I’ve spent 3 days just thinking about Cloud Atlas, the latest movie from the filmmaking team responsible for bringing The Matrix to life. It’s at once an epic story that spans generations, an ambitious project that stretches cinematic boundaries, a meta critique of the nature of genre and the inherent limitations therein, and a deeply intimate story about what we all need to find satisfaction in our lives.
I’m just not sure if it is good.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and a host of other familiar faces don disguises to play a variety of characters whose lives intersect and intertwine across the ages. There isn’t a through narrative in the story; rather these are a series of intercut stories about subjects that have no connection outside a theme of the importance of finding peace, whatever your situation.
To describe the plots would be an exercise in futility, because it’s not the stories themselves that will draw you in but instead the way they are told and how they are performed. There is not a bad performance in this movie, all of the actors buying completely into the concept and giving it their all. I could see a best ensemble award given for this group but there are no particular standouts.
As to the stories that make up the whole, they are diverse and fascinating, any one I would have been curious to explore on its own. There’s a comedic tale of a man running from his debtors who gets locked up in a retirement community by his vengeful brother. The story of a man who sees the evil of the slave trade and his fight to return home to his beloved bride (and the stowaway slave who becomes his protector). A grand composer and his eager understudy who quickly learns he is not in a position to make his own name. A tale of how human clones are exploited by the evil corporations that run the world. The post-apocalyptic story of a woman searching for the truth in a world annihilated by war.
These are the threads that are used to sew the tapestry known as Cloud Atlas but the description does them no justice because it is the way they are utilized that makes them special. It’s a historical tale, a film about classical artists, a modern comedy, a dystopian sci-fi flick and a post-apocalyptic journey. A Sucker Punch with narrative drive that favors thematic concept over flash.
Essentially a libertarian love story by way of Aldous Huxley, the Wachowskis have made a movie about the importance of freedom and the ties that bind all of humanity. As you would expect given the pedigree of the filmmakers, the effects are magnificent and never did I question the reality of the world presented.
The biggest critique is the way the film seems to imply a larger, cosmic purpose to these particular souls. Marked with comet-shaped birthmarks, I was expecting some grand reveal at the end, a man coming out from behind the curtain, or stepping from a podium, taking a bow and explaining everything to me. Perhaps taking a cue from the critiques of V for Vendetta and the Matrix sequels, the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer give no concrete resolution, leaving the interpretation completely to the viewer (who, if they have been paying attention, shouldn’t have trouble following this film.)
Perhaps the best thing I can say about Cloud Atlas is that I need to see it again. Soon. I’ll give you advice that I wish I had going in: Don’t try to “figure it out.” There’s no twist, no grand reveal. This isn’t Inception and you’re not going to get a gold star for having an original interpretation.
Instead, simply appreciate Cloud Atlas for the magnificent spectacle it is. A celebration of life and what makes it special, Cloud Atlas is a recommended experience.
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