Four AM on a Friday morning. Review time.
Preface to say I was excited about this film. Hearing Lana and Andy Wachowski do media for this film was fantastic. This was their baby. And they came out of anonymity in order to inspire the public to go check it out. And go check it out you should.
TLDR: Complex, thought-provoking, operating on many, many different levels, thematically rich, well acted. But also not for everyone, and weak in places.
Cloud Atlas is a movie about souls traveling through time. Each actor illustrates a different soul, each soul embodies itself in a different character in some six or so different stories that interweave throughout the movie as a whole.
The film is about redemption. Primarily embodied in the main soul (character), acted by Tom Hanks, it’s about one man’s journey from greedy killer, to awakened hero.
It’s about hope. But whereas we’re used to a study of hope in an individual sense, the scope of this story is cosmic. Dealing with over three or four hundred years of the human race, this becomes a story that doesn’t simply study one person’s life, but many people’s lives, afterlives, and the human race in general.
It would be wrong to say that this film is about karma or reincarnation. Those are labels, attached by cultures and adopted by societies, and so carry with them connotations and likely inaccuracies. Cloud Atlas seeks to transcend these instances, these windows of the world that we’re used to looking through in our daily lives (indeed, it’s our only view), and study something broader, if not greater.
“It’s through the eyes of the other that we most truly see ourselves,” (my rough paraphrasing) was one of my favorite quotes of the movie (and hopefully the book, when I get to that shortly). I mean, get-this-tattooed-favorite quotes. Applying individually to the characters, to the more grandiose souls, and to the way that we treat human beings in different cultures and races in general, this movie comments on layer after layer after layer.
Though at times some of the voice overs and thematic lines feel forced and even obviously trite, I think that’s the risk of a movie trying to do such grand thematic play. And it’s forgivable so long as the depth backs it up. The audience after all are all watching at different levels. And sometimes just pointing out that these character’s souls stretch through the movie, while overt to some, might bring the pieces together for others.
The visual components were fantastic. The acting was fantastic. The desire by Lana, Andy, and Tom Tykwer to make this book into a movie permeated the film, and to know that they did it independently, is even more of an accomplishment. Movies that take this kind of risk need to be supported. Hollywood needs to take these kinds of epic risks more often. Because we absolutely need brilliance of this measure on our screens.
For the first two thirds of the movie, I wasn’t very impressed. It felt very simple. But as the threads come together in the final third, the ethical and human and thematic and personal and redemptive issues start to come together, where loss and love are realized, where even the foundations of religion and hope itself are pulled apart and studied over time, the movie begins to do its truest work.
If entropy is about falling apart over time, this film is about how things are realized, and how they come together.
Now there are a few instances where the movie goes wrong, or where you feel it might go wrong. There’s been criticism cropping in the last few days about white actors playing asian characters. Anyone with this criticism hasn’t watched the movie. The actors have the challenge of playing characters of all races and genders. Asians play white characters, male plays female, white as Asian and all back again. This is the necessity demanded of this script. If you want to call it yellowface, you’ve utterly missed the point. That said, it’s not always elegant. Some actors just don’t quite fit the roles, and the effects can be distracting. Well done distractions, and to an important point. But not always elegant.
At times this, combined with the lofty ideas dealt with can very easily feel like the movie was trying to hard. And it’s easy to leave it at that.
The movie is long, and the pacing is a bit awkward at times, ringing in too many climaxes and sometimes jarring switches in the story and action. Scenes could have been cut. I was never bored. I was awake and engaged the entire movie. But I know some weren’t. Though the visuals are pretty and the action is well done, it can drag while keeping up with each storyline.
This is a movie you must engage with. To take it on its surface is to watch six compelling movies that awkwardly intertwine to no real rhyme or reason. But it’s that rhyme and reason that intertwines between them that absolutely is the point. As I said before, it’s about big issues. It breaks the conventions of every movie that’s come before it. You must go prepared to think.
If the thematic and intellectual achievement here was not enough, it was in these three directors capturing what has been said to have been unfilmable. Cloud Atlas is a massive scope of a story, and for these three to fit it in one three-hour movie experience, and as elegantly as they did, a true masterwork was accomplished here. And if you’re not left moved by the end of the movie, I hope you’re moved to think about the other impossibilities that this film has now made realistic.
Karl Pfeiffer is the author of the psychological thriller HALLOWTIDE. He also won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and went on to work with the Ghost Hunters International team. He graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in creative writing, has lectured across the nation, and works at the Stanley Hotel, leading the public ghost hunts on the weekends. More can be found at www.KarlPfeiffer.com