Movie Comparison: Cloud Atlas & Babel

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas (2012) is an excellent, imperfect movie featuring an ensemble cast and 6 different storylines. The structure of the film lends itself to direct comparison to the movie Babel (2006), winner of the Golden Globe for Best Picture –Drama in 2007 and nominated for 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  Despite the prestige, Babel is a pretentious, abysmal movie.  Through the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregate, it earns a 69% with Cloud Atlas rating similarly.  With only 4 storylines, Babel fails to deliver what Cloud Atlas succeeds at with 6.

How Cloud Atlas is able to keep the viewer’s attention without lows is only possible through the linked storytelling that Babel makes little to no attempt at doing.  Babel’s theme is a loss of communication and thus uses the term “babel” derived from the Book of Genesis tale where people long ago all spoke one language until God divided the people and their speech.  Babel’s stories are connected either by coincidence or by a person knowing another in a separate story arc.  Other than that, there is little to relate to each other outside of the theme, so the segments do not support each other and could easily be a few short films strung together.  Cloud Atlas approaches tying stories together through multiple means.  In addition to events rippling throughout time to affect other story lines, it has several actors play multiple roles –symbolizing a soul’s continued presence before and after death and therefore implies added consequence on every action a person takes.  The stories parallel each other and can be shown side by side easier than in Babel because Cloud Atlas’s story through time allows events to build on each other rather than be random events across the globe from each other who happen to be able to play 6 degrees.

Cloud Atlas has a simple and meaningful message to its audience while Babel’s pretension is nothing more than political agenda.  Repeated many times, characters in Cloud Atlas say “our lives are not our own.  Everything is connected.”  It is in many ways, the anti-Atlas Shrugged –which preaches selfishness.  In Cloud Atlas, the evil of slavery connects the stories –from America’s black slaves to indentured servitude and to a man trapped in an old folk’s home to future worlds where people are bred to serve and slaughtered like cattle.  To be anti-slavery is too much of a defined truth to be considered pressing agenda.  Babel does press political views saturated in apologetic dialogue.  From events in Morocco to the United States’ handling of the Mexican border, this movie clearly intends on showcasing America as a heartless and ignorant enemy that does not let just everyone do as they please.  No matter the side it takes, no movie so thick in lecture and one-sided views can be complex or entertaining.

While Babel took home many awards and nominations, Cloud Atlas may be left with few to be proud of.  The Academy adores pretension, foreign languages, over-saturated liberal messaging, and Brad Pitt.  Babel was an easy nomination for them.  Cloud Atlas’s ambition has already gotten the picture noticed, but lacks the precision that is necessary for such prestige.  The gutsy decision to cast actors across racial barriers makes audiences notice the makeup, but its imperfection costs them, and much is true for other aspects of the film.  Casting Tom Hanks as six different characters that imply the same soul in six different bodies confuses audiences when some are benevolent while others can be gruesome.  Both movies have their simple points, but Cloud Atlas’s are misplaced for casual moviegoers while Babel hits the correct notes for most unqualified critics.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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J. Bryan Jones is a prospective writer-editor in both prose and graphic novel media. He created "Leather Wing Media" and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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  1. Hadoken

    Alejandro González Iñárritu (I had to go to IMDB and copy & paste his name) is such a master when directing. Look at the trilogy, 21 Grams and Amores Perros which is a masterpiece. It is difficult for me to not love Babel because of my addition to his work.

  2. Fernando

    That was a good read, thanks.

  3. Sparky Del Sol

    When I first saw Cloud Atlas I was reminded of how Anti-Atlas Shrugged it was. Reading that bit made me smile. I wonder if David Mitchell did that on purpose!

  4. Babel is not well-known today, and details in this article give a clue as to why.

  5. Since his first movie Alejandro González Iñárritu has been developing a personal style that makes his work more recognizable and international than many other Mexican directors. “Babel” is a great movie, and it should be appreciated within the director’s filmography and evolution. I found “Cloud Atlas,” on the other hand, to be a very forgettable movie which delivered far less than expected.

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