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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cloud Atlas (2012)

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.

At three hours long, Cloud Atlas is never exhausting and fully engaging but not quite as legendary as it wishes to be. Tom Hanks is the stand out in the acting category, playing the cynic possessed by the devil inside. He has a general distrust towards people. As the generations progress, he slowly separates himself from the devil, wrestling with it through-out. His battle is with himself. There’s more evidence of the actor’s range here than in his body of work pre-Atlas. Halle Berry’s role is that of the uncoverer of the truth. “You have to do whatever you cannot do,” she strongly believes. She’s the martyr risking her life for (what she believes to be) the greater good. Jim Sturgess is the fighter, the saviour, the liberator. He’s an embodiment of the man who battles against the institution for the freedom of the individual. His experience with slavery turns him into an abolitionist. Ben Whishaw is Robert Frobisher, a man ardently passionate about something he relentlessly pursues. He has the resources to finish what he’s started. His battle revolves around authorial ownership. It’s a far cry from Keith David’s character regarded as the kind of man unhappy with his job but grateful for it. As the generations pass, he breaks out of it. His state of inner turmoil is yet a heavenly abode for David Gyasi’s stowaway slave, whose battles are entirely external and for the most basic human needs. The comic relief of the film comes from ‘The Ghastly ordeal of Timothy Cavendish’. Jim Broadbent plays Timothy Cavendish, a 65-year old publisher confined against his will in an old age home by his brother. He’s offered food, shelter and humane treatment yet he wants to break free. And finally, the purest character of Cloud Atlas, Sonmi-451- a cloned waitress at a fast-food restaurant in the 22nd century. The future is chic and the lifestyle is lavish but her heart races. A collar is permanently strapped to her neck that can end her life within the snap of a finger. She doesn’t crave for freedom because she doesn’t know it exists.

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.

Rating- 8/10.


  1. You claim that Berry's character says that “You have to do whatever you cannot do”, but I am quit sure she said the opposite: “You have to do whatever you cannot NOT do”

  2. I agree with that, its 'you have to do whatever you can't not do'!


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