Halfway through my first viewing of Cloud Atlas, I knew I had to watch it again. When I finished, I debated. Commercial compromise is much harder for me to take than lack of ambition. Cloud Atlas sold out. I make that statement now after two full viewings. I greatly admire and respect what the film initially set out to do. This is a film with a numerous characters, lesser actors, several events, plenty of scenes and a lot to chew on. They’re all pieced together into a beautiful collage, as if it were the grandest editing project by a film scholar of the highest rank. Nevertheless, the film bears it all evenly. The tone wavers, but never falters.
Cloud Atlas is a large web of narratives, switching back and forth between its sub-plots, each telling a story from a different era and each just as interesting as the other. The film’s talky and quite objectively defined; clearly a film with an agenda. There’s no attempt to suck you in, not an ounce of realism. This is a cinematic achievement that you are meant to experience from the outside. But the perspective is sky-high and the approach is ground-breaking. It requires real audacity to do what Cloud Atlas intends to do and even more to do it the way the film-makers do it.
All of these characters might be bound by different institutions but in the end, their battles are the same and they are, at a fundamental level, the same people. Man’s nature remains the same. The very institution he creates imprisons him and there will always be a need for him to break out of it. Man will always see what he wants (and doesn’t have) as injustice. And as existing wants get satisfied, new wants will creep in and there will always be a perceived injustice. It’s the balance in the world and Utopia is a futile endeavour. The film-makers also believe that the generation gap is an illusion. There will always be a natural order, a certain hierarchy. The strong will always exploit the weak, although the factors that define the two terms will change from one generation to the next. With more for man to gain, his conscience erodes away slowly through generations of compromised morality.
There’s so much the film-makers talk about here- injustice, freedom, belief, the fight for change, the courage to break free, the revelation of the truth, intuition and the collective unconscious, resurrection and immortality. When time comes to answer these questions, the film-makers serve up ‘love outlives death’ as a big, fat message. Well that, didn’t go down easy.