(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 28 October, 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15528&catid=47)
Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and others
Directors: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Adam Wachowski
Rating: 4.5 stars
What can you say about a film that dwells on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, but seems to draw from New Age interpretations of Vedic philosophy? A film where a man tries to use a cat to hide his crotch, while in another storyline, a lawyer joins the Abolitionists? A film that contrives to be simultaneously dystopian and uplifting?
Cloud Atlas feels like something Haruki Murakami, Terrence Malick, George Orwell, Guy Ritchie and Oscar Wilde collaborated on, and then handed over to James Cameron to sell in Hollywood. Through a haze of casting gimmicks, mostly terrible makeup and multiple storylines, the film takes us to the Pacific Islands in 1849, Cambridge in 1936, San Francisco in 1973, London in 2012, ‘Neo Seoul’ in 2144, and ‘Big Isle’ in ‘106 Winters after the Fall’.
There are stories within stories, and little in-jokes one could miss in the blink of an eye – the cover page of a manuscript, the name of a sextet, the title of a film, the shadow of a birthmark. But that’s an irrelevant warning, because the film keeps you hooked. You laugh out loud, you cringe and grasp your throat, you lunge forward in your seat, but you never stop gawking at the screen.
Incredibly, the film has something for every kind of audience – the sort who’ll fall off their seats in mirth when someone’s mouth is stuffed into a plunger, and the sort who delight in lines like, “That leadless pencil you call an imagination”. Its landscapes range from a valley of mediaeval appearance to a futuristic multi-level city. We’re rarely prepared for the things that happen in the film. And when we are – which really only happens in one story starring Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and James D’Arcy – the acting is so skilled, we’re moved anyway.
As storylines are woven together, and a single sentence is repeated by different characters with different intonations in various contexts, you may want to lose yourself in the film, losing all track of where what is set. Yet, you may find you remember each individual storyline and its significance at the end. And you may wonder how all of this could have been contained in a book.
The Verdict: The sort of film that may have remained in the film festival circuit indefinitely, if it hadn’t been pulled back by a few kisses and set pieces and stands against Evil, Cloud Atlas feels like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.