Cloud Atlas Review: Movie connects past to future

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present.” clone Sonmi 451 said in Cloud Atlas, and no quote can better sum up the movie than this. 

Based on the 2004 novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas does its literary medium justice by showcasing its elements of comedy, suspense, drama, and action, as it weaves together the stories of six individuals living in different eras.  The story features Adam Ewing, a lawyer seeking to deliver a contract who befriends a run-away slave in 1849; Robert Frobisher, a poor musician who becomes an apprentice of a famous composer in 1936; Luisa Rey, a journalist who uncovers a conspiracy that could cause hundreds to die in 1973; Timothy Cavendish, a publisher who is falsely put into a nursing home in 2012; Sonmi 451, a clone who becomes the centerpiece of a rebellion in 2144; and Zachry, a native colonist in the future who must overcome his own past in a post-apocalyptic future.Directors Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis Brothers knit each history together to create a brilliant timeline connecting the past to the present to the future.

In the beginning, the plot is difficult to follow as it shifts from timeline to timeline. One minute the audience see the experience of an ill lawyer during the California Gold Rush and another minute they see 65-year-old publisher in 2012.  The viewer slowly begins identifying characteristics and complexities of each character as the story progresses. Eventually, the audience finally connects to the character and out of the blue, cut! The film shifts into another timeline.

Unique to Cloud Atlas was the recurring cast in each of the timelines. For example, in one age, Tom Hanks is a doctor with an ulterior motive and in another, he is a primitive tribesman of a post-apocalyptic future.  What’s impressive is how subtle the reuse of actors is due to  makeup that makes the same face look very different each time. It was odd to see Bill Smoke (played by Hugo Weaving) carrying out assassinations and then seeing him again as a female,Nurse Noakes. Initially, remembering each face and its new role is difficult but it becomes less of a problem as the movie continues.

One effective aspect of the film is the appealing portrayal of a 22nd-century Seoul as a metropolis filled with skyscrapers with illuminated neon blue freeways for hovercraft. Along the roads are floating holographics to advertise businesses. Present-day Seoul is sunken wreckage, the victim of some nuclear disaster. Although Cloud Atlas’ portrayal is like that of almost every other movie set in the future, it definitely gets points for its vivid imagery.

The sound of the film lowered its score  for me a bit. I often had trouble making out what the actors were saying due to their bizarre accents, especially during post-apocalyptic era of Zachry (Hanks) in which the native tribe seems to have mixed Modern English with an older version of the language. Old Georgie (Weaving) sounded as if he were Batman from The Dark Knight, grumbling his lines with a raspy voice. Other than the small details that seemed to be inaudible, the remainder of the film was comprehensive.

Following along the many different timelines could be a problem, so audience members might want to read a synopsis of the movie beforehand: It could help because seeing it on the big screen will be confusing until the viewers finally get a firm grip on what’s going on. Instead of figuring out why Halle Berry changes from a journalist to Meronym, a remnant of an endangered technologically advanced race, you can actually focus on the story if you had some knowledge going into the movie.

Tykwer deserves an award for accomplishing such a difficult task: weaving together six different stories from six entirely different eras of history — two being fictional futures — and not creating a train wreck in the process. Each character experiences an entirely unique yet appropriate conflict and resolves it. Each narrative was a different genre; every story was enticing and interesting and every theme was different, yet somewhow, in the end, they were all expertly crafted and tied together.

I definitely recommend Cloud Atlas because it felt like watching six great movies at once.