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The Wachowskis Finally Revealed in an Excellent New Yorker Profile

by
September 3, 2012
Source: New Yorker

The Wachowskis

Ever since movie fans, myself included, were awe-struck and amazed by The Matrix in 1999, they've been trying to learn more about the two individuals behind the technically groundbreaking film, Lana (formerly Larry) and Andy Wachowski. But they have been notoriously shy. They added a no-press clause to their contract for Matrix, and have never done press since. But 13 years have passed, and all of that now changes. Not only with their appearance in the Cloud Atlas trailer intro, but they're now doing press. And the New Yorker has published a phenomenal 8-page, start-to-finish profile on the filmmakers, their life, and their career, leading directly into the making of, and delivery of, their most ambitious movie yet - Cloud Atlas.

The New Yorker's piece is titled "The Wachowskis' World beyond The Matrix", written by Aleksandar Hemon, and fully details their entire history, from early origins and family background, to every film they've made (except Speed Racer) and studio troubles along the way. Whenever an in-depth profile like this is published, I anxiously read every word. That was the case here, but I couldn't stop reading, caught up in every last detail being revealed. It's an incredible piece, getting into every rumor anyone has had about them and their movies and beyond. The focus, however, is mostly Cloud Atlas, premiering later this week at TIFF.

The most I can say is to honestly just read the entire piece in full, even if you don't like the Wachowskis (or the Matrix sequels). It's fascinating, and they cover some brilliant topics regarding their work. For example:

"'Cloud Atlas' is a twenty-first-century novel," Lana said. "It represents a midpoint between the future idea that everything is fragmented and the past idea that there is a beginning, a middle, and an end." As she spoke, she was screwing and unscrewing two halves of some imaginary thing—its future and its past—in her hands. If the movie worked, she continued, it would allow the filmmakers to "reconnect to that feeling we had when we were younger, when we saw films that were complex and mysterious and ambiguous. You didn’t know everything instantly."

Andy agreed. "'Cloud Atlas' is our getting back to the spectacle of the sixties and seventies, the touchstone movies," he said, rubbing his bald dome like a magic lantern.

The model for their vision, they explained, was Stanley Kubrick’s "2001: A Space Odyssey," which the Wachowskis had first seen when Lana, then Larry, was ten and Andy seven.

They also go on to cover the origins of Bound, The Matrix (and the struggles they went through making the sequels) as well as the idea behind the still-unseen project Cobalt Neural 9 ("grown out of their frustration with the Bush Presidency and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan"). However, I'm excited about Cloud Atlas. Not only is it their latest feature film since Speed Racer in 2008, but it looks amazing. Not just visually amazing, but it looks like it gets into the meaning of life and humanity itself. Here's one of my favorite quotes about their process of breaking down the six storylines in David Mitchell's novel to turn into a script:

The main challenge was the novel’s convoluted structure: the chapters are ordered chronologically until the middle of the book, at which point the sequence reverses; the book thus begins and ends in the nineteenth century. This couldn’t work in a film. “It would be impossible to introduce a new story ninety minutes in,” Lana said. The filmmakers’ initial idea was to establish a connective trajectory between Dr. Goose, a devious physician who may be poisoning Ewing, in the earliest story line, and Zachry, the tribesman on whose moral choices the future of civilization hinges, after the Fall. They had no idea what to do with all the other story lines and characters. They broke the book down into hundreds of scenes, copied them onto colored index cards, and spread the cards on the floor, with each color representing a different character or time period. The house looked like “a Zen garden of index cards,” Lana said. At the end of the day, they’d pick up the cards in an order that they hoped would work as the arc of the film. Reading from the cards, Lana would then narrate the rearranged story. The next day, they’d do it again.

But the final breakthrough on bringing these stories together was the idea of using the same actors playing different roles in each storyline (as we highlighted here). "They could convey the idea of eternal recurrence, which was so central to the novel, by having the same actors appear in multiple story lines—'playing souls, not characters,' in Tykwer's words. This would allow the narrative currents of the book to merge and to be separate at the same time." It's one of the aspects of Cloud Atlas that I'm the most excited to see, to watch how Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving and Halle Berry play six different characters, it should be enchanting.

The other interesting topic discussed often is how many struggles they've had with movie studios, including even Warner Bros, who is releasing Cloud Atlas, but not after refusing to fund or make the movie for many years simply because it compared too much to the (financial failure of) The Fountain, one of their past movies. ("It is hard to grasp how often this movie has been dead and resurrected," Lana said of Cloud Atlas.) What a joke. Which is pretty much what they say, too. Another one of my favorite quotes from the piece:

"The problem with market-driven art-making is that movies are green-lit based on past movies," Lana told me. "So, as nature abhors a vacuum, the system abhors originality. Originality cannot be economically modelled." The template for "The Matrix," the Wachowskis recalled, had been "Johnny Mnemonic," a 1995 Keanu Reeves flop.

Damn straight. Just because The Fountain failed to find its audience doesn't mean Cloud Atlas will fail, too. It also doesn't mean it will succeed either. And I've heard both Warner Bros and the Wachowskis' say that this is all just a big experiment. A very artistic, very original, very ambitious experiment, one that could pay off in spades like The Matrix, but only if the studio is as confident in it as these two are. That seems to be the case ("a spontaneous burst of applause"), but their push hasn't been strong yet. However, the movie is premiering at the Toronto Film Festival this coming Saturday, September 9th. I'll be there. I wouldn't be anywhere else - in the entire world. I can't wait for this cinematic experience (even if I end up disliking it).

Suffice it to say, this New Yorker profile is one of the best I've ever read about filmmakers, the kind I truly admire and consider an inspiration for the way the rest of us should conduct interviews. Thanks for finally coming out and telling your stories, Andy and Lana. Let's hope this Cloud Atlas "experiment" is as fruitful as we're all hoping. So that these two can continue to tell more original, exciting, ambitious cinematic stories.

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  • http://twitter.com/davide_coppola Davide Coppola
    I always thought Larry was a dude.. Ops :)
    • Efterklang
      Well, he WAS.
    • SkylerB619
      I think Lana used to be a dude. I don't really know anything so obviously take this with a grain of salt. But Lana was born Laurence and The Wachowskis no longer go by the Wachowski Brothers.
    • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Alex Billington
      She was once. Read the New Yorker piece, it explains his/her story: In third grade, Larry transferred to a Catholic school, where boys and girls wore different uniforms and stood in separate lines before class. “I have a formative memory of walking through the girls’ line and hesitating, knowing that my clothes didn’t match,” Lana told me. “But as I continued on I felt I did not belong in the other line, so I just stopped in between them. I stood for a long moment with everyone staring at me, including the nun. She told me to get in line. I was stuck—I couldn’t move. I think some unconscious part of me figured I was exactly where I belonged: betwixt.” Larry was often bullied for his betwixtness. “As a result, I hid and found tremendous solace in books, vastly preferring imagined worlds to this world,” Lana said. Lana completed her divorce and met and fell in love with the woman who became her second wife, in 2009. “I chose to change my exteriority to bring it closer into alignment with my interiority,” she told me. “My biggest fears were all about losing my family. Once they accepted me, everything else has been a piece of cake.
  • rocky728
    Love these guys and all their works. I like how they think so outside of the box often times, sometimes to their detriment when their ideas are too highbrow I envy you Alex that you get to see the film this week. I read the book and I'm doing a second read now (still) and even though I'm excited for it I can see it being a hard sell. Let me just add about the industry not rewarding originality. I can't put it all on them if audiences don't respond when new things are tried, it is a business after all not charity or art for art's sake
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001009395167 Marc Arsenault
    They made the Matrix 2 and 3 and one of them had a cowerdly sex change. Three strikes little to no respect for them. They got luck with the first Matrix.
    • RobOh
      A "cowerdly" sex change? What the hell is that supposed to mean?
      • axalon
        Seriously, who says things like that?
        • soulhack
          Marc Assnut says things like that. odd. really.
          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001009395167 Marc Arsenault
            It makes no sense.
          • soulhack
            You should just read the article maybe it makes more sense to you. And when you get older, go and study abroad or travel, meet people from different cultures and countries and maybe your mind will open up a bit.
          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001009395167 Marc Arsenault
            Not to freaks.
      • soulhack
        In what way is it cowardly? Who is he tricking? He's still attracted to women. Are you afraid Marc? Afraid that he might "trick" you. I know you're very young n all, but try not to be so selfish and focus on Lana's art instead of her sexual exteriority. It's 2012, seriously, who the hell cares?
        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001009395167 Marc Arsenault
          If it stills likes woman why have a sex change!?
          • soulhack
            Dude. I don't know what more to say except: You will (hopefully) understand when you grow up. People are different. That's the way of the world.
          • fg
            No,no ,no ,no ! Men wear pants and bring home the bacon and women stay at home in the kitchen! ;)
      • meh
        lol. How is it to live in a black and white world?
      • Lagoya
        I agree completely
        • meh
          Really? A sex change is something as easy as drinking a glass of water? As easy as changing a pair of socks?
          • Lagoya
            Some people are born without limbs or with learning difficulties, this man/woman/thing was born perfectly fine yet decided to f**k with nature just for the heck of it. it's just stupid and doesn't make sense. he/she/it should have just given thanks and learned to be happy the way it is, erm... was.
      • meh
        Looks like he believes a transgender male is inherently gay,hence cowerdly since he now she can't "man up" to it and is such a "pussy " about it.
  • Cody W
    I guess Im just old fashioned in this wackass modern world, but if your born a dude...you stay a dude. Feed me all the "as long as he/shes happy" bs all you want, but thats just wrong.
    • axalon
      What's it like not being able to experience empathy for another human being? Must make watching movies really boring.
      • Lagoya
        empathy? more like a f**king freak!! brain wiring went all wrong somewhere in the womb or maybe it thinks it's in the matrix lol!
        • fg
          Yeah!Let's gather all the freaks and have them gassed or burned at the stake!How dare they live on the same planet as the rest of "normal" people!
      • axalon
        Society is turning into something alright.
      • meh
        You should see the movie "The Skin I live In".You are gonna love it.
    • fg
      It's wrong for you and that is fine.But it's not wrong for Larry now Lana.For Lana it was wrong to stay a dude.It's the same gut feeling or at least equal for Lana about staying a dude as it is for you about Larry changing his gender.
  • Neuromancer
    Guess we can't have an article about the Wachowskis without comments resorting to some of the choices Lana made. Discussing right or wrong.... some of you people are just plain dolts. Come on dudes, Cloud Atlas !
    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001009395167 Marc Arsenault
      Then leave
      • Neuromancer
        That doesn't even make any sense.
      • redskulllives
        you leave you donkey cock sucker
    • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Alex Billington
      Hear hear!
  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.groves.507 Chris Groves
    The Fountain is terribly under-rated, in my opinion. It is one of the most re-watchable movies out there. It's a rather short, efficient, 90 minutes of thought provoking cinema that can be interpreted many different ways.
    • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Alex Billington
      I totally agree. Loved The Fountain, I think it's underrated as well. Aronofsky made a beautiful film, I really admire it, even at its budget and scale.
      • Richie G
        All my comments from yesterday are gone and I'm pretty sure there were a lot more comments from other people too. I didn't write anything offensive so whats the deal? I think Disqus has been a step backward for this site (Also disqus is a spell check on disqus... disqus fail)
        • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Alex Billington
          Which comments are you referring to? Disqus has been running smooth as far as I can tell. We only remove offensive/rude comments or those that are off topic. Can you confirm? Thanks.
          • Richie G
            I left comments on this page (one of which got a reply from Carpola, but the original is gone), the Carrey Kickass story, the Avatar page and the Michael Clarke Duncan page. Other people left comments on that page asking why their comments were removed, but they're not there anymore
  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.groves.507 Chris Groves
    This comment section makes me facepalm. But it's okay, I remember when I was a few years younger and wasn't accepting of differences and was a bit of an a$$hole as a result of it. I like to think it's a phase most people grow out of, but unfortunately I don't think it is.
    • fg
      Some people grow up and some just get old.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7YGEVuJ4mM Carpola
    I'm up for checking it, don't know anything about the book, but I heard good things. Never saw The Fountain, but have the graphic novel and love that. I like what they say about being creative and original, but I think it's harder to please people these days. So dumbing a film down seems the way forward for a lot of studios. I think Lana looks happier, that's about all I'll need to say on the subject.
    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7YGEVuJ4mM Carpola
      Hey Richie, before the film was made Aronofsky thought it might not get funded so he worked with Kent Williams to at least get the story made into a book. Kent Williams work is pretty amazing, he's up there with my favourite artists. It's available on Amazon, pretty cheap, I got it at a discount in my local comic store. Well worth it.
  • Kyle Robinson
    Cloud Atlas will indeed FAIL to find its audience just like The Fountain. I'm calling it now.
  • fem!anon
    There were some dumbasses on Tumblr having a rage fit over 'yellow face' and how they could've hired actual Asian actors, and I was raging back, "NO. THAT WOULD DEFEAT THE PURPOSE OF THE STORY." Jesus. I AM Asian and I was just overwhelmed by such idiocy. That being said, I'm really excited about this film. REALLY excited. And I'm happy for the Wachowski siblings.
  • http://twitter.com/txshurricane Jim
    They can go back into media blackout, as far as I'm concerned. If there were ever two people utterly detached from reality, it's the Wachowskis.
  • matt mccluskey
    Your date in the last sentence is incorrect. Saturday is Sept 8th, Sunday is Sept 9th. Good read. Thanks.

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