This uneven but always fascinating adaptation of David Mitchell’s bestseller consists of six different stories from six different genres set in six different time periods and featuring six different sets of characters. But they’re all connected!
Instead of replicating the novel’s Russian Doll-like nesting structure, the film-makers (Andy and Lana Washowski, and Tom Tykwer) opt for a cinematic collage in which the ebb and flow of the narrative extends across the different time periods, which are linked by recurring motifs such as a birthmark shaped like a comet, a musical sextet, and by the same actors playing a wide range of different characters, sometimes swapping race and gender.
It’s an astonishing technological and logistical achievement (read more about it here) and a triumph of editing. But for the purposes of Cats on Film we shall home in on just one scene, from what in the novel is the fourth story, The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, set in 2012 (the year in which the film was made) and, genre-wise, a comic mash-up of Kingsley Amis, Tom Sharpe and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Sixty-five-year-old publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) has fled London, where the thuggish brothers of one of his clients are looking for him. On his way to seek refuge at an address recommended by his brother, he stops off to gaze at an ivy-covered house and reminisce about losing his virginity there with a young woman called Ursula. There’s a flashback to (presumably) the 1960s.
Believing her parents to be in Greece, the young couple have been spending the weekend in bed and are on the point of engaging once again in serious amorous manoeuvres when the door opens and Ursula’s parents enter the room! Young Cavendish (Robin Morrissey) leaps to his feet, naked, and grabs the nearest thing to hand to cover his genitalia – which happens to be the grey tabby glimpsed earlier minding its own business next to Timothy’s leg (on which can be glimpsed the same comet-shaped birthmark we have seen on characters in the other stories).
Young Cavendish has just time enough to say, “Sir, Madam, I assure you this is completely innocent…” before the cat, understandably miffed at being seized and commandeered as an impromptu codpiece, sinks its claws into his private parts. With a yell, the young man hurls the animal across the room and falls backwards out of the bedroom window to land on his back in a shrub. We are not told what happens to the cat, but it almost certainly lands on its feet and immediately wanders off down towards the kitchen, in search of food.
Cavendish’s voice-over takes over the story as we return to his older self in the present. “Two sprained ankles, one cracked rib. Official cause of accident, listed on the hospital form? Pussy.”
Thus the cat’s role is brief, but memorable. It starts out as a snoozy CATPANION, morphs into CATZILLA (scratch!) before quickly displaying elements of CATSHOCK (shriek!), CATGUFFIN (causing someone to fall out of a window) and CATSCALLION (general all-round unpredictability).
Or perhaps we need a new category – THE MODESTY CAT.*
*A tip of the hat to Maitland McDonagh for “Modesty Cat”. This CAT OF THE DAY is dedicated to the memory of her very wonderful Chip.