Cloud Atlas has been receiving mixed reviews, some who laud it highly and others who find in it an overly complicated mess without internal coherence. I can only say that I fall into the former category and that I couldn’t disagree more with the latter. Cloud Atlas stuck me as an incredibly masterful and beautiful weaving together of multiple stories in a symphonic whole. The continuously recurring piece of music in the movie, the “Cloud Atlas Sextet,” undoubtedly is supposed to mirror this unity and repetition that undergirds the theme of the movie, and I found that it did so well.
Cloud Atlas is not your ordinary film, and this is undoubtedly the basis for much criticism. It centers around a rather static set of characters, played by the same actors. However, the movie skips between five or so stories around these characters, who are, it is heavily implied, reincarnated in many different time periods. The moral point, initially opaque, becomes clearer as the stories themselves unfold. The stories initially don’t reveal much connection, until one realizes that each tends to repeat themes from the prior story. As the movie continues, each begins to overlap and show a deeper resonance with its past, much as the “sextet” piece overlaps and becomes indistinguishable except for the varied instruments which play the melody. In the end, the movie points to what “lasts” or effects significance in each timeline as the “unity” between each reincarnation. While I disagree with the clearly Buddhist message, there is nevertheless much to connect such a picture with what we as Christians believe about the Resurrection and the immortality of the soul – which acts of ours have “eternal” significance, if not acts of love?
Cloud Atlas, like some of my other favorite films, is one that requires many times of watching to grasp the significance and depth of the detail in the stories. It is immersive and has a breadth that is stunning. On the other hand, the actors themselves do an admirable job, amidst makeup and costume changes, in portraying a wide range of characters. Many of the scenes and cinematography, too, is breathtaking. It takes some getting used to, and it requires a fairly good mind and memory to connect the plots, but the reward is well worth the effort. While some might continue to disagree, I think Cloud Atlas is a film that deserves much attention.
My Rating: 10 out of 10