One thing that is certain to grab my interest for a movie is when I hear praise and denouncements but nothing mediocre concerning it. When a film incites such a polarizing affect among both critics and audiences alike there has to be something special contained within it. If you would like to experience such a project you need look no further that ‘Cloud Atlas’. The recent independent film based on the enigmatic novel of the same name by Tom Tykwer and translated to the screen by Lana and Andy Wachowski, formerly referred to as the Wachowski Brothers, has created what is currently cited as the most expensive e $103 million budget raised by generous contributions stalwart benefactors of the art. While this might seem like a very large sum to most of us such a sum would barely be a ripple on a quarter of a billion cost of a summer blockbuster action flick. In the film festival circuit $102 million could finance every entry for a couple of years. If any In Indy filmmaking team could pull off this financial coup it would be the Wachowski siblings. They have built a reputation for creating some of the most interesting films employing a distinctive and consistently fascinating style and imaginary. If any filmmakers were able to do justice to a literary work of such incredible scope and wide ranging timeline that encompasses the globe and centuries as easily as most movies flip pages on a calendar.
The underlying premise for this expansive story represents a statement that requires but a minute to utter but a lifetime to explore perhaps never to fully understand; "a simple action in one time and place can ripple through the past, present and future exerting a profound impact on humanity. This is a technique that elevates the metaphysical thought experiment known as the ‘Butterfly effect to unimaginable heights. The film has been described as a form of cinematic pointillism. The paintings of the French innovator of the artistic school, Georges Seurat who created intricately colorful and beautiful paintings by applying millions of individual dots of paint to the canvas, arguably the innovation of what is now accomplished by pixels. Tykwer applied a variation of this technique in a literary fashion to then have it reinterpreted cinematically by the innovative minds of the Wachowski siblings with remarkable efficiency and emotional impact.
The story is composed of six seemingly independent tales separated by vast difference in geography and some 472 years of time. In many ways this reminded me of a philosophical incarnation of a James Mitchell novel that had the tendency to bring the reader through epochs of time. The six time points are subtly bound together by events and characters that might initially appear inconsequential are magnified through the ripples of time to pivotal events crucial to the progression of the culture.
South Pacific Ocean, 1849
Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess ) is a young lawyer who journeyed from San Francisco to the Chatham Islands to handle a business deal between Reverend Gilles Horrox (Hugh Grant) and his father-in-law Haskell Moore (Hugo Weaving). Involved in this segment is a treatment for a parasitic infestation and a movement to abolish slavery.
Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936
Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) is a musician, a bisexual who plies a trade as an Amanuensis for the more established composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). This jobs him ample time to work on refining his own opus called ‘The Cloud Atlas’. That work is much better than the one Ayrs is composing so he uses Robert’s sexuality to blackmail him. This introduces Frobisher’s lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy).
San Francisco, California, 1973
An older Sixsmith encounters a journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) who becomes fascinated by the older man now a nuclear physicist. The story at hand is safety concerns pertaining to a nuclear reactor being built by Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant). He engages the services of a hit man, Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving), under his mandate to murder of the scientist and concealing the damaging information that a nuclear accident could greatly benefit the oil cartel.
United Kingdom, 2012
Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is a publisher who receives a manuscript written by Dermot Hoggins (Tom Hanks) detailing his deadly exploits.
Neo Seoul, (Korea), 2144
Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is a genetically engineered clone who functions as a restaurant server. She is being interviewed prior to her execution. She had been involved with a rebellious faction who had watched an old movie msde from the novel of Cavendish’s criminal life. Executed clones, or as they are called, fabricants, are recycled into a food source for the next generation of fabricants. Traveling to Hawaii to openly protest the slavery or fabricants she declares her manifesto.
The Big Island 2321 or 106 winters after the fall
Most of humanity has undergone cataclysmic ‘fall’ but Zachry (Raevan Lee Hanan), and sister/nice Catkin (also Raevan Lee Hanan) five in a simplistic tribal society called the Valley where Sonmi is worshiped as a deity. There is another culture, ‘The Prescients’, which has retained some of the pre-fall technology protecting the location of a communication station called ‘Cloud Atlas’. One of these group members, Meronym, (Halle Berry), is prepared to reveal the mortality of Sonmi (Doona Bae).
A film like this is an honest interpretation of a complex literary work that could have easily warranted a more involved cable mini –series. Some detractors of the film point to the running length of just short of three hours. It is disparaging but what appears to be a sizable portion of the moving going public has undergone a diminishing of the general attention span. The movie demands a greater concentration than the usual block buster requires. You are challenged to associate circumstances and details of each of the six segments while dissociating the roles played by this remarkable ensemble cast. Most of the actors portray a variety of roles each with a varying degree of direct involvement to the current segment or overall story. This is a demonstration of the talent of this cast and their willingness to move effortlessly between spotlight and background placing their commitment to their artistic growth above ego.
I have likened a well-crafted movie to an expertly made tapestry but never has this analogy been so incredibly on point. The six segments are the dominant threads in this work but its genius lies in the minor filaments than serve to connect the pieces together connective tissue to a beautifully fashioned body that in true synergistic fashion greater than the sum of its individual parts. This is a work of art that must be experienced, many times, in order to glimpse the depth of its humanity and emotional commitment.
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