A ‘Cloud’ Nine Experience
“A half read book is a half finished love-affair” — my favorite line from one of the literary masterpieces of the 20th century, “Cloud Atlas.” The book, written by David Mitchell, is an ambitious piece, so I was doubtful when I heard that it was being adapted for the big screen, even if it was a collaborated effort by the Wachowski siblings of the “Matrix” Trilogy and Tom Tykwer of “Run Lola Run.”
But I just had to see it out of curiosity and, in this case, curiosity doesn’t kill the cat. Far from it; actually, I really enjoyed this film and was once again surprised by the power of good moviemaking: it introduces you to new worlds where imagination runs riot.
“Cloud Atlas” opens with a still of the Milky Way Galaxy, and the camera settles on Tom Hanks wearing ragged robes and sitting by a campfire. He delivers a monologue on the unity of the universe before the camera zooms out and the movie truly begins.
Pacific Island, 1849 is the first setting of the six that opens the movie. We follow The Pacific Journal of an American lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) and his comrades Dr. Henry Goose (Hanks) and a stowaway slave Auta (David Gyasi).
The scene shifts to the university town of Cambridge, 1936 where the “Letters From Zedelghem,” written by inspiring musician Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), frames the storyline.
“Cloud Atlas” quickly shifts scenes and moves to San Francisco, 1973 during the bubbling nuclear energy movement with Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) as the journalist for Spyglass Magazine.
London, 2012 has to be the best opening out of the six storylines where book publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is the main protagonist.
The last two settings are in the dystopian future of New Seoul, 2144 with Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae) and post-apocalyptic Hawaii with Zachry (Hanks).
No wonder the movie clocks in just less than three hours. It takes the first act an hour to establish all the storylines and characters before the switching and jumping between them starts. But that is the masterpiece mind of the directors. They make the audience care, so everyone roots for a certain someone to win or not die or be free: thus, there was not a dry eye by the end of the movie.
The excellent performances by the actors, each capturing the nuances of their era and culture down to the accents and behaviors, must be applauded. Pay close attention to all the leading roles and don’t let the makeup fool you! The breathtaking set designs and landscapes of each period add authenticity to “Cloud Atlas.” It is no surprise, then, that the dystopian New Seoul breathes echoes of the Wachowski siblings’ trademark.
What starts off as six independent stories ends with one interconnected story about how “we cross and recross our old tracks like figure skaters.”
“Cloud Atlas” manages to break the challenge of being a confused and dragging sci-fi movie and instead comes out as a well-constructed one that has to be seen in theaters even if you don’t believe in reincarnation. Go with an open mind and give it a chance, and you might end up surprising yourself.