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.

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