How do I even explain “Cloud Atlas”?
I’m sure you’ve all heard about it by now. If you haven’t, watch the trailer here. I’m giving you the long one, but it’s a good one. Which, actually, is quite like the film itself. It has a run time of about 2:45, if you exclude trailers and include a small chunk of the credits. But, honestly, it never truly felt like a 3 hour movie. When a movie feels long, that tends to be because the pacing and storytelling are lacking. Instead, this movie felt like a series of stories that the audience was invested in right from the first moment they started, yet no story outshone the other.
The movie tells six tales throughout different periods of time, based on the novel of the same name by David Mitchell. Three of the stories were directed by the Wachowski siblings, Lana and Andy, of Matrix franchise fame, and the other three were directed by Tom Tykwer of “Run, Lola, Run” fame. The stories must truly be told as separate entities in order to have a hope of understanding.
“The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” tells the tale of a young man, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), and Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and their differing reactions to the suffering of man. In particular, the suffering of black men. Ewing, who simply wants to go home to his wife and finish a contract for his father, is pushed into a moral quandary when a young black slave, Autua (David Gyasi) stows away on the ship carrying him there.
“Letters from Zedelghem” is a story about a musician in the 1930s, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), attempting to work with renowned composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) to truly create the greatest piece of music the world has ever heard. He finds himself reading Ewing’s journal, as well as writing several letters to the man he loves, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy). Human greed and the devils of human nature come into play in this story, as they do in Ewing’s.
“Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery” is a story about young journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) befriending an elderly Dr. Sixsmith, thanks to a broken elevator. When he calls her late at night and attempts to give her a copy of a report about the nuclear power plant he works at, and is then found dead, Rey decides to dig deep into the potential conspiracy, likely led by the owner of the plant, Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). She reads through the letters Forbisher gave to Sixsmith during the time of this story.
“The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” tells the present day tale of one Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent), a publisher who makes a small fortune after a novelist he represents, Dermot Hoggins (Hanks), throws a critic of his book over the balcony at a party. Problem is, Hoggins and his gangster brood want their money, which Cavendish has spent. So, he’s forced to turn to his brother Denholme (Grant) for help. Unfortunately, due to an affair Timothy had with his brother’s wife (Whishaw), Denholme sends him to a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”-esque nursing home, run by the sadistic Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving).
“An Orison of Sonmi~451” is a futuristic tale, set in Neo-Seoul, where humans have been split into two classes: Pure bloods and fabricants. The fabricants are essentially manufactured slaves, clones all waiting tables at a restaurant, with no real lives or freedom of their own. Sonmi~451 (Bae Doona) ends up falling in love with a rebel, Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess), who attempts to free her from her imprisonment and end the subjugation of the fabricants.
“Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” is a post-apocalyptic futuristic story about a simple valley person, a goat herder named Zachry (Hanks), attempting to help a prescient, Meronym (Berry), reach the top of a mountain the valley people refuse to go to. Zachry, plagued by devilish visions (Weaving), must learn to trust Meronym through their time together, overcoming their differences in technology and upbringing.
Throughout each tale, actors repeat different roles. Different characters are found bearing the same comet star birth mark in different places on their bodies. Each tale tends to host its own version of suffering verses love, of greed verses humanity, of life and of death. Told in no order, edited to cut back and forth between the various stories, the movie is a bit of a beast, but it somehow never loses its audience. I will admit that, at points, the speech of the post-apocalyptic tale was difficult to follow, but not impossible.
What fascinates me most about “Cloud Atlas” isn’t the idea of reincarnation it potentially espouses or shared consciousnesses or past lives or whatnot… Nor is it the idea that life repeats itself in many different ways through many different tales. These are story elements that have often been considered and occasionally explored. What fascinates me is the multiple casting of principle actors throughout these stories. To me, it seems to espouse an idea of all people playing a part in someone’s story, somehow. Sometimes, the story is yours, sometimes it’s someone else’s, but we all can play a role.
The movie is gorgeous, and the makeup and costuming are, I think, practically shoe-ins for the Oscars (though “Anna Karenina” and its period pieces may steal costumes). The movie is compelling, emotional and attention-grabbing. More importantly, it’s attention-keeping. There is some amount of nudity (female, though we do see a man’s butt), as well as some sex. Also, the movie holds some scenes of graphic and violent natures. It doesn’t hold back. The movie, though, manages to be a commentary on love, on liberty, on the will and rights of man, while also being humorous and filled with action and excitement. It can be shocking and upsetting, and it can be heart-warming and life-affirming.
Really, the movie is one of the most cathartic and epic story-telling attempts I’ve ever seen. Technically speaking, the movie is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen, particularly with editing, score, makeup and costumes. Acting-wise, they’re all powerhouses, and Hanks in particular pulls of a fantastically amazing display of portraying six memorable and distinguishable characters. Frankly, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t go watch it as soon as possible.