(Germany / USA / Hong Kong / Singapore 2012)
8-14 March 2013; DCA
Adapted from David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas is certainly one of the most ambitious films of recent years. The film was directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski, who brought us The Matrix, and Tom Tykwer, and has had previous experience interpreting novels for film, for example, Patrick Süskind’sPerfume: The Story of a Murderer. Nevertheless, Cloud Atlas was no doubt a massive challenge and can, in turn, be a little difficult to unravel. A developing structural mosaic of the protagonists’ lives demands the audience’s close attention. In return, the film promises an engaging experience for the viewer that will keep them guessing as to the eventual fate of these strange lives.
Cloud Atlas is a difficult film to summarise; its complexity weaves exciting possibilities and suggests that the world is multi-dimensional and exists across cyclical rather than linear time lines. The film explores this concept by depicting and contrasting six interlocking lives as they struggle through engrossing adventures. The film starts with an at times confusing introduction to each of these characters before embarking on an exploration of their lives; Cloud Atlas incorporates themes such as power politics in relation to ‘otherness’, the exploitation of artificially made and cloned human workers, thus providing a trenchant commentary on the human condition. The film is an illustrative piece that travels through time and around the globe introducing a multitude of personalities that interconnect to give us a very Nietzschean recurring universe that reiterates itself in infinite time and space. As with The Matrix, there are hidden and also blatant explorations of various philosophic themes, making Cloud Atlas a film that is worth revisiting to discover the hidden platforms found within.
The film is well cast, featuring the talents of Halle Berry, Tom Hanks and, more surprisingly, Hugh Grant, who assumes the role of a cannibal perfectly, amidst the many characters he portrays. The film’s entire crew, in fact, contains some of the most experienced talents in the business, from the prosthetic make-up artists who worked wonders in Harry Potter and X-Men, to the costume designers for The Matrix and Perfume. These artists seamlessly transform the race of the actors, and also the time periods they inhabit, spanning from the 1800’s to a dystopian post-apocalyptical future. The attention to detail is aesthetically powerful, invoking both spectatorial curiosity and enthrallment, especially in relation to the multiple characters that each of the actors portrays. As seen in films such as Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall, or even the Victor Fleming classic, The Wizard of Oz, imagination and a vast budget can lend a film unique imagery that cannot be overlooked nor easily replicated.
I found Cloud Atlas to be an enthralling reconnaissance of themes of self and other. The film’s sole fault lies in a fragmented storyline which demands the full attention of the viewer to fully resonate. The film is also very ambitious considering the complexity of the novel. Its underperformance at the American box office suggests that Cloud Atlas did not completely succeed in fulfilling its ambitions and yet probably speaks volumes for its success. Jim Sturgess, who also starred in the film, was seemingly disappointed by the public’s response and stated that “people struggled to watch it as a product”. The film is successful in carefully constructing and cleverly adapting an unusual pyramid of storylines. Yet I can see how the film might be disliked, particularly by those who are unfamiliar with the original novel; to the fragmented nature of its narrative and the film’s sheer length does not help. However I thoroughly enjoyed the film, even shedding tears towards the end! The imagery and acting is well thought out and provides an entertaining array of talent which, for me, make Cloud Atlas an entertaining and thought-provoking film.