Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Cloud Atlas" (2012) Film Review

"'Cloud Atlas' was co-written and directed by Matrix duo Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer , who transformed David Mitchell’s prize-winning novel into a cinematic treatise on the cyclic nature of human history and social order. It cost more than $100 million to produce, runs almost 3 hours long, and employs the talent of several A-list character actors and actresses:"-- from ""

First off, be warned.  This isn't a big movie about superheroes fighting interplanetary demons, plucky and polite boarding-school wizards fighting monsters,  great historical figures pacing about in sepia-tone sets, or giant battlefields of computer-generated armies fighting for a mythic kingdom.

This is not your normal kind of Hollywood blockbuster. And still it is entertaining and manages to be both humanistic and shocking and funny. You could probably do a lot worse with eight or nine bucks because it is the rare thinking-person's epic that will not make you feel like you'd like it better if you were still twelve.  

"Cloud Atlas" is a very ambitious movie, one that many might be tempted to dismiss for it's stunt casting of having six separate stories over the course of a two hour and fifty minute film, and having about an equal number of major actors playing roles under a lot of make-up in each film.

The stories become more and more interlaced as the film progresses, highlighting the main theme of the film that our lives our more interconnected than many of us might think, not only in this time but in the past and the future as well.

Some might dismiss this idea as too "new-age" or "liberal" or "patterned" or whatever.  But this movie makes a strong case that sometimes what is considered cliche about human life is also, in the main,  true.  Tall "T" true.  And the truth is that the ideas and motivations of individuals change the landscape of those around them and the larger world, and have effects on people far into the future.  Anyone who has ever read about the history of a single  civilization will probably concur with that.  

I was prepared for a muddled result going into this one---an epic film that tries to tie together stories ranging from life abroad a US merchant ship with a stowaway African slave aboard in the mid-Atlantic 1849 all the way to a distant dystopian "after the fall" world set on a remote island where  agrarian humans fight  homicidal brigands four hundred years in the future.

In between there is a story about a gay man who flees from one lover  to avoid a 1930''s anti-gay morals charge.  (And also finds the time to ingratiate himself to an aged  music composer, and compose his own magnum opus called "The Cloud Atlas Sextet"), to Halle Barry as a journalist in San Francisco in 1973 who discovers a  secret corporate plan to preserve oil power in the western world, to a older book editor fighting to keep his brother from imprisoning him in a hellish nursing home in Scotland, to a   revolt of programmed food and service workers set  in a large city of the future called New Seoul which evokes the grandeur and symbolism of Fritz Lang's classic 1927 German film, "Metropolis".  

It's not boring that's for sure.  And I think it's safe to say I'll be wanting to see it again soon to get at all the philosophical layers of the story, and to revel in the strong human desire for freedom and the counter-oppressive desire by a few for slavery and might.

Principle actors Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Xun Zhou each take on multiple roles, each  with different  ages, races, and genders (Susan Sarandon, Keith David, James D'Arcy, and Doona Bae also have smaller roles).

Some might dismiss this idea as too "new-age" or "liberal" or "patterned" or whatever.  But this movie makes a strong case that sometimes what is taken for  a cliche in human endeavor is also, in the main, to me, true.  And the truth is the past, as William Faulkner famously said, "is not dead.  It's not even the past."

 Nor is the present or the future an end in itself...not yet.


  1. I don't watch very many movies because most of them are just ridiculous. They all seem to be made for the younger non-thinking crowd. Based on this review, I would take a chance and actually watch this one.

  2. I appreciate that, Storm. It really is true that too many big screen films are geared to younger and less discerning viewers, at least those that are in wide release. That's a major reason I wanted to blog about this film.