- Movie Rating -

Cloud Atlas (2012)

| October 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

Cloud Atlas is the kind of grand film-going experience that lingers in your mind and makes you realize how many films these days are forgettable and disposable.  When it is over you sit back and replay it in your head trying to piece it all together.  In piecing it together again, you discover things that you didn’t catch while watching it.  That makes you want to see it again just to check your math. It is deliriously entertaining even when you don’t completely understand what is happening at all times.

Like Metropolis or Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey, this is a grand and visionary science fiction experience, a movie with wonderful sights, wonderful characters, wonderful technology and great drama, but wisely never loses sight of the human element.  This is a movie that is about a lot of things but the thread running through the center is that no matter what happens to us as human beings we are always linked by the map of the human heart.  That is what the best science fiction has always been about.

The story is told in six different episodes which take place at various time periods from 1849 to 1931 to 1973 to 2012 to 2144 and the then a distant post-apocalyptic future that takes place God-knows-when.  All of the stories connect in one way or another, and the actors – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whitshaw, Keith David – play different characters of different nationalities, races and genders in each episode through a variety of make-up – some great and some just plain weird.  The fun is trying to figure out which actor is currently buried under the make-up.  The performances are key and we admire how hard each actor has to work playing eight or nine different people.

In each episode, we meet a variety of people who are facing one form of repression or another.  The hero of the 1931 chapter named Robert (Jim Sturgess), for example, is a homosexual musician whose composer employer (Jim Broadbent) holds him hostage with this information to keep him from leaving.  The hero of the 2144 chapter named Sonmi-351 (Doona Bae) is a “fabricant”, a fabricated human who was genetically designed to be a hotel servant, until she begins to learn on her own (what she discovers makes Soylent Green look quaint).  The hero of the 2012 chapter, named Tom Cavendish (Broadbent again) is being held against his will in an old folks home by this conniving brother (Hugh Grant), and engineers the clumsiest escape in movie history.  In the end, these stories come together, but the film doesn’t make everything so clear cut that we aren’t left with something to think about.  This is one film that demands to be discussed when it is over.

In the book by David Mitchell the stories were told chronologically, but that would have made the movie boring and clumsy.  Instead, we hop back and forth between each story so that we can follow them evenly as they progress.  The creative editing doesn’t confuse us but evens the tension in each section – often times the movie comes back and forth between two similar events taking place in two different time periods.

Along the way we are treated to some breathtaking sights.  The 2144 section for example has the same kinds of cityscapes that are reminders of Blade Runner (this section trumps everything that movie failed to accomplish).  The distant future section takes place at a time in which man has reverted back to his tribal state and speaks in a dialect that is somewhere between Cajun and Gungan.  What is amazing is that each chapter adds something to the next so that we see the stories coming together.

Cloud Atlas was directed by three talented film artists.  One is Tom Tykwer, a German director whose films, like the great Run Lola Run always have a visual fire.  The other two are The Wachowskis who have been responsible for The Matrix trilogy and have outdone themselves here.  They take a story that could be disastrously confusing and put it together in a way that holds our attention at every single moment.  Their story breaks free of the confines of simple-minded narrative storytelling and sets itself free to tell a story that explores the boundaries – for better and for worse – of the human experience.  They have created a story about human relationships all through history.  The story is about the people we meet and the choices we make and how they can affect the future of mankind.  Here is a movie with a lot of violence and human repression but ultimately turns out to be one of the most positive and hopeful science fiction films ever made.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.