Cloud Atlas is a science fiction film adaptation of the 2004 novel of the same name. Much like David Mitchell’s novel, the film follows several plot lines, occurring in different eras in time. The film was written and directed by Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer. After a year spent in production, Cloud Atlas became one of the most expensive independently funded films of all time. It was released in October of 2012 to mixed critical reviews. Despite some serious star power, the film’s gross income was shy of justifying its large budget of over $140 million.
The talented ensemble cast of ‘Cloud Atlas: Everything is Connected’
The film’s cast plays multiple characters across multiple time periods, resulting in credits almost as complex and confusing as the film’s many storylines.
Tom Hanks portrays Dr. Henry Goose, Hotel Manager, Isaac Sachs, Dermot Hoggins, Cavendish Look-a-Like Actor, and Zachry. Halle Berry plays Native Woman, Jocasta Ayrs, Luisa Rey, Indian Party Guest, Ovid, and Meronym. Jim Broadbent portrays Captain Molyneux, Vyvyan Ayrs, Timothy Cavendish, Korean Musician, and Prescient 2. Hugo Weaving stars as Haskell Moore, Tadeusz Kesselring, Bill Smoke, Nurse Noakes, Boardman Mephi, and Old Georgie. Jim Sturgess portrays Adam Ewing, Poor Hotel Guest, Megan’s Dad, highlander, Hae-Joo Chang, and Adam. Bae Doona plays Tilda, Megan’s Mom, Mexican Woman, Sonmi-451, Sonmi-351, and Sonmi Prostitute. Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant also make prominent appearances.
The film was nominated for the categories of Best Science Fiction Film, Best Production Design and Best Costumes in the 2013 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films awards ceremony. It went on to win in the categories of Best Editing and Best Make-Up at the aforementioned awards while also receiving numerous other nominations and wins in various awards ceremonies around the globe, totaling 15 wins and 79 nominations. The film’s long list of accolades is further accompanied by heavy praise coming from its cast, with Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant and Halle Berry voicing their astonishment most prodigiously. The novel’s author David Mitchell was likewise very impressed by the screenplay, having thought it impossible to turn his book into a movie before-hand.
With such a long list of accolades and high praise, it may seem astonishing that this movie hasn’t gained more prominence, or that its reviews remain mostly mediocre. This inconsistency has to do with the film’s nearly impregnable complexity. It’s quite possible to view this film half a dozen times and discover something entirely new about it that you hadn’t noticed before with every viewing, and this quality makes the film difficult to grasp during one’s first viewing. The main disagreement among critics stems from this. While some may argue that its complexity makes the film worth watching, others say that a film you need to watch ten times to fully enjoy and understand, if then, is a deeply flawed film. That is why Cloud Atlas is either lauded as an impressive, convention-breaking achievement, or considered an overambitious and disconnected flop. Having garnered both the highest and the lowest ratings quite consistently, its aggregate scores sit comfortably at around the middle point.
Tackling the film’s plot in any degree of detail is a gargantuan task itself, so I will try to keep it as concise as possible in the following summary. The film’s first storyline follows a lawyer called Adam Ewing, living in the early 19th century. His family deals in slaves, but Ewing breaks the family tradition by saving a runaway slave’s life and stowing the man on his ship. A secondary plot during this period follows Dr. Henry Goose, a doctor who is poisoning Ewing and stealing his property.
The second storyline follows a musical composer called Robert Frobisher, who lives in the 1930’s. He reads Adam Ewing’s journal, thus connecting the first two storylines. Robert is working for an older composer, Ayrs, but the two aren’t on the best of terms, to say the least. Robert composes a beautiful composition called the Cloud Atlas Sextet and is cheated out of getting full credit for it by Ayrs. He accidentally shoots Ayrs and commits suicide right after.
The third storyline follows a journalist called Luisa Rey, living in the 1970’s. She knows a friend of Robert’s called Rufus Sixsmith, thus connecting this storyline with the last. Sixsmith works with Rey to uncover a conspiracy to cover up a design flaw of a local nuclear reactor. A scientist named Isaac Sachs helps Rey after Rufus’s sudden suicide, but things go awry as a hitman is sent to stop Rey from discovering the truth.
The fourth storyline follows a publisher called Timothy Cavendish, who lives in the early 21st century. After a sudden success with a book publishing, Cavendish enjoys an influx of cash, but some hooligans come asking him for money and he finds himself in a tight spot. On his way to his hiding place, he reads a manuscript concerning the life and work of Luisa Rey and is mesmerized by it. The hiding place turns out to be a very strict nursing home, so he has to plan an escape along with three other residents.
The fifth storyline follows Sonmi-451, who lives in the far-flung future. Sonmi is a clone created to work in a fast-food reastaurant somewhere in Korea. Her daily routine is interrupted when she is awakened from sleep by another clone. She then watches part of a biographical film about the life of Cavendish. The film inspires her to question the world she lives in as she begins to learn about art and philosophy from a man called Hae-Joo Im. A clone revolution soon begins with Sonmi taking a significant part in it.
The final storyline follows Zachry, a tribesman living in a post-apocalyptic future. He leads a woman called Meronym across a perilous mountainous area in exchange for her services as a healer. Together they find a broadcast facility from which Sonmi had once transmitted a message at the start of the revolution. Zachry’s people held superstitions of this place, and he thinks that Sonmi is a goddess. Meronym explains to Zachry who Sonmi was and that the future of every person on Earth depends on them broadcasting a message to off-world colonies.
In spite, or perhaps because of its unique complexity, I find it quite difficult yet necessary to recommend this movie. Not only is it an interesting watch even if you don’t notice every point of interconnection in its six storylines, but it’s also a movie that you can’t really have an opinion on until you’ve seen it. Love it or hate it, it’s something you’ll think about for some time to come.
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