I went to see it, and you know what? I really, really enjoyed it.
Firstly: I know people have said they found the narrative structure difficult to follow. Perhaps if you’re only used to a completely linear narrative, with no interweaving, then this would indeed be somewhat difficult to follow, because there are lots of cuts back and forth. But each timeline is designed very differently – you can tell just from looking at the scenery what time you are in – so I didn’t find that aspect disturbing or confusing in the slightest.
Something that was a little disturbing, and intriguing, and uncomfortable-making, was the cross-race acting. Now, I am as anglo as it gets, so my take on this is to be read from that perspective. But anyway: I found most of the Anglos-as-Koreans to be cringeworthy; James D’Arcy was the only one that seemed passable, ish, while Hugo Weaving was verging on grotesque. But what I really liked was the fact that some of the non-white also crossed race. Halle Berry as Jocasta really worked, for me, although Doona Bae as Tilda was somewhat less convincing. I think the fact that the actors all played multiple parts made this race-crossing more acceptable – it made sense, in this weird cinematic world, that a version of Berry would exist in the rarified whites-only world of 1930s English snobbery. If it had just been ‘let’s put Weaving into Neo Seoul!’ there would have been a serious problem. I haven’t read any reviews of the film yet, because I wanted to go in totally unspoiled, but I’d like to read reviews by people of colour to gain an understanding of how it looks from a non-privileged perspective.
The multiple-character thing was immensely amusing, as I eagerly tried to figure out who each actor was in each time – and nothing will ever compare with Hugo Weaving as Nurse Noakes. Some of the cosmetics and prosthetics were genuinely very clever; there was some excellent use of fake teeth, especially for Tom Hanks, and some very good use of hair, too. Hugh Grant as an incredibly painted and very nasty warrior-savage-type was a magnificent casting-against-type instance, Hanks did well in all of his varying roles, and I really, really liked Berry, too.
This film was not, in the end, actually what I thought it would be. I expected that, because of the multi-time and multi-character acting, I was going to get something a little like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice and Salt, where people keep getting reincarnated and being with the same souls generation after generation. And while some of the same actors found themselves together in some form or another in multiple settings, it’s not like Berry and Hanks were always lovers or whatever. In fact, there is little similarity between any of the epochs, with the exception of what I see as the main theme playing out: fate vs freedom. And, yes, there’s love as a real and binding force, but I don’t really see that as a theme, more as a Human Condition kinda thing.
So, fate vs freedom is really what it comes down to. How do you act within your fate, how can you fight against your fate, what are the limits of freedom… and tied up in this is the notion of an ‘established order’ within society, the existence of which a number of characters insist on – and when that’s contrasted between the ‘order’ of whites over blacks, and the ‘order’ of pureblood over fabricant – it could have got preachy, but actually I think it skated the line well enough.
There are big moments, of trying to change the world, and small moments, of trying to change one single person. There are intensely sad moments, and some brutal ones (I see why it’s MA, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as I had expected); some poignant, and occasionally funny ones as well.
I saw this with my friend Mel. Last movie we saw together at the cinema was Inception. We’ll have to be very careful in picking the next film we see together… it will either have to be the filmic equivalent of War and Peace, or maybe Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.