Opening world wide this Friday, Cloud Atlas has been one of the most hotly debated and highly anticipated films of 2012. The book readers claimed was “unfilmable,” Cloud Atlas tells six stories in different time periods, from the far past to the even farther future. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant and Susan Surrandon in multiple character from the different periods, and directed by the Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana, as well as Tom Tykwer, this film goes beyond anything done on screen before. Watch the extended five minute trailer below to see for yourself.
I was lucky enough to see this movie at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, being a part of only the third audience ever to see it. And what a film it is. This movie tops other affects heavy flicks like Avatar and Inception and is an experience unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. There are six stories going on, in different time periods, yet they are all connected in some very cool ways. The three directors handle the stories in a smart way, providing many visual cues that you just wouldn’t get in a novel. And the fact that the actors change gender, age and race to fit the different story lines is just another amazing and unique feat this film accomplishes.
Most films focus on one, very linear story line. Cloud Atlas throws that out the window without taking anything away from the experience. All the plots fit into their own genres, a sailors tail set in 1846, a gay man’s encounter with an old composer set in the 1920’s, a investigative reporter in the 1970s, an book publisher losing moving into a care home in 2012, a futuristic Korea in 2046 and a post-apocalypse future of cavemen. Some of the stories, especially the one in 2012, are funny while others, like the one in the 1920s, is sad. The stories really have nothing in common, as far as structure and plot go, but the subtle connections they have with each other leave an impression that this world is bigger than anyone person or story.
The main cast play some role in almost all the stories and they all are transformed in some amazing ways. The biggest, and funniest, transformation is Hugo Weaving as an old chambermaid, but Halle Berry becomes a white woman, and Susan Surandon an old man. This is a gimmick that isn’t in the book, but something the directors added as a visual hint to the connections all the worlds have. All the actors do an amazing job in their roles, completely absorbing themselves in whatever character they are playing. But I don’t think any of them will score Oscar nominations for their performances, simply because there is no lead or supporting roles in this film. Everyone gets to do both, as different characters. Regardless, the cast is an important part in telling the story the directors wanted and they do an amazing job.
Another important part of Cloud Atlas is the massive sets. This is a movie designed to show how big the world is and the cinematography and sets show that off beautifully. In the post-apocalypse story, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry travel across massive mountains and terrain that looks out of this world. And in the futuristic Seoul Korea, though it is mostly animated, the Matrix directors create a world that is both scary, yet plausible for the future. The trailer gives a small glimpse at the sets, but there is so much more to see in the film. The shots truly push the medium to its full potential and in a way become part of the story, instead of just used to present it.
The musical score of the film is also pretty spectacular. An important plot point in more than one story line is the Cloud Atlas Sextet, a music score the characters describe as the most beautiful composition ever created and I have to agree. Something about the music in this film left an impression on me and though I can’t even remember the tune, I do remember thinking while watching the film, that this was one of my new favourite film scores. There isn’t much more to say about it except that when you see this movie, listen to the music and see if it affects you the same way. I expect the score to easily win the Oscar.
If you can’t tell already, I really like this movie. But critics who also saw it at TIFF have been as divided as possible, with some praising the directors ambition, while others call it a total mess. I recommend going to see it with some friends and comparing the experience with them. At lunch after the film, my friends and I all shared our different interpretations. The conversation really made us question the film and look at it in ways we may not have otherwise. I think that was part of the directors’ goal. Sure they want everyone to like it, but they probably also wanted to make a film that would get people talking and question the themes they present. If that was their goal, it worked, and it is the reason I highly recommend Cloud Atlas.