Cloud Atlas was one of the greatest movies I’ve seen in quite a while. The cast is one of the best and deepest ensembles that will stand amongst the ranks of Sin City, Ocean’s Eleven, and Pulp Fiction, while the landscapes are spectacular, not far from those seen in Lord of the Rings and Avatar. Yet, the central discussion that will always be linked to this film is whether or not people will understand it. During my first viewing, I really didn’t catch the gist of what was going on until around halfway through the two hour and 44 minute epic, but the story really does unfold right before your very eyes.
Cloud Atlas captures stories of different, yet similar groups of people set in six different periods and settings. It opens up with the endings of all six of the stories, so immediately confusion sets in before the plot even really takes off. Once the title appears, everything starts to settle down, and the stories are told in chronological order, while jumping between different time periods. This way, each individual story progresses at the same rate. Readers who haven’t seen the movie or read the book it was based on, by David Mitchell, have to be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. I’ll try to make some sense out of the complexity this film revolves around.
There are six plots that take place over the course of the movie which link with one another. The overall scheme is to show how people’s lives impact each other from the past all the way to the future. The main idea and theme stressed throughout involves what the true meaning of life is and how strong the bonds of the universe are.
Starting with the South Pacific in 1849, San Francisco attorney, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), embarks on a voyage to make a deal with a slave plantation owner. One of the slaves, Autua (David Gyasi), stows away on the ship, and Adam must decide to help or turn him in. In 1936, Scotland shows young Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) is cut off by his wealthy father, get kicked out of his hotel room with his lover Rufus (James D’Arcy) and then aids ailing composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) in order to produce a great symphony.
In more modern times, 1973 San Francisco follows journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) covering a story on a nuclear power plant with some secrets that are revealed to her by workers Rufus and Issac (Tom Hanks). England in 2012 provides plenty of laughs as Timothy Cavendish (also Jim Broadbent), a publisher who receives an impressive sum of money from a jailed mobster’s (Hanks) memoir, looks to his brother (Hugh Grant) for help when thugs come to his home in order to collect.
Then come two more stories from the future. Neo Soul in 2144 has some of the coolest, futuristic backdrops and focuses on the testimony of clone Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) as she recounts the story of breaking away of her only intended purpose in life, taking orders at a fast food restaurant with the help of Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess). The final story is “After the Fall,” a post-apocalyptic Hawaii set in 2321, in which Zachry (Hanks) battles a haunting spirit (Hugo Weaving) on a quest to assist Meronym (Berry), a member of an advanced civilization sent to help save humanity.
Clearing up the plots of the individual stories is key to understanding what the movie is truly offering. As you may have noticed, actors and actresses names popped up multiple times across the different stories. This is because almost each of them plays a role in the separate tales, some making appearances in all six, others only being in a few. Even though I didn’t mention every part, because there are so many, the actors can be found in completely disguising costumes that alter their race and gender completely. For example, Halle Berry can be pretty recognizable from role to role; however, in the Neo Soul plot you couldn’t pick her out if you tried, and I won’t ruin it. To me, this makes the movie that much more exciting. For those who think trying to pick the people out is a hassle, the credits show each person in all of their roles, which is extremely strategic in allowing the audience to make sense of what they’ve seen.
This is one of those movies that’s just as much fun to watch as it is to ponder afterwards whether this phenomenon is possible or even real. Pay attention to the people you recognize from time period to time period as well as a comet shaped birthmark that appears on multiple characters. It’s a truly mind-blowing film that demands multiple viewings in Shutter Island fashion. I’m already eagerly waiting the DVD/Blu-ray release to find more elements I missed, because the outcome really lies in the eyes of whoever is watching. Nine out of 10.