Cloud Atlas was a 2012 film written, produced and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer. It is adapted from the 2004 novel of the same name, written by David Mitchell. Up until its release, it was a much-talked-about-film that had critics optimistically anticipating it garnering many awards. Yet as this past awards season can attest to, Cloud Atlas remained mostly untouched despite a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Score.
It takes a while to get acclimated to the narrative structure of Cloud Atlas, which is dispersed among six stories each set in a different point in history: past, present and future. To summarize each tale individually would take up precious word space, so I shall briefly attempt to encapsulate all of them at once. Our stories range in time from 1849 – 2321, taking place in locales such as the South Pacific Ocean, The UK, San Francisco, Korea and a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian island. The plots of each of these vignettes involve themes of self-discovery, the pitfalls of ambition, the dangers of uncovering the truth, humorous misunderstandings, identity and something about cavemen vs. spacemen (?) The various roles in each story are played by the same set of actors with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving (who almost always plays an asshole) among them. The unifying theme of the film is the unique way in which we have an effect on each other’s lives, perceptible or imperceptible. Each story is impacted by the one that precedes it in different forms: journals, letters, characters and even movies based on their lives. The majority of the stories are set in the familiar past or present, but the latter two are futuristic tales, one set in a Neo-Seoul where a clone finds her own identity and the other on the post-apocalyptic “Big Island,” which takes most of mankind back to primitive forms of survival.
Given a time-spanning narrative full of scores of characters and themes, Cloud Atlas is an ambitious experiment in film, and should be admired for its creativity. Unfortunately, the Wachowskis and Twkyer strive for an all-important cohesive moral that gets utterly lost in the mix. Despite having such an elaborate setup, Cloud Atlas really just presents us with its “connectivity theme” at face value. There is not a moment of clarity at the end that proves a greater truth about ourselves or vindicates all of the struggles that the film’s characters go through. Instead it provides separate stories that really only have a thin thread of connectivity among them. Another way that the film intends to have continuity among the stories is by implying that the characters are reincarnated into each life. Through the magic of makeup our Hollywood actors are physically transformed with mixed results. I suppose the makeup “does its job” by completely disguising the actors from the audience. However there is obviously something very off about these characters caked in makeup and prosthetic, which is a little off-putting. As separate stories some of these vignettes do well, like the comical tale of a publisher on the run from his client’s thugs, who unwittingly ends up in a nursing home. Other stories fall flat on their face, like the final story of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry after “The Fall.” The Wachowskis and Twkyer invent a horribly stupid form of slang-dialect that sounds like the lovechild of the Bayou and Jamaican. For this reason alone I could not wait until these particular segments were over. Arguably, some of the faults that I find in this film could be due to the source material, but as a film experience, Cloud Atlas is simultaneously too convoluted and too simple, as well as being far too long. Maybe they’ll fix it in the next lifetime.
Final Grade: ★★★ 3/5
Rent it? Only to satisfy your curiosity