In a world that appears to be connected across generations, the stories of six time periods seems to project a series of themes of the significance of life, death, love, faith and triumph. In the early 1800s, a young lawyer named Adam Ewing is on route to deliver a proclamation to extend the slave trade, when he is confronted with a difficult choice to show kindness to a black stowaway seeking freedom. In the 1930s, Robert Frobisher seeks to work with the aging composer Vyvyan Ayrs to learn from his experience and compose a life-changing work of his own. In the 1970s, reporter Luisa Rey takes on an assignment to research the practices of a nuclear power plant that seems to be cloaked in a veil of deceit. In 2012 after his client’s book drags him into a dangerous game between a gang of extortionists and a deceitful brother, publisher Timothy Cavendish is thrown into a retirement community and seeks to find a way to escape. In 2144, Sonmi-451 finds herself in an epic conflict when she is broken free from her monotonous existence and is shown a world of power and privilege. In a much more significantly distant future, Zachry seeks to protect his tribe from a band of savages while trying to understand the motives of a prescient being named Meronym.
Starring: Tom Hanks (Dr. Henry Goose/Hotel Manager/Isaac Sachs/Dermot Hoggins/Actor/Zachry), Halle Berry (Native Woman/Jocasta Ayrs/Luisa Rey/Indian Party Guest/Ovid/Meronym), Jim Broadbent (Captain Molyneux/Vyvyan Ayrs/Timothy Cavendish/Korean Musician/Prescient 2), Hugo Weaving (Haskell Moore/Tadeusz Kesselring/Bill Smoke/Nurse Noakes/Boardman Mephi/Old Georgie), Jim Sturgess (Adam Ewing/Poor Hotel Guest/Mega’s Dad/Highlander/Hae-Joo Chang/Zachry Brother-in-Law), Doona Bae (Tilda/Megan’s Mom/Mexican Woman/Sonmi-451/Sonmi-351/Sonmi Prostitute), Ben Whishaw (Cabin Boy/Robert Frobisher/Store Clerk/Georgette/Tribesman), Keith David (Kupaka/Joe Napier/An-kor Apis/Prescient), James D’Arcy (Young Rufus Sixsmith/Old Rufus Sixsmith/Nurse James/Archivist), Xun Zhou (Talbot/Hotel Manager/Yoona-939/Rose), David Gyasi (Autua/Lester Ray/Duophsyte), Susan Sarandon (Madame Horrox/Older Ursula/Yusouf Suleiman/Abbess), Hugh Grant (Rev. Giles Horrox/Hotel Heavy/Lloyd Hooks/Denholme Cavendish/Seer Rhee/Kona Chief), Robert Fyfe (Old Salty Dog/Mr. Meeks/Prescient 1)
While the story itself is complicated and interwoven, the cast is just as complex. Each of the main actors plays multiple characters across each of the moments in the timeline, with similar traits converging with each character. Hanks takes on roles that range from a greedy doctor to a conflicted scientist to a protective tribal member. As impressive as his transformations are, Halle Berry’s are much more dramatic. Berry takes on roles including a white woman, an investigative reporter and a futuristic explorer. Serving as the villain across each of the time periods, Hugo Weaving’s sinister nature takes the form of more realistic characters (like that of assassin Bill Smoke and Nurse Noakes) to supernatural beings (like that of Old Georgie). Also playing a combination of male and female characters, Whishaw takes a significant role as the optimistic composer and amp up the intensity of the composition process. Jim Sturgess, similar to Berry’s dramatic transformations, is transformed into an Asian hero and is nearly unrecognizable.
A complicated film takes a complex directoral crew (Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski) and a talented writer (David Mitchell). Spanning the breadth of the story, an image of a comet-shaped birthmark seems to distinguish each of the characters that will take on the heroic role for their times. While each time’s heroic story has varying levels of impact, they still represent the connectedness of things. Adam Ewing (1800s) discovered Autua aboard the ship and was conflicted with his role in the slave trade. After discovering that Dr. Goose was poisoning him and after being saved by Autua, Adam builds enough strength to both take down the greedy doctor and declare to his father-in-law that he refused to support the slave trade any longer. Robert Frobisher (1930s) had a strong desire to work with the aging Vyvyan Ayrs, but discovered that the old composer was much more greedy and manipulative than he realized. Gunning down the controlling old man allowed him to complete his symphony without fear of losing credit for his work. Luisa Rey (1970s) gained access to the nuclear power plant and discovered that a secret relationship with coal had developed a plot to make a public demonstration to protect the coal industry from becoming obsolete. After surviving a near-death experience, she teamed up with Joe Napier to take out the assassin and make the plot public in order to save the lives of thousands. Timothy Cavendish’s (2012) story was a bit less impactful, but his adventure was steeped in trickery to escape the thugs and the intimidating Nurse Noakes. Sonmi-451 (2144) would have continued her controlled experience had Yoona-939 not killed their owner and exposed her to a life outside of their experience. Rescued him Hae-Joo Chang, he showed her the truth about the current version of slavery and introduced her to her role as a martyr. Zachry (2321) was cautious of Meronym, while he tried to sort out the guidance by Abbess and the threat by Old Georgie). Discovering his tribe destroyed by the natives, he seeks a peaceful existence with the prescient beings.
The complexities of this film a significant enough that one viewing is not enough to catch the little intricacies. Throughout the film, there are lines that highlight the interconnectedness of life and the concept that interactions and relationships are actually predestined as spirits travel from one physical form to the next. Weaving’s and Hugh Grant’s characters may not be the only ones that are villainous from start to finish, but the common themes seem to be that their actions either follow direct physical violence or attempts to control the people around them. The other characters seems to fluctuate between victims, supporters, villains and heroes. Even when one of the main characters is not central to the story, they still play a role that may have been filled by a different actor or actress during the other time periods. Critics have been rather polarized, either praising the way the stories are interconnected or identifying them as convoluted and impossible to appreciate. The film seems to be designed to require more than one viewing in order to catch all of the details, but it would be easier to identify this film as more ambitious than even last year’s epic journey The Tree of Life.
Cloud Atlas is an intense and impressive attempt to show the complexity of life by exploring very different yet related stories from six different time periods. The art direction, costuming and makeup alone make this a must-see film.
Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5