Cloud Atlas

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28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
Cloud Atlas (The Wachowski Siblings, Tom Tykwer)

The Best Picture To Not Win Best Picture This Year

How does one describe Cloud Atlas? Indescribable is a good place to start. Here we have the most ambitious film of the year, probably of the decade (yes, Iím including you Avatar) and there is simply no way to describe it. What I can tell you is that the film explores 6 different stories spanning a vast amount of time and space. Connected to each story is the soul, love, death and life that encompasses us all. Cloud Atlas isnít here to obey narrative structure, classically filmmaking nor does it try to please the masses. Itís simply an experience, a dream like experience that will stay with you long after you witness it.

The Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) embark on a journey and ask us, the viewer to go on that journey with them. This journey isnít supposed to make some kind of logical sense, or have a sense of familiarity. From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present. Our lives in this world are small in nature, big in scope. If you want to witness something fresh, exciting that pushes the boundaries and makes you think, then see Cloud Atlas.

Prometheus was suppose to be the film of the year that made us ponder about our existence and what lies beyond our own world. It failed. Where that film fails, Cloud Atlas succeeds. Abandon the idea that the film is 6 stories and accept that it is one. Each segment blends itself into the next. Some people will try and fail, to see literal connections between each one. We are connected by love, life and death, wanting to see more of a connection between each segment will have you hating everything. This film is not a typical film. We are not given ten minutes of each segment before going onto the next. The film is not told that way, instead it is brilliantly edited to the beat of a heart, the notes on a music sheet, the breaths we take. Itís flawless in its presentation.

Can a killer in one story, be a hero in another? Played by the same actor, is this the same soul? There is without a doubt, one image that connects every segment. Itís a birthmark in the shape of a shooting star/comet. Is this the same person, reincarnated in the next life? The film wonít answer your questions, it doesnít want to, or even need to.

Having those actors play several roles is an inspired choice. Half the joy of the film is discover who is playing which character. By the credits, all is revealed and some are a shock to see. The make-up effects are astounding. Well recognizable actors disappear behind the make-up, changing sex or race. One hiccup, if I may say, is that we still cannot age our actors correctly. Hugh Grant looks like he is wearing a mask, instead of playing Jim Broadbentís brother.

Clocking in at just under 3 hours, the film may seem like a chore to get through, especially considering the amount of stories and characters is has to cover, but not once did I ever think the film was too long. Some stories do drag more than others, but never once did I think it was boring. We are too busy interweaving through time to be bored. If you are looking at this movie in terms of acting, writing, directing, you are looking at it wrong.

Will there be another film like Cloud Atlas? Maybe. But the general movie going public isnít ready for a film like this. This is a polarizing film, it has to be, it needs to be, otherwise it doesnít work.

"A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."

Suspect's Reviews

Saw this the day before the hurricane. Very good movie, in my top 2 of the year so far. I was surprised by how poignant it actually was, not so much the stated message (though that too) as the commitment of the actors/filmmakers. The whole transgressing race/gender borders thing by every means they could think of. This felt much more seriously humanistic to me than Avatar (not that I dislike Avatar, mind you), not even in the same league here. I didn't even mind Tom Hanks or Halle Berry, for a change. There were moments that felt like forced dramatic cliches (especially the confrontation with the racist father-in-law and the bit with the food-service slave telling everyone her horrific fate is all worth while because she got to ennoble herself and all of humanity by telling her story to someone (flattering bullsh!t to novelists and other storytellers.)) but the bad parts were few and vastly compensated for IMO.

It was also surprisingly funny. I mean the story about the Casper Milquetoast Editor vs. "Agent Smith" as Nurse Ratched-on-steroids -- there was so much in that scenario that had me cracking up (all the more impressive since it may have been the most plausible of all the evils portrayed in the movie). Also that it gets reiterated in the future as a cheesy uplifting Tom Hanks movie. Lots of stuff that made me smile.

I am the Watcher in the Night
I've seen this movie twice now and must say it gets better with each viewing. Definitely the best sci-fi flick of the decade and that includes District 9. I just can't get over how overlooked it has been this year at the Oscar's and all other major awards. They haven't even mentioned it in the technical departments (sound and special effects).

I enjoyed the novel and was a bit apprehensive about how well something this complex could be put onto the big screen and still be presentable in a 2-3 hour form but it works because of splendid performances from Hanks and Berry and great direction by the Wachowskis. A classic being over looked.


Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
I watched Cloud Atlas yesterday and I really liked it. I was quite surprised that it was so comprehensively snubbed in terms of Oscar nominations, even in the technical categories.

There were a few odd things I didn't like about it - most of those were to do with Tom Hanks. I see what they were trying to do with the casting the same actors again and again, as different races, ages, nationalities and genders but there were times when it worked and times when it really didn't (Tom Hanks as a cockney gangster and James Darcy as a Korean archivist were notably odd).

But it was an epic, sometimes stunning film about the best and worst of humanity, about power, corruption, truth and love. It was funny and tragic and exciting and thought-provoking. It looks absolutely fantastic.

One of the few times recently when I have wanted to sit and watch the credits when the film was over.

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Some thoughts (mainly on characters, casting and changes from the book):


Adam Ewing in the book is older than he's portrayed in the film, he has a 12 year old son. I would have imagined Tom Hanks as Ewing and Hugo Weaving as the doctor.
WARNING: spoilers below
After all, the doctor is the evil presence in this section, but perhaps casting Weaving would have given that away too soon?
But Weaving as a slave trader spouting about the 'natural order of things' made sense too. This section was actually clearer than in the book, which I found difficult to read at times.


This and 'An Orison of Sonmi' were my favourite parts of the book. Both have been sort of romanticised in the film version, but I don't mind that at all. Frobisher is a little less of a self absorbed arse in the movie. Doing away with Ayrs' daughter, though, did mean this section was left without anywhere to go after a while when other sections were coming to exciting climaxes, and robbed it of its 'twist'.

Whishaw was great (as always), as was Broadbent, but Halle Berry was miscast as Jocasta in this section, I thought -- Susan Sarandon would have been better, perhaps. There's no obvious villain in this part Ė Frobisher is for the most part his own worst enemy. I wasn't sure if Weaving's character was supposed to be a nazi, that would fit with the idea that he portrays an embodiment of evil in each segment.


Just about everyone was perfectly cast in this bit, I thought (except maybe Doona Bae as the Mexican woman). I liked Halle Berry as Luisa Rey. Glad Hugh Grant didn't even attempt an American accent. Weaving was at his most Agent Smith-like here, as an assassin, and it ended up being quite a tense chase.
WARNING: spoilers below
Tom Hanks as Isaac Sachs has a very short-lived role which is odd given the prominent place he's given in the trailer.
The film also has less emphasis than the book on the possibility (or belief) that each previous section may be fictional (possibly because it not being a book there is less importance placed on the idea of 'reading' the previous lives). But the Luisa Rey mysteries being written by Javier was a really nice touch.


Worst bit of Tom Hanks casting of the lot, thoroughly unconvincing as a cockney gangster. Couldn't they have made him Finch, instead, or Denholme, or Mr Hotchkiss? Jim Broadbent was great though, and this section was much more enjoyable in the film than in the book, as with Frobisher they've softened the character and made him more sympathetic - or perhaps it just seems so without his often pretentious and narcissistic thoughts. There is certainly a (brief) suggestion in book and film that Luisa Rey is Robert Frobisher reincarnated, but in terms of personality, Cavendish is the most alike. Hugo Weaving as Nurse Noakes, a kind of demented Nurse Ratched, is fantastic. And I loved the parallel with the next section with Cavendish shouting 'Soylent Green is people!'. I liked the explanation of Denholme's actions, and didn't even realise Georgette was played by Whishaw. Bit of stereotyping of the Scottish as red-haired and spoiling for a fight, but I think this was probably intended for deliberate comic effect.

Neo Seoul

I think they made some clever decisions cutting this story for the film, doing away with the university and having Yoona-939 discover the movie version of The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish in the restaurant. The glimpses of this movie version, with Tom Hanks playing Jim Broadbent, were genius. The relationship between Sonmi and Hae-Joo is made more romantic, but that's fine by me. Due to obvious copyright reasons some of the names of things were changed (no calling films 'disneys', for example), which was a nice futuristic touch in the book. But instead we get to see Neo Seoul, and it looks fantastic.

This section, though, has some of the most dubious casting decisions. The white actors don't really look Korean, and I think they could have hired a couple more Asian actors, even if they couldn't have been in all the sections. The casting across ages/genders/races works in some instances but I really wasn't sure about it here.

After the Fall

They seem to have sort of swapped the ages of the characters in the first and last sections. Zachry in the book is young. The Valleysmen don't live to be older than about 30. But there is some rejigging of the other characters Ė Catkin as his niece, rather than sisters, to get round that. This is probably the section I liked Tom Hanks in best, though. Having Zachry be older makes his hiding in the first attack less forgivable. I liked Halle Berry as Meronym, though, and they worked well together. Hugo Weaving as Old Georgie and the Kona looked great (if they did remind me a bit of The Spirit of Jazz from The Mighty Boosh).

When reading the book it took a while to get used to the dialect spoken in this section, in the film I thought the characters mumbled quite a bit which didn't help with knowing what they were talking about Ė a problem with the auguries which later become important to Zachry's decisions, if you couldn't hear exactly what was said.

One of the main differences between the book and the film is the structure. Instead of self-contained stories, split into two halves, told in order from Adam to Zachry and then back again, the film cuts between the six different stories frequently, sometimes only as much as one line in the 1930s before jumping to 2012, for example. It's probably the right decision to do it like this rather than the way it is in the book, on balance, but the cuts are so frequent it does stop each segment from fully developing and sometimes spoils the tension in what would have been longer scenes (Luisa and Joe Napier's flight from Bill Smoke, for example). There were times when even the book doesn't feel like it explores the potential of each section fully, so cutting it down further and cutting between them constantly doesn't help. There were some times when I wondered whether it was any more than an extended trailer.

It also has the effect of drawing out different parallels to those which are most notable in the book Ė or rather, it draws out specific parallels whereas in the book it is up to the reader to draw their own. It certainly gives us a specific reading of the book Ė one which is a little more hopeful and focused on humanity's capacity for survival and love. Which is probably inevitable when translating a novel into the language of film. This is not a criticism at all, I like that they've made it beautiful and romantic. I think on the whole it is a successful translation, and a memorable (and very enjoyable) film.

I do wonder what people who haven't read the book make of the film, though Ė are the different timelines and stories and multiple characters confusing?

I am the Watcher in the Night
Thursday, I loved your little background. I've read the book too and I was impressed with the slight changes that were put into the movie version. I think the best book adaptations are the ones that stay true to the themes and character development but make changes where necessary to turn a novel, hundreds of pages long into something more digestible and viewed in a 2-3 hour slot.

Friends of mine who never read the book but saw the movie with me said that they were left a bit confused but in a good way. Kind of like watching the Matrix or Inception for the first time and wanting to re-watch it straight after.

Thursday Next's Avatar
I never could get the hang of Thursdays.
Glad it was the good sort of confusing for your friends! I want to watch it all over again as well. I think it would take several re-watches (or re-reads) to tease out all the different connections between the different characters and stories.

I wonder why the directors decided to have some of the actors in all six segments, even when they had to shoehorn them in, while others were only in two or three. I'd have liked to see more of David Gyasi, for one. Also, I only spotted one instance of a woman playing a man (a very brief appearance by Halle Berry as a doctor in Neo Seoul). Think they could have made more of an effort there.

I am the Watcher in the Night
Glad it was the good sort of confusing for your friends! I want to watch it all over again as well. I think it would take several re-watches (or re-reads) to tease out all the different connections between the different characters and stories.

I wonder why the directors decided to have some of the actors in all six segments, even when they had to shoehorn them in, while others were only in two or three. I'd have liked to see more of David Gyasi, for one. Also, I only spotted one instance of a woman playing a man (a very brief appearance by Halle Berry as a doctor in Neo Seoul). Think they could have made more of an effort there.
Damn I didn't even notice that

I found Berry's turn as Jocasta has a slight misstep by the film makers. The make up/effects just weren't convincing enough and pulled me out of the movie every time she was there.

And I totally agree, I have read Cloud Atlas twice (I very rarely read the same book more than once) and found something new each time. Not my favourite novel but the best I've read in the last couple years (second only to Clash of Kings and My Sister's Keeper).

Acts of one individual can indirectly, somewhere in future, have affect on actions of another individual, who than affects someone else and so on indefinitely. That's far from being a new idea, but it always makes interesting plot. Cloud Atlas is showing us an example of that butterfly effect throughout six different stories from six different time periods. Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Perfume) took over both screenplay and directing adaptation of David Mitchell's 2004. novel by dividing work on half. Wachowski brothers took chronologically first and last two stories while Tykwer took second, third and fourth.

Chronologically first story, The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing (Wachowski), is placed in 1849. and follows a young American lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), who goes to the island near New Zealand to conclude business deal for his father-in-law and during that travel he writes a journal. Second story, Letters from Zedelghem (Tykwer), follows British musician, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), who works for the famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) in 1936. and in same time he's composing his own symphony, The Cloud Atlas Sextet. While working for Ayrs Frobisher is reading Ewing's journal and writing letters to his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy). That letters were found by journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) in third story Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery (Tykwer) placed in 1973.. Rey gets the letters from Sixsmith himself, who now as a nuclear physicist, helps her in discovering conspiracies around nuclear plant where he works. Rey's story, in the form of novel written by her young neighbor, ends in the hands of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) who, in the fourth story The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Tykwer), set in 2012., gets inprisioned in nursing home by his brother. Cavendish receives a manuscript of a novel based on Rey's story and writes a screenplay about his own story in the home.

The last two stories are placed in the future and are directed by the Wachowski brothers. An Orison of Sonmi~451 is a story about genetically engineered worker at a restaurant in Neo Seoul in 2144. Sonmi~451 (Doon Bae). She was released from her compliant life of servitude by Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess), a member of a rebel movement against totalitarian government. While in hiding, she watches a Cavendish's movie which left a big impression on her. Resistance movement moved her to Hawaii from where she made a public broadcast of her story and manifesto of tolerance and freedom. Last story Sloosha's crossin 'an' Ev'rythin' After takes place in post-apocalyptic 2321. on Hawaii. In the center of the story is Zachry (Tom Hanks), a member of the peaceful primitive tribe who worship Sonmi as a goddess. Zachry's tribe is frequently visited by Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of a society that is still in the possession of before apocalypse technology, with the aim of finding the communication station from which she plans to send a call for help to Earth's colonies because her society, Prescients, are dying.

First thing that makes Cloud Atlas special is non chronological mixture of six completely different stories. That stunt is very interesting and it's executed wonderfully, but it's also totally unnecessary because as we can see from the original work by Mitchell the idea works fine with a normal linear storytelling. This, among other things, makes Cloud Atlas leaves impression of an epic, but that impression seems forced and it operates on the principle if not quality then quantity. But this mixture of stories is no problem to follow as they are visually completely different, they take place throughout six centuries and every one of them have it's on style.
Most confusing and misleading thing for viewers are multiple roles of main actors. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant play a different role in each of six stories and most viewers spend almost the entire film in delusion that there is a connection between their characters. Although, for example, Weaving and Grant always play villains there are no connection between the characters that are played by same actors. Connection exist only between characters that found records of the main protagonists from previous story, and they are marked by a birthmark shaped like a star.

There are two thoughts that are stretched throughout whole movie: everything is connected and everyone has a right to fight for freedom. These two thoughts when connected lead to the point that an individual can affect on liberation of himself and the others from the tyranny, often called natural order, both in present and in the future. The last two stories are far from it's potential. First of them, An Orison of Sonmi~451, is unnecessarily filled with poor and meaningless action scenes which is tragedy since it's the only story that could stand as a separate movie. The most complete story is the one about Cavendish which is primarily due to simplicity of story line, loveable characters and good humor. Going more into details of the plot would just ruin the experience for those who haven't seen it yet.

Filming of Cloud Atlas was certainly an special experience for actors. Simultaneous work on six different stories, on two different sets with two completely different teams (Wachowski and Tykwer had their own teams) is astonishing. There are no objections on acting, just the opposite, Weaving's, Grant's and Hanks's transformations are genius. However, even if the idea of the same actors starring as different characters of various genders, races and ages might sound good, on example of Cloud Atlas we can see that it does not look very good, unless we accept that grotesque appearance of Hugo Weaving as nurse, Jim Sturgess as Korean or Bae Doona as a redhead, freckled noblewoman as intentional.

Both Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers played it safe with directing. They did it as they always do, i.e. what their fans expect from them. With such a complicated script and division of filming the movie between two teams this is good move. There are big stylistic differences between the stories, but they are intentional since every story is another genre while crossings between stories are worked out fantastically and almost all look natural.

At the end Cloud Atlas gives the impression of greatness and epicness although, except for a large period of time covered, there are no real basics for that. Should we take it as a lack in screenwriting or success in directing is a question that divides audience. Plot is extremely dynamic and it's one of fastest ways to spent three hours, at least awake. The film literally flies by even for those who aren't touched by it's philosophy.


Thanks for the review.....................

Good whiskey make jackrabbit slap de bear.
Saw it a couple of weeks back, and loved it. Definitely the best of 2012, for me.

Each of the different sections were handled perfectly, and in some cases, better than the novel did. The weakest of them was the Adam Ewing storyline, but even then, that had many powerful moments (what is the ocean but a multitude of drops?).

I thought Tom Hanks was perfect, some of his best performances in years. I laughed loudly and uncontrollably when he was Dermot. There was a certain novelty in hearing Hanks call someone a c*nt in a Cockney accent.
"George, this is a little too much for me. Escaped convicts, fugitive sex... I've got a cockfight to focus on."

If anyone has seen this very long and very strange movie, I thought maybe you could explain it to me because I couldn't really understand it . I know what it was supposed to be about but it was a very confusing movie.

Aye, it can be confusing, but the broad answer is that it's about stories in multiple time periods interspersed with one another. They are similar to one another (involving the same actors) to emphasize how connected different people and events are.

If you want a more specific explanation, you'll probably need to ask a more specific question.