By Spencer Myers
November 8, 2012
Everybody dies. Think about it; get a little manic about it. Put yourself into a funk by thinking of nothing but oblivion. Then go see “Cloud Atlas.”
“Cloud Atlas” is a masterpiece. It is six interwoven stories connected by the liminal strands of human existence. There are material connections in the form of journals, letters, music, coat buttons, and birth marks. But more importantly there are spiritual connections exhibited through overarching actors, roles, lines, and themes.
The actors cast are an ensemble made from dreams. “Cloud Atlas” features Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, James D’arcy, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, and Jim Sturgess. Each actor plays multiple roles as the film skips from story to story.
The movie begins with a grizzled old man (Hanks) sitting by a fireside giving an introductory monologue. Then it cuts to 1849, where Adam Ewing (Sturgess), a California trader on a ship back from tropical isles, struggles with a parasitic disease and contemplates the morality of the slave trade as he tries to get home. It moves on to England in 1936 where Robert Frobisher (Whishaw), a struggling homosexual composer contemplates suicide in a letter to his lover (D’Arcy). Next comes the story of a reporter named Luisa Rey (Berry) as she investigates a nuclear power company in 1973 San Francisco. It jumps again, this time to England in 2012 where publisher Timothy Cavendish (Broadbent) is forced to hide away from trouble and is tricked by his brother (Grant) into entering into a retirement home. The fifth story enters as it cuts to 2144, Neo Seoul and follows Sonmi-451 (Bae), a clone waitress, in her steps to self-awareness. Finally, it ends up on a tropical island of a post-apocalyptic Earth where a tribesman named Zachry (Hanks) struggles with hallucinations of a demon (Weaving) as he guides a visitor (Berry) into the treacherous mountains.
The entire movie fluidly skips between these stories with fast transitions and overarching dialogue. At one point Zachry says “If you fall, I’ll catch you.” The movie then proceeds to show go through a tertiary climax of every story with the protagonists being saved by their companions. Each story goes through moments of heart-pounding action, comic relief, and enlightened dialogue that fills viewers to the brim.
Every story has characters overcoming prejudices and making a change in their life. These changes ripple through time and relate to each character. The first word to come to mind for this film is profound. Viewers who are avid readers will wish that they could underline parts of the movie the same way one underlines in a book.
On a more literal level, members of the cast play roles in multiple stories. Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, and Jim Sturgess tie for the most roles with six, but none of the actors beyond extras play only one role – I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they reused extras as well. This effect plays over the best when the potential viewer doesn’t even notice, as it adds to the other subliminal play the movie utilizes.
The soundtrack is a tool fully realized as the music effortlessly transcends six eras. The main theme, titled “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” – adding to the motif of six – is written by the composer character in the film and is sublime.
The special effects are flawless.
This movie demands attention. Go in with an open, energized, limber mind and you will come out a fully satisfied human being ready to accept that the cure for death is living beyond yourself, realizing that the rest of the world will go on living after your short years run out.