I will start this off by saying that I think I may have had a different reaction from everyone else who viewed Cloud Atlas this evening. Standing in front of the mirror doing my hair after the screening, all the talk around me was about its length and complexity, and none of the things I overheard were positive.
“That was the longest film I have ever seen”,
“Well there’s three hours I’ll never get back”,
“Why did they have to make it six different stories? Why couldn’t it just be one?”
I resisted the urge to turn, grab a passing woman by the collar, shake her around a bit and yell at everyone present: “Didn’t you understand?! It’s a modern epic! It’s SUPPOSED to be long!”
It does last for three hours. That is a long time to sit in one place and look at a screen, especially when you’re not allowed to surreptitiously check your smartphone once a minute. And it is complex and in-depth, and there are lots of stories involved. At the beginning of the movie, I felt like I was on a London bus trying to wrench itself through traffic as fast as possible: constantly jerked from side to side, and just as I thought it had stopped on a storyline, another one would shove me out of place and nearly topple me over.
After a while, though, I stopped worrying about how the hell I was ever going to write a synopsis of this movie and just let myself get into it.
There are a few intertwining themes:
– Idealistic young attorney Adam Ewing boards a boat to the South Pacific in 1849 and has an epiphany about the way he lives after he saves the life of a slave, who he eventually befriends.
– A young gay couple in the 1930s are separated by other people’s disdain of their lifestyle. One of them, Robert Frobisher, travels to Scotland where he becomes the amanuensis of a famous composer. He keeps in touch with his lover through letters which he sends throughout the whole of his life.
– In 1970s San Francisco, intrepid journalist Luisa Rey uncovers corporate corruption at a nuclear power plant and puts herself in grave danger as she attempts to save lives that might otherwise be altered forever.
– Small-time publisher Timothy Cavendish finds himself in trouble in 2012 when he publishes an autobiography of a notorious criminal. Hilarity ensues as he ends up in what seems like a hopeless situation, from which only an ingenious plan will save him and his three friends…
– Genetically engineered humans are the focus of the 2140s. New Seoul has been built up after the city we know today is flooded, and a totalitarian society has emerged in which restaurant server Sonmi-451 leads a compliant life that is entirely dictated by her overlords, until she is freed by a mysterious man who whisks her away and shows her a world she never knew existed.
– Finally, we see the intriguingly-named “After the Fall” period, between 2321 and 2346. A village of people living in remote Hawaii are visited by a representative of the Prescients, an advanced human community. Chaos ensues during a run-in with the neighbouring Kona, a cannibalistic tribe who thrive on warfare.
The film follows all of these plots to completion, with the same actors popping up again and again in each storyline. Reincarnation is posited as an explanation:
“I saw something in his ice-blue eyes, something beneath all the years and the illness. Something familiar.”
I think the reason I enjoyed it so much, other than the beautiful visuals and amazing complexity, was because its focus was on truth rather than love. Too many movies, I find, focus on romance: the classic ‘and then he swept her away to his castle and they lived happily ever after’ theme. Instead, Cloud Atlas brought truth to the forefront, and honour; showed the importance of doing good in the world, even if you feel that what you can do might be insignificant:
“No matter what you do, it will never amount to anything more than a single drop of water in a limitless ocean.”
“What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?”
I loved it. I think it’s important, shocking in places, certainly moving and just generally earth-shatteringly awesome. And you can’t get much better than that.
Cloud Atlas arrives in UK cinemas – 22nd February 2013