Cloud Atlas Directed by: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Written by: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Doona Bae, James D’Arcy
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated R | 164 minutes
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Based on the 2004 novel by British author David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas is an epic story of the human condition in which the consequences of our decisions impact one another throughout the past, present, and future.
Written and directed by Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), Cloud Atlas is a collection of six stories that traverse time and space.
Within the first 20 minutes of this epic sci-fi adventure, you’ll be transported from post-apocalyptic Hawaii to the 19th-century South Pacific, to 2144’s Neo Seoul, where enslaved clones called ‘fabricants’ fight the status quo. You’ll then jump to 1931 Zedelgem, Belgium, to the estate of an eccentric composer, before visiting 1973 San Francisco and 21st-century London.
Each member of the film’s impressive ensemble cast, which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and Hugh Grant, plays upwards of six different characters throughout the film’s multiple narratives, often switching gender and ethnicity.
By having one actor portray multiple characters across visually-diverse timelines, the film medium furthers the novel’s central idea, that “from womb to tomb, we are all connected and your choices reverberate through eternity.” This idea, of reincarnations of the same soul in different bodies, is represented visually by a birthmark in the shape of a shooting star seen on many of the film’s characters.
It’s a signifier for the audience, a way of keeping track of the soul’s journey (or progression) up the ladder of enlightenment. Of course spiritual rebirth was an important theme explored throughout the Wachowskis’ Matrix trilogy, but Cloud Atlas presents a greater challenge due to the sheer size and scope of the narrative – a mind-bending, thought-provoking narrative that will demand more attention than mainstream audiences are willing to give.
At times, Cloud Atlas can be a bewildering jumble of ideas – incoherent yet beautiful. There are moments, however, when the film transcends its complicated narrative and manages brilliance – with stunning imagery and six entirely different worlds realized by world-class production designers, wardrobe designers, and make-up artists.
Cloud Atlas certainly falls within the Wachowskis’ wheelhouse of post-apocalyptic sci-fi scenarios, and the film’s structure benefits from Tom Tykwer’s previous films like Run Lola Run, where time is often stopped and started across a nonlinear narrative.
While there are glorious swells of emotion, I was ultimately underwhelmed by the film’s overall message that the consequences of our lives impact one another throughout the past, present, and future. I say underwhelmed because, while the message is a universal truth of the human condition, it is conveyed (or preached, even) during the film’s opening sequence. For the next 172 minutes, Cloud Atlas is a film about enlightenment that fails to truly enlighten.
I must say, however, that the film is filled with brilliant performances and watching Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, and Jim Broadbent inhabit different roles is fascinating. Most of the fun to be found in Cloud Atlas is derived from Broadbent’s whimsical Mr. Cavendish, who bumbles throughout the film and, at one point, leads a rebellion at an old folk’s home against the nasty Nurse Noakes (Hugo Weaving).
While I ultimately enjoyed Cloud Atlas as an above-average blockbuster, it failed to deliver the knock-out punch of drama I was hoping for. In all honestly, I could have used a little more sentimentality – a little more emotion – to push me over the edge into sweet, blissful catharsis. As bad as Cloud Atlas wants to be the super-stylistic offspring of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Babel and Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, it feels like a distant relative at best.
If nothing else, Cloud Atlas will go down as a bold, beyond ambitious example of modern science-fiction. While at times it is a beautiful mess, the film remains a compelling, dare I say important, work by offering a thoughtful exploration of issues that humanity will continue to struggle with throughout its existence.