Movies that play with time-space dimensions are always amazing, and make you think about the bigger structures and ideas that shape our world, and our cities. One such movie is Cloud Atlas, with six intertwined worlds across centuries of time (from the 18th to the 22nd century). As a systems thinker, I love the themes of societal structure, oppression, revolution and an individual’s impact on the larger constellation of things that come back throughout the film. Despite of the diverse criticisms it received, and maybe because I have not read the book it is based on, I enjoyed the full three hours of Cloud Atlas.
The most dazzling part of the movie has to be Neo-Seoul, a near-future city with a totalitarian system in Korea, built next to the Old-Seoul, which has been largely ruined and submerged by water.
Neo-Seoul is an Orwellian representation of a 22nd century city in state built on corporatist conformism, with citizens being nothing more than consumers, forced to be as mindless as possible. The stunning visuals both show a utopian and a dystopian city. A dark city with neon lightning, highways being no more than energy paths in the sky, and capitalism everywhere. People in the lower ends of the societal spectrum live in shantytowns built atop the remnants of skyscrapers from Old-Seoul, which are now largely underwater.
In that sense Saskia Sassen was right (or rather the film makers thought along Sassen’s lines), with the world’s global cities becoming more and more polarized. The funny thing here is - analog to ‘our world’ - that the ‘workers’ neighbourhoods’ in Neo Seoul are the most lively parts of the city and not much different from our rougher residential areas. This is where Neo Seoul shows an energetic mixed urban area, with many people in the streets, street food and entertainment, but also crime looming. It somehow seems that these kinds of urban areas haven’t changed much over centuries, from medieval Europe to modern India and future Seoul.
All images by George Hull.