I am writing this review as the soundtrack of Cloud Atlas plays in the background. That is the kind of dedication that this film deserves. Dubbed as one of the riskiest movies ever made, this film will divide the audience into two; you will either love the film or you’d be like, “What the hell was that?”
The film-makers, the Wachowski starship (Lana and Andy Wachowski) and Tom Tykwer throw the rules of classical filmmaking outside the window. Based on the novel of the same name written by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas isn’t just a film. It’s an audio-visual experience worth every bit of your attention.
This is an independent film and according to many, the costliest independent film ever made. And there is reason for that. Most major studios have been working on films that they know will work. Cloud Atlas is an adventure most studios wouldn’t want to work on, though some did give certain amounts of money. It can go two ways; it can either end up becoming a cult film like the directors’ earlier works like the Matrix trilogy, Run Lola Run or Perfume, or it can be the biggest folly ever made in the history of independent films.
The brilliantly written script connects six stories taking place between the years 1849 and 2346. Therefore, the movie in itself is such an engrossing experience. It stars many well-known actors like Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving in a myriad of roles transcending the six different stories happening in six different time periods in completely different locations. Each segment relates to something that happened in the chronologically preceding segment. And the best part? All of these are non-linear.
There are numerous intricacies in the narrative, some of which will require multiple watches to figure out. And for a fact that it uses a made-up, very-hard-to-understand English-based creole (for e.g. the word ‘betray’ is replaced with the word ‘Judas’) to represent the language of the post-apocalyptic survivors of the planet shows that the film isn’t about language or races. It is about humanity and how we are all related in some way or the other.
The original book was mostly in chronology but the movie isn’t. The film-makers make good use of visual continuity; every unconnected scene seems connected even though they are centuries apart – literally. The film pays tribute to numerous genres and time arcs. The movie shifts between a period drama to a British comedy to a seventies thriller to a sci-fi fantasy. Six stories are shown in less than three hours and the film-makers do a good job in staying true to the novel even with this limited amount of time.
The directors have such a distinct style which is reflected beautifully in the parts which they have directed. The Wachowski starship has directed three segments, the nineteenth-century bit and the two segments set in the future while Tom Tykwer has directed the other three, the segments set in the 1930s, the 1970s and the present day. The film has possibly the best yet subtle use of CGI seen in a recent film, everything in the future and the past is so well thought of and well executed. Even though the directors have shot simultaneously with two different cinematographers and camera crews, the overall feel of the film is extremely continuous. The soundtrack is omnipresent and well-themed. It supplements the discontinuous story telling immensely.
And then there is the make-up department, which helps the characters transcend race, gender and location. The make-up is so good that you know who is behind the given character but only after a good amount of time has passed. You will still be bound to miss some of them for sure! One thing I never talk about is imagination. And this is what I loved the most in this film. I commend the amount of imagination it must have taken to script and structure the film. Having said this, the huge amount of money put into making this film is worth it.
As I said earlier it’s not a film; it’s an experience. I am honestly lost for words. I’ll borrow a line from the novel to describe the movie: All revolutions are the sheerest fantasy until they happen, then they become historical inevitabilities.