by Ben Sachs
Ah, well. No one in the audience seemed to mind the block of dead time. A few groups of college students who must have had the week of Thanksgiving off, some retirees who appeared to be on a book club outing, and roaming members of the city's underemployed (without whom no weekday screening at the River East would be complete): it was a nice crowd, small and easy to please. As it bided its time, quiet conversation buzzed across the auditorium. It was probably my imagination, but it sounded like everyone had adopted the holiday spirit early and weren't just chatting, but purposely catching up. In any case, the atmosphere was calm. Maybe that "big computer screen" look had the subliminal effect of making everyone feel like they were in their living rooms.
It wasn't until ten minutes after the intended start time that a young woman of about 20 bothered to get up and find a manger. When she came back with an update ("He said not to worry and that it'll start soon"), the room applauded her for taking the effort. She gave a little bow, which both acknowledged and made fun of our enthusiasm, told us to enjoy the movie, then went back to sit with her friend. I liked her instantly; she seemed like the kind of person who strikes up conversation on the sightseeing car of the Amtrak. I was happy again to be at the show.
The great Clifford Odets once said of his play Paradise Lost, "It is my hope that when people see it, they're going to be glad they're alive. And I hope that after they've seen it, they'll turn to strangers sitting next to them and say 'hello.'" Do any recent movies convey such hopes? For all its awkwardness, incoherence, and streamlined philosophy, Cloud Atlas may well be one of them. It asks its audience to consider which values transcend history, geography, race, and gender—in other words, what connects us to a larger definition of humanity. On my own list, I'd surely include the instinct to say "hello" to those strangers with whom we share movies.