Thursday, February 26, 2015
On the Pacific Ocean, 1849, a lawyer, Ewing, brings back a black slave, Autua. When Autua saves his life from a greedy doctor who wanted to poison him, Ewing stops supporting slavery... England, early 20th century. Frobisher, a gay composer, reads Ewing's journal and is compelled to compose a song, "Cloud Atlas". However, his greedy employer Vyvyan wants to steal his song, and Frobisher thus shoots him. In the end, he commits suicide, leaving his lover Sixsmith alone... San Francisco, '73. Reporter Louisa reads Sixsmith's letters to Frobisher and hears "Cloud Atlas". She later manages to crack down a conspiracy of the oil lobby who wanted to stage a nuclear power plant incident to keep the US relying on oil... London, 2012. Publisher Cavendish reads the manuscript of Luisa's story. He is tricked into committing himself to a strict, oppressive nursing home. With the help of other seniors, he manages to escape... New Seoul, 2144. Clone Sonmi refuses to be a slave and starts feeling real emotions when she sees a film based on Cavendish' rebellion against the nursing home. She starts her own rebellion, but is executed... On an island in the far future, after a nuclear war, radiation is slowly killing the rest of humanity. They worship Sonmi as a goddess. Zachary, one of the tribe's people, helps Meronym find a station from which she sends a help signal to nearby colony planets. They leave Earth and start a colony on a new planet.
Even though it did not quite achieve a full spectre of greatness and awe, "Cloud Atlas" is one of those rare kind of films that dared to do something different and unique - a tendency not seen for almost a decade in the 21st century cinema after the conclusion of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy - and that is why more of such films deserve to be made. Its main theme - that an act of courage and humanity from an unknown person can somehow inspire the next generation of people to do the same, and they then the next generation as well, and so on, for centuries - is fantastic, beautiful and noble, but, unfortunately, it has two loose ends: in the first story, set in 1849, the character of Ewing does a good deed by helping a slave escape. In the second story, it is implied that his act inspired an English composer, Frobisher - who read his journal - to complete a song, "Cloud Atlas", over 80 years later. When the torch is passed on to the third story - when Louisa (played by Halle Berry with class) reads Frobisher's letters in San Francisco in '73 - this is where it gets a little bit stuck.
Had the movie (better) implied that Frobisher's song somehow inspired Luisa to investigate a nuclear power plant conspiracy, it would have been a great continuation. Sadly, it did not, and the connection for the 4th story is vague as well - in London of 2012, publisher Cavendish reads Luisa's manuscript, but it is not clear how, if at all, it inspired him to rebel against the oppressive, authoritarian conditions in a nursing home. The 5th story continues to play it forward, though, when a movie based on Cavendish's rebellion at the nursing home inspires a clone, Sonmi, in 2144 to rebel for a better world. The 6th story also completes it by having Sonmi be respected as a goddess. Had the connection in the 3rd and 4th story been stronger, the film would have been stronger and more cohesive as well. The choice of editing and the films overall length are questionable: the nonlinear narrative mixes up these six stories, intervening them back and forth, even though it would have been better to have them play one by one. Though, on the bright side, this way it is more dynamic and exciting. Several episodes could have been cut, as well (for instance, the 4th story could have started right from the scene when Cavendish is threatened by thugs to pay them out, since the opening with Tom Hanks playing a cocky author, Dermot, is pointless). The stylistic choices do have some great scenes (Cavendish writing at the start how the "nonlinear narrative" is contrived, but begs the viewers to bear with him, in an ironic jab; the camera moving around Luisa while her car falls down into the water) and plays with the characters from one story becoming "intruders" in the next (Sixsmith as a young lover in the 2nd story and as a older man in the 3rd one). Overall, a brave and ambitious experiment that deserves to be seen, but with a small complaint: for a movie about spirituality, it is oddly scarce with true emotions and inspiration.