Cloud Atlas will stand to be the most ignored work of 2012, only receiving half-inspired reviews by critics, mostly for its cinematic and effects elements, not to mention a complete snubbing by the Academy for any sort of nomination, ignoring even its stellar use of costuming and make-up to transport actors between different eras and spaces. While I usually ridicule the absurd reviews written about films via Netflix, I cannot help but agree that a viewer must be "open" to a film like Cloud Atlas, especially since it does not exist in any sort of cinematic convention, aside from its sheer grandiosity and willingness to exact some melodramatic elements as necessary. For some absurd reason, Cloud Atlas has been describe as a messy film, one that throws together stories without assuring their unison, but this is simply not the case, for the vision helmed by The Wachowski's and Tom Tykwer is exceptionally ambitious, perfectly crafted and perhaps one of the most rewardingly perplexing philosophical statements ever offered in the history of cinema. While I am not committed to the handful of people suggesting that this will prove to have a similar impact as Citizen Kane or 2001: A Space Odyssey, in where it was initially shafted only to reemerge as a stellar, much accepted masterpiece, I do think as individuals come around to this film over time they will too come to realize it is a sleeper hit for one of the greater cinematic offerings ever, or at the very least in the last ten years. Perhaps in a year that seems to embrace cinematic traditionalism, or complete independent artful offerings, Cloud Atlas fell to the wayside as something in-between, yet I would contest that a majority of audiences, as one Netflix defender seems adamant to argue were unwilling to open their minds to a vision of existence that dismisses Western ideals of a higher being and power through force, as well as undermining the means by which films navigate the producer/finance oriented systems of America specifically. An expertly directed film involving dueling visions has never merged so seamlessly or beautifully and should not be overlooked. Beyond the beautiful music, the masterful acting and a perfect script one can quickly connect with this film on a very emotive level, drawing moments of beauty and heartbreak from the genre-varied set of intersecting stories.
Cloud Atlas in a nearly three hour passion project proves to cover so many varied stories that, nonetheless, engage with one another on a very connected level, in that faces and memories move throughout. The film begins with the narrative of Zachry (Tom Hanks) a man living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii who serves as the intersection between a set of narratives which are best briefly described, because any attempt to explain their interconnectedness would only ruin the complexities and beauty of their unfolding. The first portion focuses on a young man named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturges) as he traverses across the Pacific Ocean falling victim to a disease only to be aided by a stowaway slave. Second their is the narrative of a relationship between two gay lovers set in early twentieth century London, in which Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) leaves the arms of his lover Robert Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) to seek a job as an assitant to the great conductor Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) in hopes of paving his own musical career, despite a stained reputation as a homosexual. The next narrative focuses on emerging journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) as she uncovers the lies spouted by a big-time oil company, particularly the hired killing being exacted by tycoon Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). Next is the contemporary narrative of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) whose stroke of bad luck as a publicist leads to his being locked in a retirement home, only to plan an escape. Next is the futuristic world of Neo-Seoul and the life of Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) whose only world seems to be engaged with being a servant to wealth full-breed persons, it is not until her eventual freeing from a regimented lifestyle that she realizes the lies of Neo-Seoul and the very real world existing layers below the skyscrapers. Finally, we are brought to an earlier time in Zachry's life in which he deals with his tribes threats from a warring rival, as well as his own religious convictions, mostly the fears of an evil figure known as Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving). This essentially only covers everything that happens prior to the credits...it is that serious of a vision and ambitiously complex.
Having only given a cursory explanation as to what occurs in the film, I will hopefully be able to glean some of the the philosophies occurring within the film, as well as some of the social commentaries. My personal favorite (not to discredit the other exceptional portions of the film) would have to be the world of Sonmi-451, in its clear drawing upon not only the Allegory of the Cave, which so greatly influenced The Wachowski's earlier work The Matrix, as well as the tips of the hat towards many classic sci-fi dystopic films, notably Logan's Run and Soylent Green. Furthermore, my girlfriend keenly noted this particular sections ties to the meat industry and American consumption habits. The other sections deal with variants of philosophy and social injustices, whether it be the narrative of Adam Ewing and abolitionist philosophy as it relates to human slavery, or the notion of Nietzschean evolutions of good and evil as they relate to Zachry's internal struggles and ideas of moving away from the safety of normalcy. The narrative also asks viewers to consider othered bodies cinematically and throughout history in the images of a gay couple (which led to one woman's obnoxious condemnation throughout the screening I attended, assuring that it was not an issue relevant only to the 1930's), as well as images of various racial bodies. Hell, the film even considers the means by which we, as a society, deal with the aging body. Finally, the film clearly condemns the acts of big oil companies, in so much as they are willing to kill persons to assure a future reliance on oil, a very real occurrence that has been well documented in a variety of outlets both political and social. However, it is absolutely the Buddhist approach to universal and transcendent interconnectedness that makes this movie a beautiful thing, going so far as to use a very prescient ocean and drop of water metaphor to make some connections, a statement that is backed visually throughout. I would love to elaborate more, but doing so might ruin the initial viewing experience that is certain to be rewarding, although I cannot wait to reconsider this film many times in the future.
Key Scene: While I am partial to a certain scene involving a China shop, as well as Hugo Weaving's performances as Old Georgie (Not to mention the role he plays in the Timothy Cavendish section) each portion of the narrative has at the very least one moment of transcendent cinema that will leave viewers in moments of breathless exaltation.
I know I say this for a lot of films, but I truly urge you to watch this in a theater, it is meant to be grand and cinematic and one can only appreciate the ambitions of The Wachowski's and Tykwer by seeing this on the largest screen possible, and yes I added twice as many pictures because it is necessary to show the cinematic scope of the film.