So I guess what every person whose reviewed this movie would say is…where do you even start with a film like this?
There are definitely huge theological ideas in this film…and we get the sense the Watchowski’s are picking up where The Matrix left off. I’m not sure I could ever talk too in depth about theology or what the film may say about the nature of human existence and the possibility that we are merely travelers walking from one life to the next. As the movie likes to point out…”death” is simply when a door is shut, and life begins again when a new door is opened. I’m not sure what I would say about this in the greater scheme of the universe. I suppose if I came away thinking about anything having to do with the greater messages of the film, I wouldn’t try to think of it in the context many different lives, but instead try to understand how it applies to the one life that I have now. In a way, we experience many deaths through one life. Our bodies die physically all the time on a scientific level. Emotionally we die and are born again too. When I think of death in this life, I don’t think of it simply as a physical death, but death for me is the end of one moment of your life and the tranistion/beginning of another moment…but within the same life. I’m sure after I physically die I’ll worry about what happens to me then. So probably the best way to approach Cloud Atlas, if you are not a theologian major, think of that ripple effect in time from that previous moment in your life that affects who you are now. I’m sure if I thought of it any other way my head would explode!
But regardless of the bigger themes, I guess the question I’m more concerned with is…does Cloud Atlas work as a movie? Well, not all the time, but in a few ways it does. The one thing that is a big plus is that in its 3 hour running time the movie never gets boring. The film must of been an enormous undertaking in the editing room, as stories from almost 6 different time periods are taking place, and the level of skill that it took to weave all those elements together and create a cohesive narrative…it’s pretty fucking amazing! Visually its astonishing how every time period is carefully and authentically created. The make up work is incredible as well, with at least 8 of the main actors playing each anywhere between 4 to 6 different characters. Some of the men play women and vise versa, and I swear by the end credits when they showed the men and woman who played the opposite sex, you could never tell the difference, right down to the voice (Alright, Hugo Weaving as the nurse at the nursing home was probably the most obvious, but I had kind of wondered if his character then was supposed to be a drag queen!) This movie is a technical achievement like no other.
Another nice thing about the movie is that for the most part, each of the stories were fairly easy to follow. It’s not terribly important if you have trouble taking in the different subplots, it’s really the experience of going through these different time periods through the editing that makes the film an experience.
On the downside, there were some things about the film that I felt were left unanswered that seemed a little confusing. One of them being the title of the film, Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas is a musical composition written by one of the characters, a composer in the 1939 segment. While a character in the 1973 segment discovers the Cloud Atlas melody and considers it beautiful…that’s about all the exposure we really get to the music. It’s the title of the film, but it doesn’t feel like the song plays any real pivotal role in the story.
Also, whenever the film delved into humorous moments, the gags felt like they were trying to be too clever. For instance, there’s a moment where a naked man grabs a cat to cover his loins when a group of men barge in the room, which had that kind of “we’ve never seen a man cover his wiener with a cat before!” kind of gag. Points for originality I suppose, but it seemed like a more appropriate gag for the Farrelly Bros. There’s was also some comedy with Jim Broadbents old man in 2012 escaping with other old folks from the nursing home, where the gag in the car is you’re waiting for the old men to figure out they need to push the Start Engine Button. Of course, it takes a little too long for what’s already a pretty obvious punchline.
Another confusing aspect sometimes involved the different characters the main actors would play. For instance, every character Hugo Weaving played in every time period was an asshole, a killer, or a son of a bitch. Why? Tom Hanks played both villains and heroes throughout the movie. I’m not sure why Hugo’s characters were consistently bad. The other problem I had concerned the connections between the different time periods, which apart from the Cloud Atlas music and the Asian woman’s speech in the future which inspired the characters fighting a revolution many centuries later, the idea that our past lives impact the future just didn’t seem that well played out. This is especially true of the Cloud Atlas song when it plays no important role in the story. I‘d have to take in a second viewing to see what more of the connections were. I’m certain there were lots of them, but they might have been to subtle. I just didn’t really feel much of an impact from past events affecting the future. To me, that’s a pretty major area where the film falters.
I can see this was a film that wanted to blow peoples minds by not only the epic scale, but its epic ideas as well. Instead, I walked out of the film with a resounding…”huh”. If anything, the ride is fun. But as far as the movies big ideas go, there are a few times where it feels like it gets a big head. For instance, there’s the scene where the Asian clone is being interrogated by the Korean officer, and after she tells her story, she says she feels no one will get her message now, but she knows that at least one person will get the message (implying the Korean officer). I kind of rolled my eyes a little bit because the moment was just a little preachy. It isn’t that I’m not open to the greater theological ideas the film has to offer, its just that watching these themes play out, it feels like there’s a bit of a self-assuradness on the filmmakers part about the way of the universe, which not everyone may be open to. I know there are some people who are self-proclaimed Buddhist’s out there, but they fail to get the message that it’s not about what religion is right, but what we learn from the shared stories of other religion‘s that can apply to the whole of the human experience.
I would say, in the end Cloud Atlas is definitely a film worth seeing. It’s a major technical achievement no cinema lover should go without seeing, especially on the big screen. Aside from it’s big ideas, I don’t think it works as well as it could as a movie. If anything, however, the ride is enjoyable, and it most certainly never gets boring.