Rant and Rave: Cloud Atlas

Rating 3.5

If you, dear reader, can extend your patience for just a moment, you will find there is a method to this tale of madness,” writes Cavendish prophetically at the beginning of the movie.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

He narrates the line as if asking the audience, ‘please give us time to weave this yarn’, a tangled knot of intertwining tales. Madness is certainly the appropriate adjective to describe this mind-spinning ensemble, though time, as it often does, brings clarity to it all.

The year is 2012. Timothy Cavendish is an editor who finds himself threatened by a bunch of thugs associated with one of the authors he’s published.

Backtrack. 1849. Adam Ewing is a lawyer out in the pacific in a time where slavery is still in fashion. He is sailing home when he catches a malady that threatens his chances of ever seeing his family again.

Fast forward. 2144, Neo Seoul. Sonmi 451 is a genetically manufactured waitress whose only purpose is to serve, and whose sole dream is to transcend – that is until she gets a taste of freedom.

Loop. 1973. Luisa Rey is a journalist in San Francisco who stumbles upon a nefarious conspiracy involving nuclear power and oil corporations, and she suddenly finds herself running for her life.

Rewind. 1936, Scotland. Robert Frobisher is an aspirant bisexual composer on the verge of a masterpiece, only to be held back by his own precarious circumstances.

Jump. 106 winters after The Fall. In a post-apocalyptic world, Zachry lives in a back-to-basics society where he meets a mysterious woman with technology beyond his understanding.

In the first place, time here is the blurring concept.

Based on the book of the same name, Cloud Atlas is the ambitious project of the Wachowski siblings (of The Matrix fame) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). It is the largest indie film to date, with a budget of over $100 million, and it almost never saw the light of day. It clocks in at about two and a half hours, just enough time for this sublime, metaphysical epic to flesh out its story.

This is not a series of short stories. This is one big story divided into six chronologies that are interspersed throughout the movie. Time is in flux. History progresses and repeats. The heroes’ and anti-heroes’ lives dangle suspended in the space of past, present and future, as the narrative flips through timelines, barely staying long enough for the audience to get comfortable in any one era.

At times, this can be confusing, dizzying, and perplexing. But this mad and deft method of storytelling is necessary. It allows the stories to blend with each other. It tells us that time does not separate; it connects. In Cloud Atlas, fates intertwine. Second, fourth, even sixth lives are lived. A good Samaritan in one life becomes a criminal in the next. There is transformation here, one that spans generations. Actions echo like drops in the water creating ripple effects. One small act of kindness in one timeline echoes to be a world-moving force in another. Each meeting is of significance. Forces beyond our will throw us against each other, from different directions, towards one future. We are all connected, whether we like it or not. “Our lives are not our own,” as Sonmi 451 tells us.

There is profound depth. The concepts are heavy, a dense ocean of ideas with amounts served sporadically, from Spinoza to Darwin to Chaos Theory. These ideas are in themselves thought-provoking, and may require several showings before they are fully digested. And at the center of it all, one might find the core idea behind all major religions, although what that is, we will leave for the movie to tell.

A story of such scale features numerous characters, played by a mere thirteen actors, led by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. Each character plays several roles throughout the different timelines, strengthening the concept of connection between stories. These are the same souls going through different lives. You’ll find men playing women, and vice versa; Asians playing Westerners, and the converse. It’s another joy of the movie to try and identify which actor plays who in each story.

The film dives into several beautiful and diverse backdrops, from a futuristic metropolis with semi-flying vehicles to lush post-apocalyptic jungles reminiscent of the film Time Machine. The effects are superb for this Academy Award nominee for Best Visual Effects.

You’ll find in this here tale laser gun shootouts, sea voyages, a rather “daring” prison break, a bar fight for the pride of the Scottish, mountain ascents, love between at most two genders, sex, deceit, suicides, conspiracies, and a film full of diverse-almost-absurd events, as life is.

The beautiful score is haunting and ethereal, like something heard from a dream, about some past life or a distant future. The music adds to an atmosphere conducive for crying and laughing, appropriate for birth and death and everything in between; it is critical to creating a work that will change people.

Cloud Atlas is undeniably unique, and not everyone will like it. Regardless, it remains majestic and captivating. It is one of those films that make you look up at the sky at night, and think about your place in the universe, what it means to be human, and how powerful our smallest of acts can be and how these might change history. This is a grandiose work of film that is quite possibly one of the best this generation has produced by far.

John Sarao

By John Sarao

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