Genre: Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant
An old, severely scarred from eye to jaw Tom Hanks sits around a campfire. He’s reciting a story. The line we hear connects to what we are about to see – several stories over generations that ultimately influence each other. From here we’re taken to the opening of each significant story. In the early 1800’s a young lawyer approaches a doctor digging for teeth. The doctor is about to board a ship across the ocean and the lawyer wants to gain access to potentially strike terms on a contract over slave labour. In the 1930’s a young man enters an empty bathtub and shoots himself. In the 1970’s an investigative journalist goes in search of a story. In present day a writer is in the midst of writing a story about his life. In the distant future an oriental lady is handcuffed to a chair and is questioned about the truth of what she has just been through. All of these stories hint at the themes that are about to be brought into question along our journey and each are displayed in such a way that we’re only given just enough information about what will follow. As the young composer puts the gun in his mouth the screen cuts to black and the title appears: Cloud Atlas.
What I’ve found odd about this film is that it seems to have had very little press here in the UK. The film is littered with top stars and is directed by the makers of The Matrix and the man behind Run Lola Run – so why isn’t this getting the press it probably needs to sell it? I can only suggest that it’s because Cloud Atlas an independent film and UK marketing probably wasn’t a priority. It could also be the fact that it’s a very hard film to sell. Ambitious and thought provoking, this is a near three-hour tale that depicts different stories in different time periods, portraying characters played by the same actors to suggest a philosophical theme of our souls living on in other people after we die.
It’s difficult to give you an overall summery of the film because there’s no major plot. Each story has its own narrative, but collectively they link into the overall themes of freedom, life, death and reincarnation. The stories are not told in order of years; they’re intertwined so we can learn a little of each as they go along. At times the interchanging stories is jarring because the connections between the stories can be very minimal and occasionally seem slightly pointless. For example, a book written by a pivotal character is subsequently used as a wedge underneath a table. Perhaps they weren’t all supposed to be completely interconnected, instead pointing at each of these stories ambiguously influencing rather than directly affecting each other. Watching so many small stories was grating because I never knew enough about the characters to really care about them, however looking back now I can see how some of the tiny moments connected the stories to make a bigger character arc for the souls of each actor.
It’s so difficult to talk about Cloud Atlas without giving everything away. The cast were very good though it was distracting seeing Hugo Weaving dressed as a woman and trying to believe the Asian Doona Bae was a red head Caucasian. It also didn’t help that a lot of the time your trying to guess which actor it was under all the make-up. You can’t expect this cast to play several different roles and nail each one perfectly but they come damn close to doing it. You’ve only got to look at Tom Hank’s Scottish gangster-writer, which is just dreadful compared to his very well done creepy doctor. Using the same actors for multiple roles is a way of showing that these are technically all the same souls interacting through different time periods.
Cloud Atlas has been a very tough film to round up. The different narratives have been playing over in my mind ever since I watched it and I’m constantly re-thinking different angles on what I thought initially. It’s an impressive, well written, directed, edited and acted film, but the fragmentation lets it down at points. Trust me when I say you need to see this yourself before you lay any judgement. See it, let it sink it, rant and rave about it, try to understand it, sit with a mate and discuss it, perhaps see it again after doing some research and then decide what you think. I believe that’s the only way you can watch Cloud Atlas. Of course I’m more than happy to be the one you slog it out with!!