Cloud Atlas (2012)
When I saw this film I was amazed that somewhere, someone (in this case some people) still made intricate, multi-levelled, and both consumer (read Hollywood blockbuster) and acquired (read Art House) styled films. Not only does Cloud Atlas flesh open your eyes to societies, and the evolution of human life – both religious and scientific – but how we are linked from generation to generation, all over the world. It is simply a beautiful film which had the same effect that both 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree of Life did to me as a human. These are rare instances where life assessment occurs from a fictional substance, and it holds a story far more powerful than anything you had believed before.
Before I begin to dissect the film, I suggest you take the song Cloud Atlas Sextet from the film itself. And once you’ve seen the film this masterpiece will tell you every story and emotion without hesitation. Each listen is a brushstroke of detail in life – all things big and small.
Okay, this review is going to be different to a usual analysis or dissection – mainly due to the structure of the film itself, and its multi-faceted timeline. I’ll go through each story, and link them together, while explaining their significance along the way – I think this is best for these types of films.
But firstly, an overall mustering of thoughts. It is a like or hate film. I guarantee there will be one of the six stories that you will enjoy, mainly on the fact that each of the six stories holds a different genre. Whether it is comedy, romance, drama, horror, or spectacle that make you froth at the mouth then Cloud Atlas has it. The film is directed by Tom Tykwer (dir. Run Lola Run), Andy Wachowski (dir. The Matrix and V for Vendetta), and Lana Wachowski (dir. The Matrix and V for Vendetta) who all hold strong grasps on unique storytelling.
The overall lack or allowance to soak in the details is phenomenal. Before you become enthralled in one timeline of events, it switches into another. You’re always thinking for the film, not about it. Each segment of a story is transited at an action of triumph or loss. These are difficult moments to grasp compared to any other film. Usually you have a moment to mourn or celebrate before cutting to another part of that same world, however here your emotions need to adjust readily, and investment into one could alter another.
If you are an average film goer (or DVD watcher) your biggest concern is the duration – 2 hours and 52 minutes. I feel the film could have warranted separation into smaller sections, or a two part release but the effect wouldn’t be as great. It could have been a high impact television series – that would have been magical – yet again I don’t feel it would be able to rope in the same emotions week after week. The duration, though long, is well worth it – visually climatic and poetic.
South Pacific – 1849
The initial setting follows the story of Adam Ewing (played by Jim Sturgess) who is an attorney from San Francisco. His journey across the sea to the Pacific Islands is to meet with a plantation owner (played by Hugh Grant).
Ewing’s journey is nothing short of troublesome. Upon setting sail he becomes ill, and begins treatment from Dr. Goose (played by Tom Hanks). However, Goose is not here to help, rather poison Ewing and take his money once he is dead.
Yet Goose’s plan isn’t as sound as he hoped. Prior to leaving to the islands, Ewing witnessed a slave, Autua (played by David Gyasi), be viciously beaten. The images imprint themselves into Ewing’s mind, so when Autua is discovered by Ewing as a stowaway on the ship a friendship is born out of respect.
But we’re in the era of black and white segregation – slavery – Autua and Ewing have to trust each other before being able to hide one another’s secrets from the crew.
In a heartwarming, “pre-civilised” environment the two work together and teach each other how human they are – beyond the colour of their skin. Not only does this strike a cord in the film, but larger to a real life view that there were actual believers of equal rights back then as much as now. It’s ignorant of society today to think that people just accepted what was, and not fought for justice – especially from an attorney.
As Goose’s plan is discovered by Autua, he saves Ewing’s life – in return Ewing allows Autua become one of the crewmen. But this is far less compensation from Ewing who, when returns home, takes his wife (played by Doona Bae)and tells his racist father-in-law (played by Hugo Weaving – who is also his boss) that he will no longer work for him. He is moving up north to become an abolitionist.
“Cloud Atlas Sextet” – 1936
As we move from story to story we begin to understand that these characters are interlinks – despite the different time periods. At this point in the story we are introduced to the young, handsome composer Robert Frobisher (played by Ben Whishaw). Our first instance of sight is him in bed with his lover Rufus Sixsmith (played by James D’Arcy). But this intimacy is met with barging security, looking for Frobisher who swiftly escapes the hotel room leaving his lover behind.
Through a string of letters, we are told that his journey has landed him on the path to meet and collaborate with musical protege Vyvyan Ayrs (played by Jim Broadbent). He is an ageing composer who needs seems to have seen many young people like Frobisher attempt to collaborate with little or no talent. Frobisher however, impresses Ayrs and the two seem to need each other, only favouring more toward Ayrs needing Frobisher.
Halle Berry plays Ayrs’ stunning and extremely younger wife who ends up sleeping with Frobisher.
These actions by Frobisher are all told through letters who he has been writing to Sixsmith informing him about what he’s up to while mostly talking about the “Cloud Atlas Sextet”. It is a masterpiece he’s working on and must finish. After much progress, and effort into the project Frobisher decides he must leave Ayrs, but he won’t let hime leave.
After the stubborn old man provokes Frobisher, he deems him no better than any other person who has tried to work with him before. Frobisher shoots Ayrs as a result and flees to a hotel room.
Upon writing to Sixsmith, he tracks Frobisher down in a hotel room, but as all good stories go, intervention and timing mismatch (this time by Hugh Grant as a hotel employee guarding the stairs) cause Sixsmith to not make it to Frobisher in time. Halfway up the stairway a gunshot is heard with Sixsmith to discover the love of his life – over the many months of separation – has killed himself.
In a pre-suicidal message, Frobisher writes to Sixsmith one last time. He notes about reading Ewing’s diaries (from the previous story) with the links among timelines becoming apparent.
San Francisco – 1973
In this timeline, we follow Luisa Rey (played by Halle Berry), a stubborn but keen journalist in San Francisco. Her angle is to follow a dangerous story surrounding a nuclear power plant.
Getting out of an interview, she enters an elevator with a much older Sixsmith, who is now working as a physicist. The elevator breaks down, and there is no way to contact the outside world so the two wait and talk about their line of work. Sixsmith informs Rey that he knows some stuff about her power plant story. The elevator reignites and we never see the two cross again – nor the secrets Sixsmith knows.
Rey continues and ventures to the power plant where she meets Lloyd Hooks (played by Hugh Grant). If you ever wanted to see Grant out of his lovey, soppy films this is it – pure villain.
As Rey is getting a tour of the plant for her story she meets Isaac Sachs (played by Tom Hanks). An instantaneous connection occurs between the two like they had met before. Sixsmith tries to get a report to Rey, but is killed by a hitman (played by Hugo Weaving) hired by Hooks to eliminate anyone who tries to stop the plant from failing.
After some treading into the deep end, Rey herself finds she too is in the sight of the hitman as he runs her off of a bridge. Fortunately, Rey survives, but Sixsmith himself is murdered. Rey goes to find Sixsmith but it is too late. She discovers the letters from Frobisher under his dead body, and finds herself drawn to them.
Rey receives help from an employee of Hooks, who aids in helping her retrieve the documents the Sixsmith wanted her to have.
As this arc end, we see Rey going into a record shop asking for the “Cloud Atlas Sextet” after reading about it in Frobisher’s letters. The store employee tells her it is currently playing, and she states it sounds familiar. On a more intertwined note, the employee himself is Ben Whishaw, who played Frobisher in the previous story.
Still Youthful – 2012
Entering into the comedy section of the film we follow Timothy Cavendish (played by Jim Broadbent) who is an ageing book publisher. As of recent times he hasn’t had much luck with sales until his client and author Dermot Hoggins (played by Tom Hanks) throws another author of a building making him a hot topic and best seller since there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
After some time, Cavendish is tracked down by Hoggins’s friends (Hoggins is in jail, of course) demanding his pay checks. Cavendish needing to escape since he doesn’t have the money turns to his brother Denholme (played by Hugh Grant), and his brother’s wife Georgette (played by Ben Whishaw).
Although it seems Denholme is bound to help, Cavendish is tricked into voluntarily checking himself into a nursing home. The race to escape from Cavendish begins, in the most light-hearted comic approach (without tainting the entire film). I will add Hugo Weaving plays one fine looking Nurse Noakes!
As Cavendish plan to escape, he ropes in several of the other residents to aid him on his way. Their brilliant break out lands them at a local bar where football fans protect them from the people from the nursing home.
Futuristic Korea – 2144
As stated by Ayrs in a dream he once had when listening to the Cloud Atlas Sextet there really is a place where all the girls look the same, with the same clothing, and are effectively slaves. Welcome to the world of Somni-451 (played by Doona Bae) – a fast food fabricated employee.
She (and all the other look-a-like employees) don’t really dream about the outside world – there’s not much hope for them outside their morgue shaped bed. All until Somni-451’s friend, Yoona-939 (played by Xun Zhou) stands up for herself against a patron who is abusing her. As these images of Yoona-939 play back in Somni-451’s mind, we meet Hae-Joo Chang (played by Jim Sturgess). Sturgess is dressed up to look asian, but it’s not very convincing, border lining offensive.
Chang breaks Somni-451 out of the parlour into an awing, futuristic, Matrix-esque scene and teaches her about what really happens to the employees when they receive “raises”. They are recycled for the “soap” the name of the food fed to the employees – effectively she has been eating her friends.
Chang encourages her to be part of a revolution, and one of the ways he inspires her is by showing her a movie of Cavendish’s adventures — with Tom Hanks as Cavendish. Chang and Somni-451 fall in love.
Post-apocalyptic – 2321 and 2346
In the final story arc, we are placed in the post-apocalyptic times where a goatherder named Zachry (played by Tom Hanks) has watched his brother be killed and was too afraid to intervene.
Civilisation beyond the futuristic times of 2144 have reverted to primitive appearance, yet their goddess of worship is Somni herself – years after her escape.
After some time, Meronym (played by Halle Berry) turns up who is from a far more advanced civilisation known as the Prescients.
After the execution of his brother, Zachry continually fights a ghoulish demon (played by Hugo Weaving – pictured above) known as Old Georgie.
Meronym has come to the island to go to a section that no one has gone before – in fear as we discover no one will take her there. Eventually Zachry decides he will, and on their journey his family is brutally murdered by the same tribesmen who killed his brother. Zachry seeks revenge, and finally removes Old Georgie from his conscience.
As time progresses into 2346, we discover that Zachry and Meronym end up together, where Zachry is telling this story to their offspring as they sit around a campfire.
Altogether, the film is extremely ambitious with the casting and storytelling. You will rarely see such storytelling where even the characters placement and relationships are perfected.
Furthermore, the makeup is amazing with the ability to transform the cast over six story arcs and more than six different races – this alone amazed me.
It’s a film that really makes you wonder about the universe and how life can be effected over time, how your life has come to be over time. A main theme of the film is the evolution of ourselves over time, and how in one generation we can be progressed or regressed. The idea to have the roles of gender, race and ancestry isn’t new, but in the context of such a film allows the theme become more apparent.
Nonetheless, this is a film of taste, and belief – it isn’t going to be for everyone (though I wished everyone saw it).