Love it or hate it, the word that typically unites the reception of “CLOUD ATLAS”–the new century-spanning, soul-mate finding journey by the creators of “The Matrix” Trilogy–is usually ‘daring’. For its weaknesses and its strengths, the consensus is that Cloud Atlas is a daring and ambitious work of unusually epic scope. Whether or not this film qualifies as “good” is entirely up to whomever you’re speaking to at the moment, or whichever review you are reading. Since the review in question is mine, I assume you’ll allow me my take on the film. In short, I thought Cloud Atlas was a GREAT movie and I’m very glad I took the time to watch it.
Make no mistake, Cloud Atlas is long. Clocking in at 2 hours and 44 minutes, it’s one of the longest films I’ve watched. What I noticed around the point that I guessed to be the movie’s halfway spot was that the time was flying by. And I mean that both as a witty pun and a literal truth. You see, Cloud Atlas shifts between no less than six time periods: the late 19th century, the 1930s, the 1970s, the modern day, the 23rd century, and an even later period dubbed “After the Fall.” The film weaves in and out of each period, and while the scope of each period is no longer than a few days (with the exception of the 23rd century piece, which spans months at least)—Cloud Atlas is the cinematic entwining of six visual novellas.
So I can understand that it might be confusing, and I’ll be damned if I remember any names myself (except for Sonmi and Chang—they steal the movie in some of it’s most breathtaking sequences, defining the overarching themes that unify the film) but that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable. And, I thought, they wisely recycled the actors for each time period: Hugh Grant as a barbarian in one, Tom Hanks as a thieving lowlife in another.
At the heart of Cloud Atlas is a conversation on the nature of life and death, how our actions impact others, and a debate on living your life for yourself versus living it for others. Nearly all of the characters at one point or another affirm that their lives and what they perceive to be good and true, are worth dying for. And it’s this theme, that propels the film forward. When does survival stop being enough? When do we rise against injustice? Tyranny? Crime?
So even though you might not know all the names, or all the exact dates of the timelines—the thematic elements and the basics of what each character is working for gives the film an appreciable grounding. And the musical score of this film is just downright phenomenal, at times vulnerable while bombastically confident at others.
Is this a movie with its own flaws? Certainly. For a film that claims to examine the actions of our lives and the impacts they have on others across time, you could really cut away three of the six timelines and maintain the integrity of that theme, which would also chop down the movie’s lengthy runtime. However, having seen Cloud Atlas in its prime and natural state, I can’t imagine it any way but this. You see, its length and its characters and its message work together in such a way that Cloud Atlas becomes one of those “big” movies that can make you feel optimistic again, if you allow it to.
I think that’s what gets me most about Cloud Atlas. Though it scrounges around in the darkest and most depressing crevices of the worst within us, it never loses sight of its peculiar brand of optimism:
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
Those are my thoughts on one of my favorite movies, if not my singularly favorite, of the year. Don’t worry about being made to feel lost or confused by Cloud Atlas, rather sit back and enjoy the multitude of fantastic stories, phenomenal orchestration, and lingering optimism that it offers.
After all, isn’t that why we go to the movies in the first place?
CLOUD ATLAS released on October 26, 2012. Available in normal and IMAX formats, runtime 2 hours and 44 minutes. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, and a ton of others. Learn more at the film’s official website.