Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cloud Atlas

The architects behind "Cloud Atlas" are Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski siblings, Andy and Lana (Lana was Larry until a gender transition that was completed about five years ago).  The film is based on the award winning novel written by David Mitchell.  The novel and film encapsulate six individual stories that narrowly have a link, which draws you in while you try to understand what exactly the link is.  You find yourself grasping at the small clues that link one story to the next, but in the end you aren't entirely sure you fully achieved the complete understanding.  The motives and background of each story is certainly lacking, but somehow the visual components overshadow this glaring void.

In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is on a slave ship and writes a journal that falls into the hands of Robert Forbisher (Ben Whishaw) in Cambridge in 1936 where he is working on a musical composition with Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent).  In San Francisco in 1973, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) finds a recording of the musical composition titled "Cloud Atlas" after reading the letters between Robert Forbisher and his lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy).  In London in 2012, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is writing a manuscript of the "Luisa Rey Mystery" when he is confined against his will in a nursing home from which he escapes and becomes the centerpiece of a movie titled "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish", which is seen by Somni-451 (Doona Bae), a genetically engineered fabricant that has achieved independent thought and escapes from captivity with Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess) in Neo Seoul in 2144 where her story establishes her as a religious figure to a post-apocalyptic primitive society.  Meronym (Halle Berry) visits a distant post-apocalyptic primitive society and is lead to the temple of worship by Zachry (Tom Hanks) who must battle his inner demons represented by Old Georgie (Hugo Weaving) and other cannibals that oppose the new religion.  The final story of Meronym and Zachry is told to children by the campfire by Zachry several years later to conclude the story.

Confused yet?  There is even more going on as so many of the actors, as you may have noticed, play different characters in each storyline.  The make-up is impressive as you can see through the credits the transformation that takes place from one story to the next.  Hugo Weaving stood out the most for me as he transitions from an 1849 businessman, to a physical nurse in 2012, to an asexual interviewer in 2144, and finally as the Old Georgie who is a devil tormenting Zachry in the post-apocalyptic future.  The make-up for Halle Berry and Tom Hanks was equally impressive as their physical size and skin color was adjusted to each story. 

The performances from the entire cast are amazing; even the smaller contributions from Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant who traverse from one story to the next keeping the audience focused on even the smallest of details. 
David Mitchell took liberties with the novel that allowed for humor to be instilled through self-deprecating observances and clever writing that was incorporated with the film.  Whether it be the disdain for flashbacks and flash forwards, or Javier (Brody Nicholas Lee) warning Luisa Rey that it is usually this time in the story that the main character dies, the subtle humor is not missed by the audience or a theater of critics with the line "what is a critic but someone who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely".  The story is rich with philosophical writing asking "if God created the world how are we to know what we can change and what must stay the same", or that "our lives are not our own, we are bound to others, past and present that with each crime and every kindness we birth our future".

This is a film that will not be for everyone as it challenges the audience much like "Tree of Life" with deep philosophical questions.  With the six stories and a nearly three hour run time it will be difficult to win everyone over.  However, there are some pieces that are worth noting.  The make-up and wardrobe is very deserving of award consideration and quite possibly an adapted screenplay nomination which finds a way to maintain a narrative in the atypical structure.  When I walked out of the theater I was not sure of the rating to give this film, but after taking the time to digest it and better understand the various stories I can see that it is much better than I initially realized and feel comfortable with giving the film 4 Quacks.

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