Are we all connected souls? Do our actions have far-reaching consequences that are hard to comprehend? Can we change something in the past or the future with something we do today? Is there an afterlife? A before-life? What is love, and what does it do to us?
Cloud Atlas tells not one tale, but six of them, and they span time and space, weaving genres, races and themes as they hop from 1849 to the 24th century. For those of you who have not read the book - like me - I can understand if you are already feeling confused about this ambitious sounding screen adaption. It took me about 20 minutes to let go and stop trying to figure out who was who, what was going on and where it was taking place. The trick is to let the stories unfold as the directors Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer intended. They’ve crafted a well-measured, visual masterpiece that will boggle the mind, ask bold and empowering questions and leave you either loving or loathing the tapestry of rich, colourful and thought-provoking tales.
The stories have something for everyone. There’s an historical adventure of faraway lands and nautical peril; an early 20th-century drama of forbidden love in the English upper classes; a 70s conspiracy thriller; a geriatric present- day comedy; a cyberpunk thriller set in 22nd-century Neo Seoul and a grim, post-apocalyptic horror story taking place sometime in the distant future.
Tom Hanks, in a series of prosthetic make up jobs, is fairly easy to spot throughout the movie. He turns up as a wicked ship doctor, an Irish gangster-turned-author (with an accent so bad it is up there with Gerard Butler's woeful attempt in PS I Love You), a Scottish landlord and a tattooed tribesman. Hugh Grant plays against type six times - one I didn’t even spot - and Halle Berry, who is in top acting form, shows up in nearly every story. Jim Broadbent pretty much steals every scene he is in, while James D’Arcy acts his socks off to play a 78-year-old scientist with aplomb. Susan Sarandon pops up here and there, but for me, Doona Bae as the cloned waitress in Neo Seoul and Ben Whishaw as a gay composer in the 1930s give the most heart-wrenching performances. It is well worth staying as the credits roll at the end of the movie to find out who played who – I was definitely surprised.
The score is an integral part of uniting the stories. It was composed by Tykwer with help from longtime collaborators Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. It is especially fitting for the movie's emotionally charged moments, with the eponymous Cloud Atlas Sextet both a moody and uplifting accompaniment.
Cloud Atlas sets out with a sprawling and ambitious mission, and I can see how it would alienate some viewers. It nearly lost me. But with such a hard-working cast and crew, and an incredible visual experience, it will prove memorable, especially if you are looking for something a little bit different. The day after I saw this movie, I woke up still thinking about it, and it took about three days before I could attempt to sensibly explain it to anyone.
I can’t wait to see it again - which, in my eyes, makes it a winner.