4/5 Stars

The press screening for Cloud Atlas took place after a long Monday full of classes and the longest bus ride of my life in the middle of rush-hour traffic. Needless to say, when I walked into the theater I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for the three-hour epic that was about to unfold. However, the beautiful storytelling abilities of directors Tom Tykwer, AndyWachowski and Lana Wachowski won me over.

First, I will say that I’m a big believer in reading the book before seeing the movie — the former is always better. That being said, Cloud Atlas stayed true to the book but with a different organization. The book tackles six individual stories in chronological order, but stops at the halfway point of each and then begins the next story. The final narrative, which is set in a post-apocalyptic future, is told in completion, and then the stories finish in reverse chronological order, ending with the second half of the first tale set in the Pacific Islands in 1849. That description alone is enough to give you a headache, but David Mitchell weaves them together seamlessly.

The film, seeking a visually stimulating method to match Mitchell’s creativity, chooses to introduce all six narratives at once and to juggle each story throughout the film, switching back and forth to advance each segment forward a little at a time. It’s an interesting way to acquaint the audience with all of the characters, but it also required something of a mental workout to actively be aware of what century and which characters any given scene contained. The six stories included the tale of Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) in the Pacific Islands in 1849, whose journal is read by Robert Frobisher (BenWhishaw), a penniless musician living in 1931 Belgium. Frobisher’s letters are sent to his lover, RufusSixsmith (James D’Arcy) who is later involved in a fraud case in the 1970s that Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) exposes. Rey’s life is made into a thriller novel by publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) in present day. His life story is made into a movie watched by Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae), a clone in a totalitarian society in the future, who is later believed to be a goddess by Zachry (Tom Hanks), a tribesman living in the post-apocalyptic future.

As convoluted as it sounds, the movie makes it all work. There are some pacing problems, but these are almost guaranteed with a three-hour running time. The star-studded cast is praiseworthy, each appearing in multiple story arcs in different characters and changing races, genders and personalities. Kudos to the makeup department for the film — they did such a great job that it may take half of the movie for you to realize that three different characters are played by the same actor.

Looking beyond the overlapping stories told in Cloud Atlas, there is a larger statement being made about humankind. The themes of freedom, love and connectedness pervade throughout each segment of the film. One character’s choices, good or bad, have an effect on other characters and the world as a whole. The film heralds the right for all to love and be free and illustrates how, in the end, we’re all linked together. That may sound cheesy, but the film executes these ideas in innovative and interesting ways. You might just find yourself thinking about these grand concepts and asking heady questions, and that’s just what the film wants you to do.

Cloud Atlas is outside genre classification because it has action and romance, sci-fi and comedy, adventure and drama. It’s a movie to see for its character development and pure imagination. Just go in with an open mind and three hours to spare.

TIME FLIES Cloud Atlas weaves together plots from six time periods..
TIME FLIES Cloud Atlas weaves together plots from six time periods..

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