It is ambitious. It's epic. It's confusing. It keeps the audience interested. Its implications are daring. It is fast-paced despite being three hours long. It requires multiple viewings. It's poorly edited. It's greatly edited. It's wonderfully acted by stars such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
Most of all, it is satisfying and entertaining.
“Cloud Atlas” is an incredible film that will anger its audience at first, intrigue its audience as it moves along and provoke its audience in the end. This is one of those films that won't clearly explain all the points it's trying to make, but at the same time, it doesn't need to. There definitely are some abstract moments and thoughts that sometimes aren't entirely cohesive, but that doesn't fully deter from the movie's cleverness.
Based on a book that was written very differently than its big-screen counterpart, “Cloud Atlas” jumps right into the set up and dissection of six different storylines that span different eras spread through the course of nearly 600 hundred years. In each story, there are connecting points of various types, though none is all that obvious or easy to follow (aside from the identical birthmarks on several of the characters). Part of the problem of balancing so much is not losing people along the way. This can easily happen. There were several terrible cuts and scenes that really didn't initially feel sequitur or necessary.
But there were several commonalities with the stories. Most of them involve rebellion of some type or freedom from control of “The man”, so to speak. Some stories—like when an elderly man tries to escape the confines of a nursing home after he was forced to live there—are simple tellings of this idea.
In one story, a Korean government in the future has the type of control over the day-to-day lives of certain people (the extent of which wasn't fleshed out enough); it's reminiscent of something out of Huxley's Brave New World. These women workers were trained to behave just like drones by performing the same routines, following a strict schedule, doing anything not to stand out. So naturally, circumstances lead to a rebellion, and one girl (played by Doone Bae) is helped to escape. She and her compatriots (there's a love story in there, too) eventually are forced to make a last stand before the big bad government forces break them down.
While she watches the final battle take place from afar, She witnesses her loved one getting shot and she utters the phrase “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present.” She goes on to say things that strongly suggest reincarnation (more on that later) and hints at a socialistic society—though it was curious as to why she'd fight against this if she thought it was the way things should be. Maybe she just felt it was her fate (Again, some things were left unclear or open).
Page 2 of 2 - That was another strong theme. Fate seemed to be the answer to why certain unexplainable events kept reoccurring.
In another story, Berry plays a reporter who is uncovering a corporate conspiracy involving oil, nuclear power and having control of the world's energy. Heck, this would have made for a good movie all on its own. Along the way, she comes across a man who knew her father (also a reporter) and helps her elude trouble. Berry and a scientist at this corporation (played by Hanks) have an interesting discussion about fate while she's interviewing him outside on a ledge overlooking the city at sunset.
And perhaps it was fate that paired Berry and Hanks together again in the final story (chronologically), which takes place in a post-apocalyptic world. She finds a group of nomads and gets Hanks to lead her through treacherous forests in an effort to find her own freedom as they end up together.
At one point on their journey, Hanks' character is thrown to the ground by these forest enemies, and as he is getting beaten, he spots a rock that he hid behind earlier when he watched a friend of his get killed in the same spot he was in. It was a similar moment to the final battle with the Korean girl.
All these things are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many subplots, twists, cool catch phrases and other things to pick up on. So much more.
Reincarnation, or going through another life, was the concept that most connected the stories. The fact that the same actors (others include Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant) played different characters implied that they were the same person in a different life. Sometimes the characters have moments of dejavu (like hearing a familiar music piece for the first time).
“Cloud Atlas” easily should get nominated for best makeup (you won't recognize some of the actors. Make sure to stay during the credits), costume and maybe even adapted screenplay at the Oscar's. It's a truly marvelous film with a grand vision that is mostly executed in style.