“Cloud Atlas” is a work of ambition. Written and directed by three directors—Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski, “Cloud Atlas” is better enjoyed if you see it more from its substance rather than its form. And it is quite complicated too, so it is not a good choice for you who look for an easy entertainment. Perhaps half of its viewers will feel that “Cloud Atlas” is just a boring movie that goes too talky and too long, but another half—that understand it more to the deeper layer—may be astonished by it. I have a chance to watch it just now because it has just released in local cinemas some days ago, and surely feel lucky to choose such a smart, deeply valued movie like this.
Adapted from a novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” is almost three-hour long, because it wraps six different eras with six different stories:
- First, a voyage across the Pacific Ocean in 1849 where a lawyer, Adam Ewing (played by Jim Sturgess), gets help due to his illness from Dr. Henry Goose (played by Tom Hanks) and helps a slave, Autua (played by David Gyasi), to work for the captain.
- Second, a love letter from a gay composer, Robert Frobisher (played by Ben Wishaw), to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith (young, played by James D’Arcy), that tells him how he works with a well-known composer, Vyvyan Ayrs (played by Jim Broadbent), in Britain, 1930s.
- Third, a thriller story in USA, 1970s, when a reporter, Luisa Rey (played by Halle Berry), investigates a case on the nation’s nuclear power that involves Rufus Sixsmith (old, played by James D’Arcy)—a professor, Isaac Sachs (played by Tom Hanks)—a scientist, Alberto Grimaldi (played by Hugh Grant)—a CEO, and Joe Napier (played by Keith David) and Bill Smoke (played by Hugo Weaving), security agents.
- Fourth, a comedy story in 2012 of Timothy Cavendish (played by Jim Broadbent), a publisher, who is eventually sent to a nursery home by his brother, Denholme (played by Hugh Grant), because he owes him some money.
- Fifth, a story in Neo Seoul, 2144, where Sonmi-451 (played by Donna Bae), a clone working in a restaurant, is asked to join a revolutionary organization by Hae-Joo Chang (played by Jim Sturgess) to change this neo-slavery system in the country.
- Sixth and the final, a story far in the future where Zachry (played by Tom Hanks), a tribesman, meets Meronym (played by Halle Berry), an advanced people of the Prescients, who needs guidance to reach the highest mountain peak for her mission.
The three directors share the task of directing in such an order that every director handles specific storyline, not the six altogether. It is good actually, because finally every storyline has similar composition—not any storylines are longer than the others. More or less, I find a bit similarity between “Cloud Atlas” and Paul T. Anderson’s “Magnolia” due to its style of storytelling. Both presents their multi-story by jumping from one to another and wrapping them into one big storyline, instead of separating them and letting them finish by themselves (like fragments in an omnibus). But, of course, “Cloud Atlas” is way more complicated than “Magnolia” because it has many stories that happened in different time and places. Even these stories have their own genres and plots that barely have a connection to other stories. It is the theme that connects them: the pseudo-science of interconnectivity of lives beyond place and time.
It talks about how souls transform into different roles in different lives and how past, present time, and future are connected through an indescribable power of universe that makes similar events always occur repeatedly through time. That’s why, I think, the actors are tasked to play different roles altogether. For me, it’s the way the three directors try to tell the viewers that souls are repetitively “reborn” in different physical form in different eras and places. The protagonist in one substory transforms into an antagonist in another story, the weak turns into the stubborn, the killer turns into the hero, and so on. Similar things and events still always happen through time: slavery, rebellion, love, revolution, and more. Things are changing, but human is still the same. That’s how I see the meaning of “Cloud Atlas”.
Maybe this “reincarnation” thingy is a difficult topic to understand because, instead of telling it clearly from the plot, it is echoed through wordplays in every narration. But thanks to the very smooth editing and a perfect placing of music and narration that makes every transition fades in and out so beautifully. Viewers will easily understand what scenes are in which storyline, giving this topic of inter-connectivity seems make sense and interesting. [SPOILER STARTS] “Cloud Atlas” itself is the name of the music composed by Frobisher (“Cloud Atlas Sextet”) as he inspired by the journal written by Adam Ewing in his voyage, and in the future, it is sold in a disc and bought by Luisa Rey [SPOILER ENDS]. The makeup team is awesome. See, throughout the movie I was wondering who is this Korean actor playing Hae-Joo, until I realized that it’s Jim Sturgess. Awesome, so awesome that even viewers found so hard to recognize the characters. The production design deserves accolades, too, because the multi-era storylines that insist of presenting past, present time, and future are perfectly set.
About the actors, well, I don’t wanna talk much about them because it’s a whole lot member of cast! Their abilities of portraying different characters in this movie are actually not that surprising because, I guess, the sharpness of this movie is in the story, not in the characters. Perhaps I can say that the characters are all a bit shallow and not deeply explored. The three auteur-directors tend to play more with the advancement of the makeup and costume department just in order to give the viewers a sense that every storyline has different actors (although it does not). Their outlooks are so much varied, but not a single one of them has a specific characterization. It can be either good or bad: good, because the very complicated storyline will go so much more complicated with too much treatment on the characters; bad, because the plot of each storyline is a bit soulless.
I don’t understand why this movie is so underrated that it barely gets any mentions from any movie awards and festivals (it doesn’t even give much profit, for the record). “Cloud Atlas” is ambitious, but totally valuable. Complicated, but its substance-over-form style transfers a refreshing inspiration and idea. I think that’s why it takes three directors to turn this unimaginable novel into motion picture, because “Cloud Atlas” speaks more than just story: it speaks a silent question about life to our boundless minds.
▲ Six stories wrapped beautifully, nice editing, awesome makeup.
▼ So complicated, shallow characterization
▼ So complicated, shallow characterization
CLOUD ATLAS | COUNTRY USA, Germany YEAR 2012 RATING Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use RUNTIME 172 min GENRE Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi CAST Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving WRITER David Mitchell (novel), Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski (screenplay) DIRECTOR Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski MORE INFO