“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.”
Right off the bat, I must confess that have not yet read David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas. After years of reading the source material first, then watching the resulting film to be better informed of the decisions made by the filmmaker, I decided to forgo this route and experience Cloud Atlas as a movie first. I’m glad I did.
Lana and Andy Wachowski have never played it safe. Their other films films include Bound (1996), The Matrix trilogy (1999 - 2003) and Speed Racer (2008). They also wrote the screenplay for V For Vendetta (2005). They have a sweet tooth for melodrama, and an eye for spectacle.
Cloud Atlas is a HUGE undertaking, and to assist them on this endeavor, they enlisted German filmmaker Tom Tykwer, who made a splash in 1998 with Run Lola Run.
So what is Cloud Atlas? It’s tricky. While not really a time travel film, we do travel through time via six (yes six) timelines that stretch over many centuries, constantly cross cutting between them with overlapping dialogue and imagery. The curious can see the trailer here:
There is the story of a voyage across the sea in 1849, the composing of a symphonic masterpiece in 1931, a 1970’s era nuclear power plant thriller, a modern day, somewhat comical telling about a financially overextended publisher who must escape from a nursing home, a futuristic noir adventure about a clone who comes to understand her place in the universe, and a post-apocalyptic tale concerning tribes of humans living in the mountains, Mad Max style.
All of these stories are connected and impact each other in some way. Sure, there are some unanswered questions, and not every thread plays out to it’s fullest conclusion, but it’s a joy to see such an ambitious effort in an age where most cinematic offerings don’t stray any further then their carefully researched demographics.
My understanding is that many reviewers have expressed dismay and confusion as to how this all fits together, but I found it all very delightful and was completely consumed by the storytelling on display.
My frantically scribbled thoughts just after the screening was over:
Cheers to Warner Bros for investing in the creation of a masterful work of art. The studio will no doubt loose money on the initial theatrical release, but Cloud Atlas will echo on through the ages as a milestone of cinematic achievement. Cloud Atlas swings for the bleachers and succeeds brilliantly.
I’ll stand by that.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant, and Susan Sarandon (and many others) populate every timeline in different get-ups and layers of latex, and they are all in top form.
In addition to great direction from the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer, special mention must be made of the extraordinary work by Editor Alexander Berner. Considering all the various plots, characters, and timelines, this is an Oscar Nomination worthy effort on his part. Simply outstanding work.
I encourage you to go and see for yourselves. Films like this don’t come along everyday, and we need more of them. I’d much rather watch a film that attempts the near impossible, then a film that plays it safe and does all the thinking for you.
Perhaps I’ll feel differently after reading the novel, but right now, I think the film version of Cloud Atlas is a stunning achievement in an otherwise mediocre cinema landscape.