET EASTON ELLIS HAS THE KIND OF ATTITUDE THAT SHOULD BE EMPLOYED BY THE WORLD OVER, THAT IT'S WORTH BEING USED IN COMMENCEMENT... THEN HE'S NOT LOOKING AT THIS WORLD. BRET EASTON ELLIS ONLY WORKS IF THERE'S ONE BRET EASTON ELLIS... AND THERE ISN'T. WE HAVE A WORLD FULL OF THEM AND THEY'RE SORT OF TURNING THE CULTURAL, LITERARY AND CINEMATIC WORLD INTO A DISINGENUOUS WASTELAND.

WHY DO THEY ALL FEEL THE NEED TO DO THAT? OH, THERE'S THIS IDEA THAT THE WORLD IS SOME PRISTINE THING THAT NEEDS TO BE TORN DOWN FROM ITS IMPECCABLE IVORY TOWER. LIKE SOME ASSHOLE BEING A JERK TO EVERYONE IS A NOBLE CAUSE. LIKE THEY ARE DOING THE WORLD A SERVICE... HULK HATE TO BREAK IT TO THEM, BUT WE ARE A WORLD ALREADY IN CHAOS. THAT TEARS ITSELF APART DAILY. THE LAST THING IT NEEDS IS SOMETHING MORE DESTRUCTIVE.... BUT BECAUSE THOSE DESTRUCTIVE THINGS ALWAYS COME, WE HAVE TO TRY TO BE THE KIND OF WORLD THAT BUILDS ITSELF UP DAILY.

THERE IS NO REASON TO LIONIZE WHAT BRET EASTON ELLIS PROVIDES.

THUS, HULK WILL TAKE THE INTELLECTUAL UPHOLDING OF BASIC PLATITUDES... EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

***

SORRY FOR THE TANGENT, BUT IT WAS NECESSARY BECAUSE CLOUD ATLAS GETS TO THE HEART OF THAT VERY CONCEIT. AND HULK THINKS IT DOES SO SPECTACULARLY.

THERE ARE MANY WHO SHRUG THEIR SHOULDERS AT A FILM THAT SPENDS THREE HOURS AND DOZENS OF UNIQUE WORLDS TRYING TO SIMPLY TELL US A SIMPLE MESSAGE THAT "KINDNESS IS GOOD." THERE ARE THOSE WHO WILL FIND THIS SIMPLICITY TO BE AN EXTRAVAGANT BIT OF NAIVETE. THERE ARE EVEN SOME WHO FIND THE ENTIRE IDEA OF "THE CINEMA OF MORALISM" TO BE SOMETHING ABHORRENT; PROCLAIMING THAT IT IS EITHER AN ENEMY OF REALISTIC IDEAS AND NUANCE, OR PERHAPS MORE INNOCENTLY, JUST NOT ALL THAT EXCITING AN ENDEAVOR.

BUT THAT'S EXACTLY WHY HULK ARGUES WE NEED IT.

HULK BELIEVES WE DON'T WATCH MOVIES JUST TO SIT THERE AND HAVE THE "BELIEVABILITY METER" GO UP AND DOWN. WE DON'T WATCH FILMS TO AVOID BASIC TRUTHS IN THE NAME OF THE CONSTANT SEARCH FOR THAT INDESCRIBABLE "SOMETHING ELSE". WE WATCH FILMS BECAUSE THEY FEED OUR SOULS. THE CINEMA OF MORALISM HAS ALWAYS HAD REAL VALUE TO US AS A CULTURE.

AND WHEN A FILM CAN DO THAT WHILE LEGITIMATELY PUSHING SOME NARRATIVE BOUNDARIES (EACH NARRATIVE IN THE FILM IS PRETTY STANDARD, BUT THE WAY THEY BOUNCE OFF EACH OTHER IS VERY MUCH NOT), AND CERTAINLY PUSHING THE IDEA OF WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE AN ACTOR PLAY "A ROLE," THEN WHAT WE'RE REALLY TALKING ABOUT HERE IS THE PINNACLE OF THE ARTISTIC INTENTION.

MEANING CLOUD ATLAS IS AT ONCE HIGHLY STYLIZED GRANDEUR, BUT IT TRULY MANAGES TO FEED YOUR SOUL. HULK KNOWS THAT SOUNDS FLOWERY. HULK KNOWS THAT THIS ENTIRE ARTICLE MAY FEEL THE EXACT SAME WAY...

YOU JUST HAVE TO EMBRACE THE CONCEIT.

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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