Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving
Rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some
2 hrs. 52 mins.
Cloud Atlas, based on a novel by British author David Mitchell, is the most complex movie I have ever watched, equally frustrating and fascinating because of its willingness to take Mitchell’s broad meditative premise and transform it into a film.
Even more challenging, the six stories woven into this film are connected, not by history or genealogy, but by a single thought: all humans, past, present and future, are connected by our minds and hearts.
Atlas takes that thread and builds each story around it, as if to demonstrate that even if human existence seems incredibly diverse and disconnected, it’s all woven together by the same human desires and passions, the same need for love.
Each story is a complete tale. Each would make its own interesting movie. But throw them all together, and the viewer is deluged as the scenes quickly cut back and forth in no particular order between past, present, near future and far distant future.
It’s a lot to ask of an audience, but for those who appreciate the skill it takes to make an artful movie, the end result is a feast for the senses and a growing feeling of admiration for the talent and bravery it took to even attempt this project.
Directed by German filmmaker Tom Tykwer and brother-sister duo Andy and Lana Wachowski, Cloud Atlas plunges the viewer into the great melting pot of human life — broad scenes of mountains and oceans, quiet scenes of two people talking together, action scenes filled with futuristic battles, bloody scenes of human savagery, rollicking scenes of human buffoonery.
Perhaps most astounding is the consistent quality of the writing and the flexibility of actors such as Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving to play so many different roles. With an incredible range of characters, they often appear under heavy disguise in surprising places.
Hanks alone is credited with six different parts, ranging from a conniving medical doctor to a crude Cockney author to a futuristic peasant. And here’s the good news: the script, the actors, the film itself all fit together seamlessly like a glove.
But these are not just stories to be told. The film raises an important question: What is the true bond we have with each other as humans? How and to whom are we connected?
The film reveals small clues. The same tattoo on several characters. A recovered book filled with half a tale of an ocean voyage. A series of love letters retrieved from a hotel room. A musical sextet from which the film derives its name. An old movie retrieved in a far distant future. These clues are like fireflies popping up to give us a minimal amount of light.
As for the questions themselves, they will probably be debated for decades because the filmmakers do not define the human connection for us. Rather, they show samples and leave it up to the viewers to discover what it all means.
The connection itself remains a broad premise focused on the common emotions in each story — love, guilt, shame, passion, desire, despair, hope and a sense of faith in each other. All of these emotions become spiritualized and form a link that binds individuals across centuries of human existence.
Atlas is a philosophy and art lesson posing as a film. It’s not for the faint of heart. At almost three hours, it’s taxing and demands that its audience think broadly about how a single life can resonate into the future. It’s a big world of meditation crammed into a single film. Bursting with possibilities, it may indeed be one of those rare works of film art that, after considerable thought, you decide to see again.