90%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (2 Votes)

One of the principal themes in Cloud Atlas is that our lives are not our own. We belong to other people and each crime or compassion that we enact throughout our lives will echo throughout eternity. This is a beautiful sentiment and an extraordinarily complex concept to execute on film. However, depending on the mood that you’re in, it might just move you enough to think about the interpersonal connections you have in your own life.

What was so compelling about Cloud Atlas is that it seemingly followed a set of main characters throughout the ages, beginning in the 1800 hundreds and ending in the distant future. The film seems to follow their souls as these etherial entities bump into each other time and again to different ends and purposes, but almost always with the same result – the feeling that something important has happened or that these strangers have somehow met before. As the narrative winds its way through six different story threads, each coupling begets a product (a book in one, a composition in another and so forth). As the decades pass and a new era begins, the tangible artifact from the previous tale finds its way to the next personage in the timeline. These relics can be seen as analogous to the genes we pass through our DNA to each subsequent generation of our families. We carry the traits of our ancestors in our physiology, just as we may carry the echoes of our past selves in our souls.

Having not read the source material (Cloud Atlas, book by David Mitchell) I sat down to watch the film with fresh eyes, not really know what to expect. And though many things have been written about the film, one thing is absolutely certain: this film has something for everyone. At its core, this is a movie about the endurance of love. However, encrypted within each account are elements of action, adventure, religion, slavery, angst, unrequited love, loss, violence and so much more – each component joined potently to create an ultimate tableau of human emotion.


Visually, Cloud Atlas is a stunning achievement. Each new world is portrayed with wild complexity and vivid color. The estimated $102,000 budget was put to good use painting futuristic landscapes real enough to touch and stark historical portraits brought to life in exquisite detail. However, the most spectacular aspect of this epic are the achievements of the cast. Each capable actor dons multiples costumes that alter their appearances down to the skin they wear. Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) was particularly entertaining, in drag as Nurse Noakes (a Nurse Ratched archetype) in one scene and then later as Old Georgie – a cross between a goblin and the devil (in my mind invoking Tom Waits in voice and affect). Though sometimes somewhat reminiscent of a soap opera, the huge cast of Cloud Atlas (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant) are immensely capable of immersing themselves into each character and serve to further the implication that we are not just individuals, but different iterations of ourselves through continuous time.

With its 172 min runtime, Cloud Atlas is no easy feat to sit through. Frankly, it’s exhausting. Yet the inexhaustible content and epic scope of the story is enough to entertain even the most anxious viewer. There is no shortage of stimulus – each story, separated by so many centuries – is told simultaneously, weaving between each other with the complexity planetary orbits. Sometimes, the disjointedness of the story structure can be overbearing, but the Wachowski’s somehow pull it off coherently. Special praise should be payed to editors Alexander Berner and Claus Wehlisch, who were able to compound the stories with melodic precision. A particular moment sticks out as Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) articulates one of the overarching themes of the story, the images on the screen jump between each time-line, adding gravity to the film’s climax.

It would be ineffectual to try to summarize the plot of Cloud Atlas. Even if it were to be laid out plainly, this is the type of movie that needs to be experienced and interpreted by each viewer. Some will call it highbrow, nonsensical, boring, or just plain snobby. Most likely, if you’ve read the book, you may be happier to skip the film, as what’s true in most cases seems to be true here – the film will pale in comparison to the written work. One may also be cautioned from reading too much into each individual storyline. Sewn together, each subplot creates a whole but admittedly, there are faults within the individual stories. Viewing this picture in such a micro perspective will ruin the much grander macro concept of this saga. Remember, this is not a group of narratives put together in order to convey a singular theme. This is an all encompassing portrayal of the enduring spirit of humanity, composed of separate veins that all flow to the same heart. Each individuall part on its own does not equal the whole.


Released: October 26, 2012

Directed By: Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski

Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant



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