January 23, 2022

Cloud Atlas(2012) Review

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Dir: Lana and Andy Wachowski ,Tom Tykwer

An atlas is a human contrivance, inherently inaccurate and reinforcing an old lie, that the earth is flat.And an atlas does one more thing, it refuses to acknowledge that the earth is a lot more than land and sea.There is an earth above our earth, visible to our eye as shape shifting, destiny altering clouds, that remained a nebulous mystery for a long period of our existence.But perhaps the writers of this film had the dude holding up the planet in mind.Who knows?

The film Cloud Atlas is constructed as a four-dimensional puzzle traversing space and time with each piece that dazzle like jewels.It follows the arc of events spread over 5 centuries of human existence and tells six stories of people who yearn for a better world and are willing to make extraordinary leaps of faith.

We meet Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon,Hugo Weaving and a host of other A-list actors, they pop up in multiple stories as different characters, leaping from one century to another and changing age, ideology, gender and race in the process.The stories range in diversity from a post dystopian future in 2143 AD controlled by a highly corporatized body called Unanimity, which use human clones programmed to serve as slaves known as fabricants, and the revolution that results, led by an anarchist group which uses one extraordinary fabricant Sonmi-451 as its prophet, to a time further down in history perhaps in 2321/2344 AD when Sonmi-451 has become a prophet while humanity has nearly self destructed.In another story set in 1936 Europe, there is a talented composer working on his masterpiece which he lovingly calls The Cloud Atlas Sextet.

In the year 1849, in the south Pacific Ocean, there is ship adrift, where an American attorney is hiding a runaway slave. There is a stubborn investigative journalist who is trying to make sense of why an oilman has morphed into a nuclear power crusader, in the San Francisco of 1973.We also have a greedy present day publisher who is in deep trouble after publishing a book written by a pompous London gangster.We indeed live in a celebrity saturated age.Some of them have an identical birthmark but it links then in a very casual way, it’s a nod to the randomness of the universe.

The stories are interlinked in intricate ways, the letters written by one character turn up in the custody of another, the journal that one writes surfaces later but with the second half missing, driving its reader to the edge.A symphony still being composed travels forward 400 years to be played in a café where all the waitresses have the same face, and then travel back to be played in a dream.

In this cinematic waltz the directors leap from one genre to another, across time and space and tackles themes as diverse as creativity, human ego, slavery, corporate greed, political subversion, individual freedom, evolution, love and the environment.

A few of the many avatars of Halle Berry and Tom Hanks
A few of the many avatars of Halle Berry and Tom Hanks

Perhaps all our stories are ultimately the same, with minor variations rooted in fundamentally unchanging human nature, our mistakes repeated over and over till history itself begins to repeat itself.For example we see a doctor digging on a beach in the 19th century.As we edge closer we see that he is digging out human teeth buried in the sand.There are the leftovers from a banquet of cannibals.Yet four centuries later we see a marauding tribe, their faces painted uncannily like Heath Ledger’s Joker from Dark Knight feasting on weaker humans. Mirroring this have the fabricants drinking “soap” which is a drink made from protein extracted from the bodies of junked fabricants, in a case of unintended cannibalism and perverse recycling.

If all this seems overwhelming, worry not.We are in the able hands of the team of the Wachowski twins who made the mind bending Matrix Trilogy and Tom Tykwer who made the cult classic Run Lola Run. Cloud Atlas is based on the award wining novel written by David Mitchell, a book widely considered unfilmable. While the book tells the stories chronologically this film tells them all at once, cross cutting between them.They are connected by voiceover, music and thematically similar visuals, a strategy more suited to cinema.

So why should one see this seemingly confusing three-hour long film.The simple answer is that each story is well told, with a visual brilliance that can be a flag bearer of each genre, deftly navigating its own complexity. Big budget filmmaking is getting somethings right, the 100 million dollars spend here is all up on the screen. Mention should be made of the Korean actress Donna Bae who plays Sonmi -451, her face becomes the soul of the film.The directors wisely make her play only cameos in the other stories, keeping Sonmi-451 in sharp focus.Cloud Atlas will reward a second viewing, not to decode it, but to revel in its details, the beauty of its construction and the power of the riveting images it creates.

This is a film of unbridled ambition touching upon the human search for truth and fulfillment, which leads us through an endless series of doorways, and sometimes back into the same room. Sonmi -451 tells us-”Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

Cloud Atlas illuminates this statement brilliantly.

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