MAP OF THE AGES
Cloud Atlas, the latest effort from the Wachowskis, wraps a half-dozen stories, settings, and groups of characters into one film. But it doesn’t matter how many stories they do, their song remains the same.
The Matrix helmers have hit the same point for a while now: Liberty is the freedom from illusions that are perpetrated by relationships of power; Bravery is the willingness to fight these illusions; and Fighting These Illusions takes the collective power of enlightened individuals rising against them. In Cloud Atlas, one slaveholding villain asks an idealist why he’s leaving to join abolitionism: “You’ll only be one insignificant drop in an ocean,” he warns. “What is an ocean but a collection of such drops,” the idealist answers.
This observation is accompanied in Cloud Atlas by another notion – that literature, film, music, and art are the carriers of viral inspiration from generation to generation. The stories in the film are of those who seek this liberation affect, thereby inspiring future freedom fighters down through the ages. Toss in some karma and reincarnation notions – of souls intertwining and fates colliding over different lives and centuries – and you have Cloud Atlas.
Adapted from David Mitchell’s novel and directed by the Wachowskis and Run Lola Run’s Tom Twyker (who seems to relate to stories of fate and incident), Cloud Atlas courses through six stories in six eras: Aboard a ship in the South Pacific in the 19th Century; on an English estate in the 1930s; around a nuclear plant in San Francisco in 1973; in a contemporary London prison; in nihilistic Neo-Seoul; and among bands of villagers and cannibals in a neo-primitive future America. The settings allow the directors to toy with different genres – from nuclear disaster films like The China Syndrome to the stylized science fiction of Blade Runner.
The same actors are entwined throughout these stories, but take on different roles. The ensemble includes Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Tom Hanks, and Tom Hanks’ evolving hairpieces, which seem to have personalities – and perhaps gravitational systems – unto themselves. One of Cloud Atlas’ strengths is that the stories stay relatively consistent in terms of quality – a tough achievement in an anthology series. The best is the futuristic Seoul, with its remarkably tactile and imaginative CG world. Jim Broadbent’s hysterical turn as a penniless publisher incarcerated in a sadistic nursery home is the biggest crowd-pleasing character.
Worthy of particular praise is the editing by Alexander Berner. Too often, films with multilayered stories don’t understand how to connect them (think: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). In Cloud Atlas, the scenes and stories are weaved together so that the scenes rhyme and reverberate. One moment builds on the next to create a greater and more lucid whole.
If Cloud Atlas faces the charge of being pretentious, it is because there’s an unmistakable truth in that claim: There is certain preachiness at work within the film’s unsubtle ideas, which are chiseled out of bowling balls and seated in the front garden. At the same time, Cloud Atlas challenges us to be more empathetic and, just as important, more courageous in our empathy. That seems like a wise lesson in a world teeming with indifference.
photos by Warner Bros. Pictures
Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution
Cloud Atlas Production with X-Filme Creative Pool and Anarchos Production
rated PG-13; 2 hours 44 minutes
opens in wide release on October 26, 2012