The Wachowskis explain how Cloud Atlas unplugs people from the Matrix
- Sarah Polley on laying her family history bare in the new documentary Stories We Tell
- Noah Baumbach on how Frances Ha helped him see New York City with new eyes
- Amy Schumer had to be talked into making the show of her dreams
- Joe Hill on his new novel, Locke & Key’s end, and why ideas are just glue
- Kristin Scott Thomas has no time for nonsense
For most of their shared writing/directing/producing career, siblings Andy and Lana Wachowski have steered clear of media attention; when they wrote, produced, and directed the groundbreaking 1999 film The Matrix, they had a no-press clause expressly written into their contract. And they’ve rarely spoken in public about their other films: 1996’s innovative lesbian neo-noir Bound, the 2003 Matrix followers The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, and 2008’s Speed Racer. They’ve broken form by engaging the media over their latest film, Cloud Atlas, a nearly three-hour adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, which they scripted and directed with Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer. The film is particularly personal for the Wachowskis: They spent years trying to find studio support for the $100 million project, and eventually made it as an independent movie, gathering the money from a roster of international backers, and putting in millions of their own when some funding fell through at the last moment.
The Wachowskis have always been ambitious innovators, but Cloud Atlas is on another scale entirely. Closely adapting the book in content, though not in structure, it tells six stories in six different time periods, using a handful of actors who often play a different role—sometimes across race, age, or gender lines—in each segment. And it interweaves all six stories, leaping from the 1800s to the undated far future, while finding connections between them, and following an idea about how mistakes repeat over time, and basic kindnesses or cruelties stretch across lifetimes. The A.V. Club recently sat down in the Wachowskis’ Chicago studio to talk with Andy and Lana (formerly Larry; publicly acknowledging her gender transition has been part of the Cloud Atlas media process) about avoiding fame, trying to make people think and talk about cinema again, and that niggling Matrix people-as-batteries question.
The A.V. Club: In the past, you’ve both been very private and not fond of doing press. Why is this movie different?
Andy Wachowski: We’re not fond of doing press even now. [Laughs.]
Lana Wachowski: [Laughs.] That’s a bit of a projection. It started with Tom [Tykwer]. On this movie, we have the three directors, and Tom has always done press in traditional ways. And once we were finishing the movie, people were calling him, asking him for interviews, and he was simply looking at us like, “What, do you want me to do these interviews alone? It’s insane.” Although here we are doing an interview alone without him. He’s on his way here. It’s very frustrating. But he hasn’t had a day off in like, a month. So he needed that.
AVC: Has your experience with the press for Cloud Atlas been pretty much what you wanted to avoid in the past? Has it surprised you at all?
LW: Let’s just say this. We feel like a lot of people in the press took us not talking to them personally. It wasn’t meant to be personal. It wasn’t a judgment on the people in the press. It wasn’t a judgment of the actual process. What it was for us was that, as soon as you give up your anonymity, you give up your ability to participate in certain civic spaces, and that was a precious thing for us. We really like that aspect of our everyday lives. And sometimes it’s a little odd, because people in the press look at us like we’re talking nonsense, like the way the machine is designed is to help manufacture celebrity, and the value of it is in the ability to manufacture celebrity, or at least public interest. And we are saying, “Well, we don’t find that valuable.” We understand it, and we think, “Great, it works for this aspect of the business,” but it’s not really valuable to us.
AW: Yeah, and for me it’s, No. 1, who wants to talk endlessly about themselves? I don’t. [Laughs.] I’m not a celebrity. And the second thing is, you go through the whole rigmarole of making the film. It’s four years on Cloud Atlas, and so I sort of resent the fact that now I have to sit down and explain it to people. It’s like the whole dialogue has been lost about… When I was a kid, we would go to movies as a family, and then we’d sit down and talk about them. I feel like this is the instantaneous-gratification generation, where they can just look it up and say, “Oh, well, this is what it means.” Our movies require a little bit of effort.
LW: And you feel it in a lot of critics’ approach today toward cinema. As soon as they encounter a piece of art they don’t fully understand the first time going through it, they think it’s the fault of the movie or the work of art. They think, [dramatic voice] “It’s a mess.”
AW: [Dramatic voice] “This doesn’t make sense.”
LW: “This doesn’t make any sense.” And they reject it, just out of an almost knee-jerk response to some ambiguity or some gulf between what they expect they should be able to understand, and what they understand.
AVC: Your interviews about the film so far have been definite conversation-starters, talking about deconstruction and Foucault. Can you use the media platform as an opportunity to jumpstart the conversation, to get people thinking and talking about your films instead of taking them in passively?
AW: Yeah, well, I mean, here we are. One of the things about this movie is that it’s precious to us. And there is a part of me that was willing to engage, if only to kick back a little bit and protect my baby.
LW: We totally understand the way people can access a work of art through a dialogue with the makers of the work of art. That is understandable. We had that experience ourselves with an artist we admire a lot—Roy Andersson. I flew to Sweden to meet him, and spending an afternoon with him was a revelation. So the impulse to have a dialogue with the artist—we get, we get. There is also something we find—our films often have a populist packaging about them that seems to mean, particularly to critics and a lot of writers about cinema, that our work can instantly be reduced, or labeled in very reductive ways. And they refuse, almost, to engage with it with a more profound, honest, authentic investigation into meaning. And that has caused us to resist the dialogue somewhat, because it would just provide them with material to be more and more reductive about them.
AW: Even when we talk about our films, it’s reductive. I mean, you’re setting this definition—certainly film as a collaborative medium—there are many ideas put forth into the film. So I am uncomfortable delivering the definition of what the movie is from on high. Because there is meaning that has been put in by the actors, there’s meaning that is put in by the production designer, by the costumers. [The director defining the film] feels sort of narrow-minded. The way a film can change over the generations… You watch a movie when you’re 20 years old, and you see the same movie when you’re 35 years old or 40 years old, and something happens. The movie changes, because we change as individuals. To have this sort of thing attached to it, [authoritative voice] “This is what it means…” I’m am still finding meaning in what Bound did, or even the first Matrix, because now I’m able to look back on it as reflective, and older and wiser.
LW: There’s also a problem with the dialogue, often, because it becomes filtered through another voice, another perspective. A lot of times, you find even in a dialogue like this—we’re at this table, we’re talking, we’re trying to be authentic, to speak as honestly as we can, and then often, that will be filtered and arranged in a way to reflect the writer’s point of view about the work. We’ve already done several interviews, several very in-depth, complex interviews, where they took quotes… Already, there’s sort of a traditional understanding of our work, and they immediately apply that traditional, conventional, populist point of view about something as a way to transition to their point of view. And that aspect of this process is frustrating. And I can feel it even in some of the artists who have been engaged in this much longer, like Tom Hanks. He has many things to say about the difficulty of actually reaching… It was a very conscious decision we made that the first thing we released [for this film] was an unfiltered video, made by us—
AW: Cut by us—
LW: Cut by us, shot by us, cut by us, written, performed by us.
We didn’t want someone to come in at the end of the introduction and say, “Wow, look at that crazy hair. What do you think of that? She’s weird.” Or whatever. We didn’t need that kind of instantaneous filtering and judgment. We wanted people to be able to access our introduction without that filter. It’s very hard for people like you to write without a filter, without a bend toward a perspective.
AVC: You talk about going back and seeing Bound and The Matrix differently because of passing time, and presumably because of the context and cultural changes. Did revisiting and re-analyzing your own work affect how you made Cloud Atlas, or how you work today?
AW: I don’t know, maybe, maybe. Part of being a filmmaker is also being a craftsman. So when you do, you become better at it. And so all of our films have taught us what works and what doesn’t work, and have given us perspective on where you can push the boundaries of the cinematic language, and so they are all valuable as pieces of experience. But I don’t know if I’ve gone back and actually watched our films in terms of studying them to be informed of the next thing we’re doing.
AVC: You spent years trying to get Cloud Atlas funded, while working on other projects. How do you maintain excitement for one project over such a long period, especially while working on other films?
AW: Well it’s extremely difficult.
LW: There’s three of us. That helps.
AW: We’re a collective. Whenever somebody’s down—or in this case, often two people were down, and the third always seemed to yell at us to keep going, “Get on your feet!” Sometimes we would all be down. There was this one period where we ended up saying, “Okay, this probably isn’t going to happen. But why don’t we read the script one more time. If there is any doubt in our minds, we’ll let it go.” And we all separately read the script, and we all separately had this elation from reading, and we were like, “Okay, we ought to give this one more chance.”
LW: The more we worked on it, the more intensely we loved it. To the point where there was this feeling, even after three years, that no matter what happened, somehow we were going to get this movie made. There would be huge, depressing setbacks and challenges where [financial backers] would say, “I’m in,” and then a month later, they would go, “I’m out.” And we’d say, “You can’t, we have a contract,” and they would say, “Sue us.” I mean, like, that kind of collapse.
AW: And this happened all the way up until the moment the actors were supposed to fly out to Berlin to start costuming.
LW: We were supposed to deposit money in their accounts, and we didn’t have it, because the bank wouldn’t close the loan, because suddenly we had—
AW: We had a financing gap with one of our investors, I think in Spain. Like, they went bankrupt. So we ended up putting our own money in.
LW: We had to put the houses up to bridge the gap. And we didn’t even—it wasn’t even a long discussion. It was instantaneous. We were going to make the movie. It was too close, it was too important, and really, we were too much in love with it. We would do anything for this movie.
AVC: What percentage of the budget did you end up having to put up yourself?
LW: Well, we waived all our fees—
AW: It’s complicated, because we have our companies that have put money into it, and then we also had to put money in personally.
LW: All over, we’re probably well over 10 percent of the budget.
AW: Close to 7 million bucks or something like that.
AVC: Did you have similar problems with the actors, as the financing years went on, where people agreed to be in it and then dropped out?
LW: Well, there were some actors who were a little terrified of the material and the idea of playing six parts. And a couple people chickened out. But in general, the actors who were committed were as ferociously and fearlessly committed as we were. They flew—even though their agents called them and said, “They don’t have the money, the money’s not closed”—
AW: Advising them not to fly, not to get on the plane—
LW: Every single time, Tom Hanks was the first who said, “I’m getting on the plane.” And then once he said he was getting on the plane, basically everyone said, “Well, Tom’s on the plane, we’re on the plane.” And so everyone flew [to Berlin to begin the film]. It was like this giant leap of faith. From all over the globe.
AVC: Was there anybody you really wanted for it that you just couldn’t get?
AW: No, I mean Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw. Those are all our—
LW: We had, like, the most amazing cast ever.
AVC: Almost everybody in the cast gets a chance to switch off between hero roles and villain roles, smaller roles and bigger roles. But Hugo Weaving is always the heavy. Why is that?
LW: He’s our evil muse.
AW: Hugo has some issues that he’s working out with us, I think.
LW: Yeah, people think it’s about us, but it’s really about him.
AW: [Laughs.] He’s so nice in his everyday life that he just—
LW: He needs that—
AW: Needs to play these baddies. [Laughs.]
AVC: How did you select who would direct which segment of the film?
LW: That was never really part of the process. We keep trying to explain to people that, first of all, the credit you see in the movie was this kooky thing invented by the Director’s Guild, because they couldn’t understand how three people could direct a movie together. And they have this convention that the only way directors can be multiply credited on a film is if it’s an anthology, so they invented this bizarre credit to allow their rules to make sense for our film. Our film transcended their conventions, and they refused to evolve their conventions, or at least grant an exception to our film. We worked on the movie for four years and we shot for only two and a half months, three months. So the actual on-the-set stuff in the film is so minimal, it’s hard for us to even talk about separating it. We wrote every word together—
AW: We prepped everything—
LW: Drew every storyboard—
AW: All the transitions are conceived by us.
LW: Every transition, all three of us together.
AW: And then we edited together. So the actual shooting period, we were in constant contact, we were always talking to each other.
LW: We were always Skyping.
AW: Texting, Skyping—
LW: We were next to each other on the sound stages. There’s lots of things that we shot, everyone shot in the six stories, so if we actually pointed to scenes and said, “Who shot that?,” no one would be able to guess.
AVC: How did Tom Tykwer work into your usual shared dynamic?
AW: Well, he plugged in incredibly easily. Much easier than we thought he would. We went on a working vacation to try to work through the book to see if we could even turn it into a script. Writing is the most intimate process when you’re making a movie, so we knew that if we could write together, everything else would fall into place. Our relationship has gotten really good on a movie set, because we’re natural collaborators. We can write together, and the way we work together extends to all our crew members and as a department. We believe that a film is made by the collective, so we encourage [input], and we love it when we’re making the movie together. And so with Tom, he is philosophically very similar to us with his filmmaking family, so when we started making the script, it was very fluid.
LW: Everyone always asks this question, and we find it slightly interesting and quite telling that nobody asks us how do we write together, which for us was the much bigger task. We have this strange thing, I think, that’s happened in the world that has to do with wanting to understand cinema the way we understand other art forms. So we look at an art form like painting, or sculpture, or writing, and we think about this singular person working all by themselves and trying to say something from their one perspective. We try to project that traditional, conventional understanding of how art is made onto cinema. But this is a false assumption. Cinema is not like those other art forms. And people have trouble understanding this—it doesn’t seem to compute.
Cinema is a social art form. You cannot make a piece of cinema by yourself. No matter what you do, no matter how controlling, no matter how crazy and Fitzcarraldo-bizarre or how crazy generally you try to be, yelling at people with your bullhorn, you can’t push a single pencil across the table without help. It’s just the way it is. The final product will always be a sum of all of the parts that are working on it. So if you want to understand cinema, you have to think about it as a social dynamic. And you have to investigate it and unpack it as a social project. And so for us, we went away and wanted to see first if we could write together. And once we determined we could write, we have such a great time together, just socially, we knew that directing would be a snap.
AVC: Your films all touch on themes of fascism, oppression, and abuse of power. Is there a reason that dynamic attracts you? Is it more that these are just good traditional story seeds?
LW: Power is something artists have been writing about since The Iliad. Okay, power is a part of the human experience. You see power dynamics trying to be understood in The Iliad, and you see them in The Master. It’s still the same excavation of power. Foucault gave us insight into power in the postmodern world, and now we understand it in a different way than Homer did, but power will be a subject in the human story, I think, as long as we’re human. [Laughs.] And so when we first read David Mitchell’s book, I thought it was an unbelievable examination of incredibly varied perspectives, and also the relationship between the responsibility we have to people we have power over, and the responsibility we have to the people who have power over us. Are we meant to just accept their conventional construct of whatever they imagine the world to be? Or are we obliged in some way to struggle against it? In the reverse, what is the obligation of the person whose life we have power over? Are they obliged to struggle against that conventional relationship? This is stuff of good stories.
AVC: In other interviews, you’ve talked about Jacques Derrida and deconstruction theory, and this sort of analysis of the historical and conceptual underpinnings of your work. Is it frustrating if people approach them as spectacle instead of on that elevated level?
LW: Yes, very.
AVC: But is there a way around that when you’re making action films? By making this film, are you trying to get away from action-centric films so viewers have more cues that this is something they should be analyzing and discussing?
LW: We don’t like boring movies. Dickens, Hugo, Melville, even Homer… these are artists who examined some very complex subjects, especially around power and responsibility and the grappling with understanding what humanity is underneath. These are people who worked very hard at that, but put their stories in a context that was really exciting to read. And in our market-driven approach to cinema, we have separated those things. We can no longer make movies that are exciting and thought-provoking. In our market-driven assessment of art, we say, “This is for the arthouse crowd, this is a mainstream movie for the mainstream crowd.” And if you make a movie that [isn’t narrowly defined], a lot of critics will automatically say, “Well this doesn’t even know if it’s supposed to be an arthouse film or a mainstream movie.” This projects a bias, this horrible, hideous bias of a market-driven approach to understanding art: First you have to separate it and categorize it before you can really understand it. David Mitchell basically said, “I don’t believe all of that, I don’t want to separate anything. I want everything in one thing.” It was almost like a political act, the publishing of Cloud Atlas.
There’s really complex ideas in the [Matrix] trilogy. [Laughs.] We think in some ways, it’s the most experimental, complicated trilogy ever made. And it’s frustrating to see people try to will that to not be true. But we know it’s true. And in the same way, people will try to will Cloud Atlas to be rejected. They will call it messy, or complicated, or undecided whether it’s trying to say something New Agey-profound or not. And we’re wrestling with the same things that Dickens and Hugo and David Mitchell and Herman Melville were wrestling with. We’re wrestling with those same ideas, and we’re just trying to do it in a more exciting context than conventionally you are allowed to.
AVC: Do you think about your audience at all? Do you think that The Matrix was made for the same audience as Cloud Atlas?
LW: Why are you asking a market-driven question when I just said, “Please don’t consider market-driven understandings of art”? Why do you want to delimit either of them?
AVC: Because I’m not talking about packaging or selling the film, I’m talking about your personal mindsets. Did you make both movies with the same intentions?
AW: Of course. Cloud Atlas is for everybody. The main character in the movie is humanity.
LW: The Matrix trilogy is for everyone. We approach our art in the same way with every story. We didn’t make Bound for just lesbians.
AVC: How do you keep passion and emotional intensity in a movie created via deconstruction theory? How do you keep it exciting and immediate when it’s an intellectually crafted conceptual object?
AW: We’ve got love in our hearts. We’ve got love for our craft, we’ve got love for the people that we collaborate with.
LW: And we’ve got love for the audience. We believe there are audiences out there like us. We think our careers are a testament to that fact that there are people out there like us.
AVC: Do you think of Cloud Atlas as being about literal reincarnation? Is it more about the commonality of human experience, or the eternal-recursion concept?
AW: We think it is equal parts spiritual and secular.
LW: Again, we don’t want to delimit interpretation, and we don’t want to say, “We are making this to mean this.” What we find is that the most interesting art is open to a spectrum of interpretation. We love that in the book, you can have a very secular understanding of something like reincarnation. We have the José Saramago line in there, which says the nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, which go on apportioning themselves throughout all time. This is a very secular understanding of karma. But there are also other things… my brother this week had the sweetest line ever, where he was like, “Of course I believe in reincarnation—look at my sister.” We, in our own lives, reincarnate as well. We have new lives. I’m sure there are people in your life who would see this version of you, as opposed to 20 years ago, and would say, “Wow, you’ve changed.”
AVC: There are certainly people trying to interpret the movie thematically, entirely through the lens of your own life. Do you think there’s value to that? Is it just another form of limitation?
LW: It’s a limitation.
AW: Yeah, Lana’s experience is a component to the film, certainly. But the book and the movie are much more than that.
LW: Andy’s life is in it, Tom’s life is in it, David Mitchell’s life is in it. There are things that are so profoundly David Mitchell, if you got to know him, you’d be like, “That is David Mitchell in there.” That’s what art is. So we are in a dialogue with the rest of the humans that are interested in being in a dialogue with us, and they’ll see parts of me, they’ll see parts of David, they’ll see parts of Andy or Tom.
AVC: Is there an ideal response to your work?
AW: “It’s great!” [Laughs.]
LW: The work in general, or Cloud Atlas?
AVC: Either. “It’s great” is a very positive response, but it’s on that surface level, as opposed to engaging in a dialogue or dissecting and absorbing the themes.
AW: Yeah, the response is, we hope, people go home or go out to dinner and talk about our movies the way we would when we were young, when our parents were taking us to films, and we would talk about films. The idea of it sparking some sort of dialogue is a response I’m happy with.
LW: All art is an invitation to abandon your point of view. An attempt to see the world in a different way. And if people authentically attempt to abandon their points of view and see the world from our perspective, then I think all comments they would make through that process would be legitimate and wonderful.
AW: The other thing is, as I’m getting older in this business, I’m getting less concerned with what the response is, to tell you the truth. The movie is the reward for me.
AVC: How does having the difficulty you had in getting this movie funded affect that? If the response is, “This is the greatest thing ever, give them another $100 million,” then you have the opportunity to keep making films on this level.
AW: Whatever happens, happens. If people go see it, great. If they don’t, the movie is the reward.
AVC: Speaking of getting people to see things through a new perspective, you’ve always been innovators in special effects and cinematic visual language. Is creating a new film language part of the attempt to show people a new perspective?
LW: Of course, of course. Some people are very happy to make art with the paint set they have, or the color palette they have. Some people are very happy with the literary forms they have, or that are traditionally placed in front of them. But we’re not so happy with the traditional.
AW: Why would you want to limit yourself in terms of the tools you use? It just makes sense that you would try to use new tools, new innovations to make new kinds of movies.
AVC: There isn’t as much of that in Cloud Atlas, except in the transformational aspect of changing the actors’ race and gender.
LW: It’s the most experimental tonal structure in the history of cinema.
AVC: Yes, in terms of writing and structuring, but less so in the visual arena. Is that because you were doing so many things and the focus was more on innovation in storytelling?
AW: Partially, we wanted to hearken back to the films that inspired us to become filmmakers. Having the weight of that language was important to us, because if it was new and done on the slickest new digital camera, it would feel not of that world.
LW: And David Mitchell has a love of traditional form. The book is joyful in its evocation of older works, and we wanted to also access some of that kind of textural cinematic feeling. So we shot on older stocks, we shot with a camera. It’s very grainy, it has all of these more traditional things that we associate with large-scale adult films, and we wanted to try to evoke that in the same way David evokes these more traditional literary forms.
AVC: The cuts between storylines at the beginning of the film seem blunt and abrupt, but as you go on, it seems like the transitions get softer, with more sonic overlap and more rhyming between the stories. Was that intentional?
LW: It’s extremely intentional. The introduction shows you the world undivided. And it’s usually too much, and people get lost and freaked out. And then in the middle of that, [one of Broadbent’s characters says] “Well, my sense of experience as an editor has led me to disdain flashbacks and flash-forwards, and also tricks and gimmicks. If you, dear reader—dear watcher—can extend your patience for just a minute, you’ll see there’s a method to our tale of madness.” And then we very distinctly lay out the six different eras, and we give you a title for each, and let you know where it is, and make them all separate, the way we conventionally understand the separation of genre, tone, and time. So genre, tone, and time have these walls, these barriers between them. You’re not supposed to mix these genres, you’re not supposed to mix these time periods. We think of the past as something separate from ourselves.
That’s how it was back then. We think of the future as something we can’t deal with, we have to deal with the present. That’s not our concern, the future. And so what David does in his novel is, he begins to break down all of those barriers. And that was very conscious in the movie. We wanted to achieve the same thing. So the introduction ends with the six separate pieces being laid out and then Chang [one of Jim Sturgess’ characters] says—to the audience, essentially—“You can stay here, or you can come with me.” And then from that point on, we begin to dissolve some of the barriers and some of the boundaries between genre, tone, and time to suggest a wider breadth of humanity.
AVC: Some viewers will certainly draw a parallel between Chang’s “Make this defining choice about your future” moment, and the red-pill/blue-pill choice in The Matrix. Was that on your minds at all?
LW: Not especially.
AW: Choices are always thematically engrained in our—
LW: Yeah, choice is an element to our traditional, conventional understanding of identity. Even though in the second Matrix movie we attempted to deconstruct that very supposition, choice is still, like… [Russian author Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn suggests the downfall of Communism is essentially linked to the idea that identity is inextricably linked to property, and choice is one of the ways we understand ourselves, even to a simple choice like, “I like this kind of movie.” “I don’t like movies that make me think too much.” [Laughs.]
AVC: You’ve said in other interviews that you want to escape creating movies that tell people how to think, or feel, or respond in the moment. How does that work its way into the content? How do you approach that goal?
LW: Well that was our mission in the trilogy, really. That, I think, was expressed specifically about the trilogy. Because movies are obviously Matrixes themselves—they tell you how to think, they tell you how to feel, they tell you how to be. We were not going to be satisfied with a trilogy that behaved just like every other trilogy, how every other trilogy works. We wanted to see if we could unplug people from that conventional approach to cinema in the same way that Neo was unplugged.
AVC: Again, it seems difficult to approach such a rarified goal in a film that’s so action- and spectacle-driven, in a film with so many sequences that seem designed to overwhelm people’s intellects.
LW: Again, we don’t want to make it dull—I mean, it’s not like an experimental college film. It’s still a large-scale—it has an audience that transcends the audience that will ever understand deconstructionist theory. Yet people feel it emotionally. I mean, the end of the second movie is the scene with the Architect. And, I mean—[to Andy] should we maybe not get into talking about this?
AW: [Laughs.] Maybe not.
LW: But just in very broad strokes, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if instead of a traditional ending, where you have the hero combat the villain, or achieve something through force of arms, essentially, at the climactic moment of the film, if you could somehow insert the audience into that role of protagonist, and you could actually put the audience into feeling like they were in the fight?” We wanted to have the audience be Neo in a way they had never experienced before, in a more subconscious way.
AW: A kung-fu fight of understanding. [Laughs.]
LW: There’s a trick where if someone is saying something complicated, and in particular if they’re using big words, audiences will stare at the mouth of the person that’s speaking. We just do it unconsciously. It helps us understand what someone’s saying. So we thought, “Well, what if someone is actually saying this incredibly big secret, and then you show a background behind him, and at first, you leave the background consistent, but then you slowly start changing the background? And then your eyes will go from the Architect to the background to Neo in the background, and then back, and then you’ll start to miss things, and you’ll get a little lost and confused, and then you’ll get frustrated, and then you’ll have no idea what he’s saying.
AVC: Is that an attempt to make people re-watch and analyze the movies?
LW: There’s a conscious goal to offer a form that invites a kind of abandonment they’ve never experienced before, and if they want to keep going back to investigate that other perspective, that’s great. But at least in the beginning, they’re going to know it’s going to be like nothing they’ve been in before.
AM: I mean, those are the types of films that we want to watch. Why would you want to watch a movie that you instantly know everything about it, and you go home and you don’t have to see it again?
LW: Most films today, we could watch the first five minutes and tell you exactly what’s going to happen. And especially, there are, let’s call them arthouse movies, that have tones that are so militant, you know from just the tone in the first five minutes exactly how the movie is going to go. There’s no surprise whatsoever in the entire film.
AVC: What was the last really fundamentally satisfying movie you saw?
LW: Roy Andersson.
AW: Songs From The Second Floor, just beautiful.
AVC: What’s next for you?
LW: [Laughs.] Next. Next. We don’t even see the next thing on the horizon. No, normally, we like to take a long period of time off. But unfortunately, we’re broke, so we have to go back to work.
AVC: Are you planning on returning to Cobalt Neural 9, the project you were working on while waiting for Cloud Atlas funding?
AW: Yeah, we’ve got $5 million of our own money into it, so that’s definitely—we’ve made an investment. And we have an emotional investment, too, because we think the story is fantastic, and if we can’t make it in one form, we’ll make it in another form. Somehow, it will get made into some… thing. That might be a puppet show. [Laughs.]
LW: [Gestures at the office.] We’ll put it on here.
AVC: At this point, do you have a snappy answer to the Matrix battery question that keeps coming up?
AW: The battery question?
AVC: It seems like for anyone who doesn’t like The Matrix, or has issues with it, the big criticism has always been that human beings don’t produce enough energy to make a worthwhile power source. That there would be more energy going into maintaining the system than it could produce.
LW: That’s like saying a car battery wouldn’t be able to power a car. The whole point is that it’s related to this other, larger energy source. [The pods humans are kept in] even look like spark plugs in the thing. It’s not that they’re the pure source of energy—they provide the continuous sparking that the system needs.
AW: There’s an ambiguous line in there that Morpheus says about it, that there’s a new form of fusion energy—
LW: But people don’t listen to the dialogue. They don’t try to think about it. [Sighs.]