Repeating Motif: Wachowski Starship and Tom Tykwer on Cloud Atlas

Why the formerly reclusive directors have finally entered the public eye, and why Bound is a more feminist film than Thelma & Louise.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Lana and Andy Wachowski had never made public appearances, let alone media appearances, in the 13 years I had been covering movies. Cloud Atlas has changed all that, so even in a roundtable interview, I took the opportunity to ask them some major questions about their larger body of work. I was able to have some solid personal interaction, except for one follow-up question from another journalist that I included here for reasons that will be obvious when you read it. The Wachowskis joined co-director Tom Tykwer, with whom they directed Cloud Atlas, opening Friday.

CraveOnline: Lana and Andy, I’m very glad to meet you for the first time. Why have you been reclusive in the past and what brought you out for Cloud Atlas?

Lana Wachowski: Well, first we wanted to say, I hope you didn’t take it personally that we didn’t do press. We didn’t mean it as a rejection of this process or a rejection of the people in this process. We feel that anonymity allows you a way to participate in the world, and particularly participate in civic space. Once you lose your anonymity, that door, that access to that way of being is denied to you. And we didn’t want to give that up. We love that aspect of our lives, of our humanity and we didn’t want to lose it. In the end, we met this beautiful human being. Just like in the movie, encountering someone can change your life. We encountered him. He does engage in this process. He told us, “Don’t be afraid.” And he engages in it in a very authentic and very I think inspiring way, and at the same time, the movie itself is about engagement with the world, that if you want to imagine a better world, the only way to achieve that better world is a process of engagement. And we wanted to maybe help make the world, or at least help participate in the imagining of another world, so here we are, engaged.

Do you feel pressure to challenge the very style of filmmaking each time out?

Lana Wachowski: It doesn’t come from a negative impulse like we’re rejecting this conventional form.

I didn’t mean it negatively. I should rephrase: Is a certain boldness of storytelling something you need to strive for each time?

Andy Wachowski: Well, I mean, we don’t want to make the same movie over and over. We want to be challenged and we want to find something to do that’s new and different. This movie in particular was an opportunity to do something. Talk about breaking down convention, the idea of working with another director who we admire so much and had a love affair with his movies and him, the man himself, and the idea of bringing our two crews together who in a way are extensions of us, and all getting into a sandbox and playing together sounded like something that would be life-altering to us. So when those opportunities present themselves to you, you have to jump at them.

Tom Tykwer: It’s probably something, among so many other things, that we share, the desire to, if you enter the process of making film, whatever it is, it is a quite exhausting and very intensive process. The imagination to enter that process, and making movies that are like many, many other movies is just, I don't think we would do it. There’s people who are really loving the sheer craft on it, which I do respect actually because I think it is a craft and we do too of course, but I think if I don’t have this extra bit of the idea that it might be something unlike anything else – and of course you can always fail anyways in that attempt – unlike anything else I’ve done before or maybe even seen before, then I have a motivational problem. To abandon any kind of private life, to live these years and years of intensity that’s so tunnel focused, the tunnel focus to keep it alive is really challenging.

Lana Wachowski: It would seem a logical conclusion that you would find in all of our work a resistance to convention inside the thematic elementary particles of the stories and the themes. There is a repeating motif of the transcendental power of love, right? That love allows you to transcend certain things and that there are conventional power structures that you must attempt to transcend. So that this theme would be repeated in the work and that the work would actually represent that theme, doesn’t seem like a narrative leap.

Even with Bound. Could there still be an intimate Bound type story in this framework you’re talking about?

Lana Wachowski: But another huge traditional convention, if women took on a male patriarchy they were always doomed to lose. This was the first film I think in history that suggested that two gay women could take on a male patriarchal structure.

Andy Wachowski: And have a happy ending.

Lana Wachowski: And go off and live happily ever after. At the same time that movie was coming out, Thelma and Louise was coming out and Thelma and Louise actually suggests the traditional understanding of the paradigm which is if two women take on the male patriarchy, then your only hope is to just kill yourself.

Andy Wachowski: Drive off a cliff.

Lana Wachowski: And that was heralded as like a feminist film. Go figure that.

[Another journalist follows up: Did they ever talk about that with Susan Sarandon, who starred in Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas?]

Lana Wachowski: Of course. The day we met her. She liked Bound better too.

Tom Tykwer: That’s the truth? I didn’t know that.

Regarding Bound, I should have asked simply if you had an idea that’s not special effects or sci-fi driven?

Lana Wachowski: We sort of take them one at a time because you want to, as you evolve, as you grow, you’re looking for material that is reflective of where you are at that point in your life.

Will Jupiter Ascending require you to create any new technology like The Matrix and Speed Racer did?

Lana Wachowski: We’re not there yet. We’re not on that planet yet.