Cloud Atlas

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film consists of six interrelated and interwoven stories spanning different time periods. The film is structured, according to novelist David Mitchell, “as a sort of pointillist mosaic.”

South Pacific Ocean, 1849
Adam Ewing, an American lawyer from San Francisco, has come to the Chatham Islands to conclude a business arrangement with Reverend Gilles Horrox for his father-in-law, Haskell Moore. He witnesses the whipping of a Moriori slave, Autua, who later stows away on Ewing’s ship. Ewing advocates for Autua to join the crew as a freeman. Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Goose slowly poisons Ewing, claiming it to be the cure for a parasitic worm, aiming to steal Ewing’s valuables. When Goose attempts to administer the fatal dose, Autua saves Ewing. Returning to the United States, Ewing and his wife Tilda denounce her father’s complicity in slavery and leave San Francisco to join the Slavery Abolishment Movement.

Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936
Robert Frobisher, a bisexual English musician, finds work as an amanuensis to composer Vyvyan Ayrs, allowing Frobisher the time and inspiration to compose his own masterpiece, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.” But Ayrs wishes to take credit for Frobisher’s work, and threatens to expose his scandalous background if he resists. Frobisher, who has read a partial copy of Ewing’s journal in the meanwhile, shoots Ayrs and flees to a hotel, where he finishes “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” but then commits suicide just before his lover Rufus Sixsmith arrives.

San Francisco, California, 1973
Journalist Luisa Rey meets an older Sixsmith, now a nuclear physicist. Sixsmith tips off Rey to a conspiracy regarding the safety of a new nuclear reactor run by Lloyd Hooks, but is assassinated by Hooks’ hitman Bill Smoke before he can give her a report that proves it. Rey finds and reads Frobisher’s letters to Sixsmith, resulting in her tracking down a vinyl recording of Frobisher’s “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.” Isaac Sachs, another scientist at the power plant, passes her a copy of Sixsmith’s report. However, Smoke assassinates Sachs and also runs Rey’s car off a bridge. With help from the plant’s head of security, Joe Napier, she evades another attempt against her life which results in Smoke’s death and exposes the plot to use a nuclear accident for the benefit of oil companies.

United Kingdom, 2012
Timothy Cavendish, a 65-year-old publisher, has a windfall when Dermot Hoggins, a gangster author whose book he has published, murders a critic and is sent to prison. When Hoggins’ brothers threaten Cavendish’s life to get his share of the profits, Cavendish asks for help from his brother Denholme. Denholme tricks him into hiding in a nursing home, where he is held against his will, but Cavendish escapes. Cavendish receives a manuscript of a novel based on Rey’s life and writes a screenplay about his own story.

Neo Seoul, (Korea), 2144
Sonmi-451, a genetically-engineered fabricant (clone) server at a restaurant, is interviewed before her execution. She recounts how she was released from her compliant life of servitude by Commander Hae-Joo Chang, a member of a rebel movement known as “Union”. While in hiding, she watches a film based on Cavendish’s adventure. The Union rebels reveal to her that fabricants like her are killed and “recycled” into food for future fabricants. She decides that the system of society based on slavery and exploitation of fabricants is intolerable, and is brought to Hawaii to make a public broadcast of her story and manifesto. Hae-Joo is killed in a firefight and Sonmi is captured. After telling her story and its intent, she is executed.

The Big Island (dated “106 winters after The Fall”, in the end credits and book cited as 2321)
Zachry lives with his sister and niece Catkin in a primitive society called “The Valley” after most of humanity has died during “The Fall”; the Valley tribesmen worship Sonmi (Sonmi-451) as a goddess. Their sacred text is taken from the broadcast of Sonmi’s manifesto. Zachry is plagued by hallucinations of a figure called “Old Georgie” who manipulates him into giving in to his fear, and hiding while witnessing the murder of his brother-in-law and nephew by the cannibalistic Kona tribe. Zachry’s village is visited by Meronym, a member of the “Prescients”, a society holding on to remnants of technology from before the Fall. In exchange for saving Catkin from death, Zachry agrees to guide Meronym into the mountains in search of Cloud Atlas, a communications station where she is able to send a message to Earth’s colonies. At the station, Meronym reveals that Sonmi was mortal and not a deity as the Valley tribes believe. After returning, Zachry discovers the slaughter of his tribe by the Kona. Zachry kills the Kona chief and rescues Catkin; Meronym saves them both from an assault by Kona tribesmen. Zachry and Catkin join Meronym and the Prescients as their boat leaves Big Island.

Epilogue
A seventh time period, several decades after the action on Big Island, is featured in the film’s prologue and epilogue: Zachry is revealed to have been telling these stories to his grandchildren on a colony of Earth on another planet, confirming that Meronym, who is present at the site, succeeded in sending the message to the colonies and was rescued along with him.

REVIEW:

It is my understanding that Cloud Atlas is based on a very successful book. If the book is anything like what I just saw, then is must be highly imaginative…and long…VERY long.

What is this about?

In this star-studded drama, six seemingly disparate stories take viewers from a South Pacific Island in the 19th century to 1970s America to a dystopian future, exploring the complicated links that humans share through the generations.

What did I like?

Make-up. It should go without saying that the makeup is a star of its own in this film. The reason I say that is because what other way can you use the same group of actors over 6 very different eras and change things such as their race, nationality, and in a couple of cases, sex. The makeup artists are to be highly commended for the job they did with these people.

Time. There was something about the way these people connected in one era, then would find each other in another era and connect, then do the same thing again in another era that resonated with me. I guess if you’re meant to be friends, lovers, or enemies with someone, then it’ll happen in all of your incarnations.

Mix. A review I read about this a little before I started this post said that this is the perfect mix of all the genres that people would want to see, be it comedy, drama, intrigue/suspense, action, etc. I had to think on that for a minute and it is true. Each of these segments is not only set in a totally different era, but they all have a different tone to them. That is what keeps the film interesting.

What didn’t I like?

Ambitious. I give this film all the credit in the world for taking a stab at doing something different. However, I felt that it may have taken a bit too big of an undertaking. This is a big film, but feels like it is an independent flick. The two don’t gel the way they could/should and ultimately, it hurts the proceedings.

Asian. The story involving Neo-Seoul wasn’t working for me. I just couldn’t seem to get into it. That isn’t my complaint, though. That section of the film also featured some very odd make-up that could be construed as racist by some. I didn’t think so, but I can see how some would cry foul. Having said that, I’m not really sure what else could have been done.

Long. At nearly 3 hours long, you better be ready to be sitting for quite some time. I’m not really a fan of long films, unless they can keep my attention, which this one did not. As a matter of fact, I actually found myself dozing a bit in the middle and had to rewind in a couple of sections just so I wouldn’t be lost. I don’t know what they could have cut out, but I’m sure there had to be a way to make this shorter, right?

Cloud Atlas was very much hyped up before it was released, but the finished product doesn’t live up to that hype. For me, it was ok, but nothing spectacular. I can’t not recommend this, because it isn’t a bad film but, at the same time, I can’t say that you should rush out and see it. Yes, it is above average and worth seeing, but I just don’t know how much you should move your schedule around to check it out.

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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