When I was in my late 20s I entered this sort of strange spiritual renaissance where I decided to become vegetarian and buddhist. I would meditate for one to two hours everyday and generally isolate myself from the rest of modern day society. My family became increasingly concerned about my unusual mentality but what could they do? I was an adult.
About seven or eight months into my vision quest I saw an advertisement for the Wachowski Siblings/Tom Tykwer movie, Cloud Atlas. Being the ultra spiritually sensitive person I thought I was, I decided that this movie would define my beliefs and that I needed to see it at any cost. The last thing I probably needed at that time was a movie about reincarnation. It would warp the time and space of my fragile little western mind.
I convinced two of my friends to go. We met at the Mall of America Cinema sometime around Halloween of 2012. The place was packed and we arrived in the crowded theater about halfway through the opening scene. What transpired next could only be described as one of the longest and most confusing movies I had ever seen. I absolutely loved it.
Maybe it was the premise of the characters being reincarnated and my current spiritual state of mind, maybe it was the wide range of A and B list actors or it could have been the variety and diversity of the stories themselves and the complexity of the characters within them. Reflecting on it now it was definitely the stories.
The film itself is broken up into six parts playing together scene by scene simultaneously. This deviates from the book (which I have also read) where the beginning half of each story is told until it reaches the sixth story which reads in it's entirety, followed by the ending of the remaining stories. I am not sure why the person who wrote the screenplay decided to have the stories running at the same time, but it definitely adds to the chaos that is Cloud Atlas.
The six stories are set in six separate time periods on the same timeline. The actors playing the characters reappear in each part as a different person thus showing, or at least attempting to show, how they evolve throughout the course of the movie. I am not enlightened master but I do know that the laws of Karma are confusing as hell. I give the writer of the book and the writer of the screenplay credit for attempting it, though I feel like at times they tried too hard to force their seemingly incomplete philosophy. It's like they tried really hard to explain something that most people generally aren't interested in. It's probably why the movie was such a massive flop.
The plots of the film are as follows: A black slave helps a dying lawyer recover from his illness traveling on a merchant ship from Hawaii to San Fransisco, a young man becomes an understudy for a famous composer while running from his past, a 1970s reporter attempts to break a story that will expose a vast government conspiracy, an aging publisher finds his flash in the pan only to be admitted to a nursing home by his older brother, a genetically engineered restaurant worker is rescued by a revolutionary in an attempt to dismantle a dystopian society and the final story, the struggle of a woman from an advanced culture helping a man and his family escape the savage hell-scape which is the post-apocalyptic Hawaiian islands. As you can see the parts of the movie differ greatly from each other. There have been other movies that have attempted something similar, like the 2006 movie The Fountain, but that did not even come close to the degree of complexity, only featuring three stories to Cloud Atlas' six.
The cast includes big names like Tom Hanks, Hugh Grant, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon, just to name a few. For the most part they each play key characters in almost every part of the film. The list of other actors is quite robust and many also have multiple roles. There was some controversy during the filming because several white actors portray Korean characters in the story about the revolution set in Neo Seoul, however it wouldn't make sense with the plot gimmick for it to be any other way.
I don't really want this review to be a short story so I will just say the movie includes many intriguing plot points. It is well acted, has a beautiful film score and expert cinematography. It tries to say a lot of deep and profoundly meaningful things. Sometimes it succeeds and other times it fails miserably. I can see why a lot of big named actors signed on, simply because it had a HUGE budget and was something that hasn't really been done before. However, it didn't even come close to covering its costs. The studios were banking on the Wachowskis recreating The Matrix and it just didn't happen. It has more of a cult following than literal popularity. People in the United States just aren't into this type of subject matter and the plot is too confusing for most casual filmgoers. At almost three hours long most people would fall asleep. To me it is much more interesting than your average everyday movie though.
Shortly after I saw this film I had a complete mental and spiritual breakdown. I never really saw it in the same way or with as much enthusiasm as I did when I first went to the movie theater at the mall. With that being said it is, and will continue to be one of my favorite movies. It was a labor of love that never should have seen the light of day. It is as beautiful as it is oddly obscure and at times completely outlandish. Perhaps in a different time, in a different culture, on another planet, in a parallel universe, it would have been more well received. In my little version of the world it is good flick. For me I suppose that's all that matters.
Written for http://www.jmunky.com