Cloud Atlas made me feel like a kid again. Seeing such a grand spectacle and leaving with such a sense of wonderment; being able to re-experience that emotion high just from watching a film. I believed a man could fly (Superman), that the care bear stare was an effective crime fighting tool (Care Bears: The Movie), and that I have the touch, I have the power (Transfomers: The Movie). The days of watching a film over, and over, and over again; just marveling at what you saw, how you have never seen anything like that before. As a young child, I didn’t exactly contextualize those very specific thoughts, but I certainly remember what I was feeling at the time.
Cloud Atlas delivered to me a jolt of amazement straight out of my child hood. No this film is not perfect, very few are. Neither were the three I mentioned above, but never the less I went wide eyed at the time I saw those, which is the same way I went wide eye during Atlas. I left the theater not even sure what I saw, but the instant desire to watch it again. It’s been in my forethought ever since. I can’t escape it; I don’t want to escape it.
Atlas is the story of six separate yet linked stories that span millions of years; a lawyer on a journey to get home, a composer trying to score his life’s accomplishment, a reporter out to solve a mystery, a book publisher in the fight of his life, a girl rebelling against a totalitarian government, and two individuals from completely different walks of life connecting in the twilight of existence. Those six stories are broken up and interwoven together. The film cuts back and forth, almost unapologetically at first, switching from story to story in an almost random fashion. It’s disorienting at first, but one quickly adapts and gets a feel for the pace.
While each story line is very much distinct, they share many commonalities. They are all paced the same way, so the overall arcs of the film are carried down to the individual storylines. What first starts out as very jarring cuts to each storyline are smooth out as the film picks up speed, each storyline segue to each other nicely. You leave a storyline on a tense note, and you then enter the next one on an equally tense note, etc…
The six storylines span time, with the same actors appearing many times including different gender and race. It makes for a fascinating study of one of the films themes, that life is universal. Some of the actors, like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry are rather easy to spot from character to character, others like Jim Sturges are a little bit harder, but that much more thrilling when you finally place the face. Others are less overt, like objects and scenery appearing multiple times.
And it’s that interweaving that leaves me most amazed. How well it works, and how compelling each storyline was to me. Usually in things like this, I end up liking at most 50% of the storylines, and absolutely despising the others. They are just interference to my enjoyment, and lowers my fondness for the film. However in Atlas I found myself absolutely loving every single storyline. Perhaps it’s because there is some diversity to them? The beautiful sadness & romance of Sonmi-451 and Robert Frobisher to the comedic elements of The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, this film has a little bit of everything in it.
This is a long film. It’s a film with a lot going on. I walked out of the theater going “what the hell did I just see!” and over the course of minutes and hours, the film has matured. That initial confusion has waned, and been replaced with curiosity and excitement at what I saw. Its running time is 2 hrs and 52 minutes, yet it felt like only 90 minutes. I generally despise 3 hr films, but this is one that I can’t wait to revisit many times. It’s not without its faults, but it didn’t matter to me, this film is amazing.