Cloud Atlas— All over the Map, and Partly Cloudy

At the beginning of this movie we are told it is about God and his plan for humankind. Along the way we hear a mantra about ‘the weak are meat and the strong shall eat’. At the end we are asked if we believe in an afterlife which seems to mean in this film: 1) a life that recurs through several incarnations in this space-time continuum, not in some heaven or hell; 2) a life that has had former lives in previous human historical periods; 3) a life that passes through death and gets a do over, though with recurring themes, ideas, characters, personalities in all generations (leading one character to ask— ‘if this is deja vu, how come we never learn from our previous mistakes’).

In other words, as philosophical or religious thinking goes it is what Tom Hanks once called the Da Vinci Code— a bunch of hooey, in this case, spiritual hooey which mishmashes together notions of the transmigration of souls, reincarnation, the interconnectedness of all human life (start singing ‘the Circle of Life’ from Lion King about now) and a few other things. Welcome to the wild and wacky world of the Wachowskis which tries to combine cyclical notions of time and life with linear notions of history. Good luck with that. Despite all the religious ideas, only the Devil, not God, shows up in this film, as Hugo Weaving, looking rather like Beetlejuice— I kid you not.

Some basic facts about the film. It has an excellent cast including—Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, and many more. Most of those listed play multiple roles in various periods, but really they are just being themselves in each period. The movie comes across as one part Matrix (when it’s in the future), one part Master and Commander (when it’s in the 17th-18th century), one part Avatar when futuristic persons visit a primitive world. And did I mention it goes on for almost 2 hours and 50 minutes. No Moms and Dads, you DO NOT want to take your kids to this movie. It is rated R for some female nudity, and some violence.

This big sprawling movie is of course based on a big sprawling novel which seeks to interweave multiple story lines together. This is very challenging in a film, not least because so many people these days have a short little attention spans and will have problems figuring out what the connections are between the bits and pieces, and the differing story lines.

The cinematography is quite beautiful, and Tom Hanks gives a series of remarkable performances (as does Halle Berry). He may well be nominated for an Oscar for best actor for this. It obviously must have been challenging to play all these different parts and stay in character. And yes, there are some very effective scenes, but honestly not very affecting, with only a little pathos at points. You may be intrigued by what you see but seldom moved, nor much feeling like you wanted to identify with one of these characters. And then there is the further problem that one of the characters has come to this role straight from Harry Potter and he still acts and looks like he did in the previous films, which is distracting, to say the least (Jim Broadbent is a fine actor but he needed a different look in this film, not his Hogwarts absent-minded professor look and manner).

If you are saving your nickels for the usual spate of better films at the end of year, or more fun films at the end of the year, my suggestion is wait for: 1) Flight with Denzel Washington (out next week); 2) Skyfall the Bond film in two weeks; 3) Lincoln the Spielburg film, and of course 4) the Hobbit. More Christmas recommendations later. In the meanwhile, wait and see this film on DVD or Netflix if you’re curious. Not the Wachowskis finest hour.

  • JeremyJ

    Thanks tor this BWIII, I was thinking about taking my wife to see this on date night, not so sure now. Maybe just wait for it in the redbox.

  • Julie Walsh

    Sounds like experiencing a B-rated horror flick, and I hate horror. Or living in the Soviet Union. Thanks for the review, I’ll be sure to miss it.

  • Betty Johnson

    R-rated movies stands for ones I’d Rather not watch anyway.

  • Ben Witherington

    I understand, but some of the best movies ever made include too much violence, and get an R rating. My point is, there are R ratings, and then there are R ratings. You have to ask R rated for what? Some movies are R rated just for language.

  • Oscar

    I just saw this film last night and completely enjoyed it. But I have an advantage over most because I am hearing impaired. How is that an advantage? Because a lot of the dialog was lost on me I focused on the visuals instead, and they were impressive and entertaining. For instance, in the scenes in New Soul, Korea they may as well have been speaking Korean, or even pig Latin for that matter, because I understood only a word or two. Never the less the story line was easy to follow and the final revelation about protein was very affecting.

    On the other hand, on the 18th century ship I missed ALL of Tom Hanks’ mumblings and had to wait till afterwards to ask my friend what the point of those scenes was.

    And since I didn’t care for Harry Potter, and saw only the first juvenile installment, Jim Broadbent’s scenes lifted the whole movie from just “OK” to satisfying entertainment. One part I COULD hear was the scene with Boasbent shouting “People! Soylent Green is PEOPLE!” Only a few people in the theater laughed, I was later told, indicating the age group who attended, but I was among those few.

    Now, if I’d been able to afford hearing aids at $4K a pair I might have come to a different conclusion, but for most, if you are in the habit of only thinking about things in a shallow way, and are satisfied that shallow philosophy is deep, then you will love the movie, and as visual entertainment it was worth the price of admission, which for ME was nothing, since I had a gift card.

  • Naum

    I enjoyed it, 3 hours went by quickly. Though I had some quibbles with various plot twist changes (none too major; mostly just Wachowski creative license in “filling in the blanks” but there are a lot of dropped characters and introduction of romantic relationships not present in the book — also, one of the roles Tom Hanks plays is significantly older than the character in the novel), I pronounce the adaptation mostly a success. Especially the framework of the narrative — shifting into a more concurrent rendering over the sequential story sequence. Indeed, the film captures the ethos and spirit of Mitchell’s work. The cinematography art and costumes, and the puzzling out of recognizing the various prominent actors serving in multiple roles, are worth the cost of a ticket alone.

    The reincarnation theme is a lot more subtle in the book, plus the introduction of romantic relationships softens what I liked about the story — a tale of agape love v. human predilection for predacy that laces through our history.

    Mainly, wondered how people who did not read the book would comprehend and enjoy. Those in my viewing party had positive reaction and all wish to see it again. And judging from my twitter stream, it looks like viewers are much more positive than critics and the early box office numbers — which is not surprising, given 2001-ish nature of the film and without gratuitous explosions and shoot-em-ups and car chases and inability to easily sum up in 6 words or less.

    BW, as far as remarks on the spiritual aspects of this, sounds like you are donning a “defender of the faith” hat here ;)

  • tom

    One of those movies where the book is better. The author David Mitchell pretty much leaves it up to the reader to make the connection (the only hint of which is a small comet shaped tat/birthmark). No beating over the head with a stick, no rousing of a dead horse, but he wasn’t writing for Hollywood execs. I sometimes wonder if he wasn’t writing it to BE unfilmable, although he did give his blessing to the project. Oh, and, unlike the movie, no happy endings because whose lives are really like that anyway, eh?