‘Cloud Atlas’ Spans 500 Years With 6 Stories

by Sandra Olmsted

No doubt that Cloud Atlas is a big, important film and likely to be an Oscar contender, but it is also not an audience-friendly film either because of how unusual it is.

Aside from its three writer-directors willing working together and sharing credit, its huge cast of stars playing multiple rolls, and its six genres, Cloud Atlas is mostly unusual for its cinematic storytelling which leaves the deeper meaning of the film more for feeling than hearing and seeing. The problem is that without a scorecard and map, it isn’t easy to follow it all.

Unlike most Hollywood films, Cloud Atlas will not set up one storyline and one empathetic character in the first few minutes; consequently, audience members will need to be patient. In fact, the film is structured more like a symphony, with multiple movements in the form of the six stories, which will reoccur as point and counterpoint throughout the film.

The writer-directors, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski work together so harmoniously that the film flows seamlessly and beautifully together and also worked together to adapt David Mitchell’s novel. The six storylines and genres spans about 500 years, and in chronological order, range from a high seas adventure, circa 1800, to a post-apocalyptic tribal war.

In the earliest storyline, a slave trader, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), befriends the unscrupulous Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) and Autua (David Gyasi), a runaway slave. In the story set in the 1930s, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), a young composer takes a job working for elderly composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) and write his masterpiece, which Ayrs wants to steal but Robert mails to his lover, Rufus Sixmith (James D’Arcy), with a suicide note.

In a 1970s style crime thriller, investigative journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) meets an elderly Rufus Sixmith, now a renowned physicist,  He wants to reveal a conspiracy about the dangerously flawed nuclear reactor, a sympathetic scientist named Isaac Sachs (Tom Hanks), and the evil CEO, Alberto Grimaldi (Hugh Grant), who sends his henchmen, to kill the story and Rey.

In the contemporary era, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), a small time publisher, is rolling in dough when the lowlife thug, whose biography he published, throws critic off a roof. Then the thug’s brothers show up for their cut, forcing Cavendish to ask his wealthy brother for help, but his brother has another plan, which involve a trip to a darkly funny “hotel” for unwanted relatives.

In a future where the middle class no longer exists, Somni-451 (Donna Bae) is a clone bred for work in a fast-food restaurant in Korea. However,  she and the revolutionaries who take her know a terrible truth about the treatment of clones.

In a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, Zachry (Tom Hanks), who is part of a tribe who warship Somni-451, falls for Meronym (Halle Berry), who is from a much more advanced people called Prescients. But when Zachry’s niece falls ill, he must agree to lead Meronym on a dangerous quest into cannibal country in order to save his niece.

One of the underlying themes in the film is that a soul continues through eternity and that the choices that are made in one life have consequences throughout the “lives”  of the soul. Because of this, all the actors and actresses play multiple roles, and it is fun to sort through the exquisite makeup and costumes to figure out who is playing which characters.

They all play many roles across gender, age, and race, so its really fun to try and figure out who is playing which parts in which stories. Although the multiple parts are suppose to indicate some connectivity being characters and storyline, some critics and scholars will rightly say it is more a distraction than a clear connection.  While there is a connection between the stories and the characters, much of the individual interpretation, is left to the viewer.

What all the important characters share a shooting star-shaped birthmark which will help to follow the characters. At the end of the film, the A-list actors’ names appear with a clip of the many roles they played, which will offer surprises.

While the film is interesting, it is very long, running 172 minutes or three hours.  Since it is hard to latch onto a character to like and to follow, the film seems slow a little too often, but being patient is a virtual that will be rewarded in the end of the film.  You might even think of it as getting six films for the price of admission.

Some of the fun things are the characters that Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving play, including, respectively, a bloodthirsty cannibal leaders and Nurse Noakes who makes Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest look tame.

The impressive editing by Alexander Berner, visual effects by visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, Hair and makeup by Hair Stylist Supervisor and Makeup Supervisor

Heike Merker, and music by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and Tom Tykwer smoothly bring the multiple storylines and the work of the two separate production teams together.  The two teams only shared actors, so John Toll and Frank Griebe have separate and equal director of photography credits, as do production designers Uli Hanisch and Hugh Bateup, and costume designers Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud.  Cloud Atlas is a  Warner Bros. Pictures and Focus Features International release which is rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use.  Cloud Atlas runs 172 minutes. According to this film “By each crime, and every kindness, we build our future.

More of Olmsted’s reviews can be found at www.thecinematicskinny.com.

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