Cloud Atlas Review
By Ken Parker
You have probably heard about this movie. You have heard terms such as “mess”, “long” “ambitious”, unique”, “confusing” and “flop”. The variety of reviews that I have read place this movie on opposite sides of the spectrum stating that it is a life changing film and an incredible cinematic experience to an overcomplicated muddled disaster of a film. Back earlier this year I read the Cloud Atlas book written by David Mitchell, after hearing good things about it. At the time I knew little about the movie being produced although I think I knew there was one in the works. The book was very entertaining and thought provoking and I reviewed it here.
I had trouble believing that the book could be made into a movie in the first place. I felt the movie would have to be 8 hours long or make no sense at all. The filmmakers compromised and made a 2 hour 44 min film that makes some sense.
The movie follows 6 separate stories taking place in various times spanning from the 1800s to the distant future. These stories are not told one at a time but instead are mixed together with the other stories. To make things even more confusing, many of the characters are played by the same actors and actresses from the other stories. For example, Tom Hanks plays Zachary from one tale and Dr. Henry Goose from another. Two completely different characters that really have nothing in common apart from being played by the same actor. This is important to state in my review because not only does it add a bit on connection to each story, it also adds confusion.
The stories and characters are linked through several items in the movie. Each tale has a character with an odd birthmark that looks like a comet and each of these characters are our protagonist who must overcome various hurdles against opposition. While the movie unfolds you will catch other strange links among these different times. Similar events in each tale give us an idea of what is going on and why these stories are all connected. Not only is there a hint of reincarnation and the idea that people are more similar than not, but we see how history repeats itself and how important each person is to everything. Even the smallest action can make a difference in the world.
At first I did not like the frantic story telling. The book at least tells half of each story at once before going on to the next tale while the movie has all the happenings being shown to us in segments ranging from just a few seconds to perhaps 5 or 10 minutes at a time. I actually grew to like this exciting way to translate the book to the big screen. The editing places the stories right side by side, making it easier for the viewer to see the connections and similarities of each tale. At times when the action gets going in one story, we suddenly see the action in another story elevate as well. This composure of the stories works well and keeps the viewer riveted to their seat.
Now I say all this having read the book. My brother was with me watching the movie and he found the story hard to follow, especially early on with all the jumping around. I can certainly see this as a problem for many people. If someone as skilled in movie viewing as my brother found it difficult, imagine the general audience who require simplistic and familiar methods. On a side note, a group of 4 people entered the movie 15 minutes into the movie and promptly left less than an hour later. I don't blame them. If you aren't going to pay attention and watch the whole movie, don't waste your time. If you have the patience and vision to see something original and incredible, well, give Cloud Atlas a shot.
My brother also pointed out that the idea that these similar characters throughout time was a neat idea but since they were played by different actors and actresses misled audiences a bit. Tom Hanks did not always play the “good guy” and Hugo Weaving wasn't always playing a male character. This use of performers sort of disrupts the idea that some of these characters are timeless and are seen in different times. You wonder what the filmmakers purpose was – is there a take home message in seeing these similar looking characters as well as these other characters who have some sort of connection whether it be a distant memory of a song or are drawn toward a particular book.
As with many great movies, Cloud Atlas can be viewed again and again and is perfect for a multitude of discussions about the film's meanings. One can see more substance and see the connections clearer with multiple viewings – at least I think they would.
I found the movie very powerful and beautiful. For the most part the movie excels in delivering each story from the novel and does an excellent job in putting it all together. The Timothy Cavendish was a lot more sarcastic and humorous in the book than the movie and so this was a bit of a let down. I am well aware of the movies shortcomings and understand why the resentment. I feel this movie may be discovered by people in the months and years to come and will become a cult classic. The film is so important in its messages and original in its execution that its daunting running time and warnings of confused plotting will be ignored in time.
I had high expectations this year with The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus and Cloud Atlas and while each of those films certainly lived up to those (Prometheus, you could have been a bit better) Cloud Atlas was a big surprise and I hope it gets lots of nominations for Oscars!!!
To me the film is satisfying and its message clear. There is a lot to be discussed and thought about and so it is not an easy film to classify and judge. I welcome any discussion about the film. Be aware that the movie totally flopped and so it will probably not be in theaters for much longer. Expect the home movie release early next year.