In the endlessly fascinating and spellbindingly imaginative world of Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas, we are tied together in a universe where each of our actions has a subsequent reaction. “From womb to tomb” the film says, “we are bound to others, past, and present and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
There’s a cyclical methodology at work here, where our lives are “not our own”, and our past lives influence the world we live in and the world to come. Cloud Atlas is as spiritual, ambitious, unorthodox, mind-bending, thought provoking, and philosophical as modern filmmaking gets. Not all of the Wachowski’s cinematic vision (adapting from David Mitchell’s award-winning novel of the same title) coherently comes together, but perhaps the film is not supposed to follow a thread of linearity, instead it seeks a thread of humanity.
At the core of the six stories told – a 1849 Pacific voyage, 1936 homosexual love story, 1973 journalistic thriller, 2012 modren satire, 2144 Blade Runner-esque revolution, and a 2346 post-apocalyptic idyll – are the fleeting ideas of freedom, love, and destiny. To explain the plot of Cloud Atlas would be a mere exercise in futility, so will I continue to tell you that Cloud Atlas – even when it crumbles and spirals into disarray – is worth your time.
It’s a cliché to proclaim a film is unlike anything you’ve ever seen but Cloud Atlas is truly something unique and special. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, and James D’Arcy are all splendid in each of their respective roles (each actor and actress plays different characters in different time frames). Through a series of subtle and unsubtle tactics, the Wachowski’s link each disparate storyline together. Perplexing and convoluted as the film is, one may be better off following the Gestalt principles in simply viewing the film as a whole. Sprawling and daring, each vignette revels in the same questions we still have a proclivity for today: how to love, where to find purpose in our lives, and what happens when we leave this beautiful Earth. If we are to abide by the spectacle and virtuoso manifesto of the Wachowski’s, all of our lives are bountiful and everlasting. There’re not multiple timelines, but a singular, eternal one.
Cloud Atlas is an achievement in visual artistry both in front of and behind the camera. It’s also a remarkable display of how a film with a nearly three hour run time can say so much and so little all at the same time. The faults lining a third of the stories (the most futuristic strand with Hanks in particular) are as substantial as the sum total. Cloud Atlas flickers through the past, present, and future with such authority that at times the messages come off as off-putting and didactic.
I attest that even as I finish writing this wavering declaration of praise and admiration, my sentiments towards Cloud Atlas are not yet completed. I suppose the good films do that to you. They leave you inquisitive and baffled, shocked and awed – hungry for more. In the grand scheme of things this impressively grandiose and inar guably imperfect epic is just another drop in a limitless ocean. Then again, as Cloud Atlas so beautifully reminds us … “what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”