I hope you’ll grant me this indulgence. As far as I can recall, I’ve never done a movie review. But this will be more of a reflection than anything. And this is a film at the end of its cinema run anyway. Perhaps music or hockey later this week.
As I left the movies this evening, I didn’t pause. Habitually, I would have pulled out my phone, checked text messages, looked at Twitter, all before even leaving the single theater… but I didn’t. I just wandered toward the exit. But my mind was still on the screen behind. Somehow, this convoluted film had managed to connect in a way that Inception had done most recently; Cloud Atlas had left me in awe.
But to open, let me be fair: I can understand Cloud Atlas‘ status on Rotten Tomatoes, I can see why many were left disenchanted by the film. In fact, Cloud Atlas might not be for you. The movie is certainly bloated, and some elements of 3 hour play time are unnecessary or otherwise inefficient. One the movie’s six intertwined stories doesn’t carry the emotional heft of the others. Hell, the very concept might come across as too pretentious if you don’t buy in early.
But for me, what was there was breathtaking, visually, aurally, and from the performances of the actors. And arguably the most important element, the philosophic component… well, we’ll get there in a moment.
Let’s quickly consider the visual and audio components. The direction and effects are of the highest quality and immerse you in each story. Every tale inhabits a unique and visually distinctive time period. For me, this helps separate the threads (an interesting concept despite the interconnected universe explored throughout the film… more on that in the philosophy thing). This cinematic eye-candy isn’t limited to any one part of Cloud Atlas, either. The costuming, the make-up, the settings, buildings, vehicles, ranging from 18th century to cyber-future (and beyond) all wonderfully crafted, clearly labors of love. The sonic components of the film also impress, especially the repeated use of the “made” in-move orchestration.
Yet even with all these excellent components, your feelings for Cloud Atlas will be cemented by the interconnected status of the six stories and the actors in various roles and the resulting philosophic reflection. Perhaps you’ll find the echos across time feeling forced, the concepts of quasi-reincarnation heavy-handed.
But Cloud Atlas found me in the right place to receive and appreciate its ideals. Recent events have left me thinking far more about mortality, morality, and our place in the wider world. It can be a somewhat depressing and exhausting mental exploration, leading to (at least for me) very loud questions: What am I doing? What should I be doing? Is what I am doing going to matter? Will that all be meaningful after I die? Laid out, these four questions may not seem so relevant to you, but they establish a mindset that this movie is very interested in exploring.
Cloud Atlas suggests that if someone chooses to act, the impacts of that individual are significant. Furthermore, those actions continue to reverberate long after their source leaves this world. Consider the writings of a man near death that inspired a composer in a future age. Or perhaps the love of that same composer keeping a scientist afloat as he pushed for nuclear advancement. And the bravery of that man solidified the morals of a reporter who saved the countless people from imminent nuclear destruction. Even the seemingly-meaningless plight of an old man escaping a nursing home formed the rallying words of a freedom movement hundreds of years later. Eventually, the symbol of that freedom movement forever re-shapes humanity even past the fall of Earth.
On paper, it may seem forced. It’s too convenient, right? But the final third Cloud Atlas sweeps wonderfully, tying up loose ends of each story and finds the characters in very reflective states. One man notes that he believes in some world, some life beyond our own. A woman is interrogated and explains that her feelings, her love do not end at the limits of human life. Each story is not identical, semi-reincarnations portrayed by the actors are the same. Rather, each era manages to find whispers and echos of the previous one that help to influence and impact.
Perhaps it is my current vulnerability that left me so in awe of a piece of fiction, but I could not help but be struck by the core tenants of the film. One character notes, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime; and every kindness we birth our future.” Similarly, another explains, “We are bound together from womb to tomb.”
It is a mistake to base philosophical beliefs off a movie, and my commentary is not an effort to elevate Cloud Atlas beyond the realm of the cinema. But like all great movies, it causes the viewer to pause and reflect on its meaning in our world and consider ourselves in its lens. In this way, I found the film to be exceptionally successful and very powerful.
Sometimes it takes a pep talk to inspire and get you moving. Great coaches, parents, and friends have all had these impacts on me. Of all things, Cloud Atlas has managed to strike a similar chord. By preaching an inspired message of both the individual and interconnected humanity, a great balance is reached. We can be singularly successful, we can have meaning, and we can do that to help each other, both now and in the future.
Maybe that’s a bit hefty for a movie to carry, but I left the theater more optimistic, more inspired to do what I can with what I have the days and years and lifetimes to come. I absolutely recommend viewing Cloud Atlas before it finishes its theatrical run. It’s a convoluted, heavy movie, but one that is an amazing experience.