October 29, 2012 -- Cloud Atlas is a sprawling, epic movie with a bit of everything in it, from futuristic science fiction to a voyage on a mid-19th century sailing ship, from futuristic societies to primitive, savage cultures. It is about everything too, morality, power, oppression, diversity, reincarnation, destiny, free will. You name it, it's in there.
If this sounds a bit messy, it is. There are several different interrelated stories loosely woven together which span hundreds of years with the same actors playing different characters in different times of history. A couple of consistent characters are played by Halle Berry, who plays a crusading journalist now and in the future, too, and Hugo Weaving (of “The Matrix” series) who plays a variety of villains (male and female) across the years.
Other actors, such as Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent (“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”), play heroic characters in some story lines, and villains in others. One of the film's main characters, Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona), a clone from Neo Seoul of the future becomes part of a revolution against the exploitation of clones. The Soylent Green angle of this storyline is referenced in a comic manner in another storyline about “The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” in which Cavendish (Broadbent) tries to escape from a nursing home. Most of the film is serious, but this segment is comic.
The exploitation of clones in the futuristic storyline is echoed in “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” a storyline from around 1849 involving the issue of slavery. Bae Doona, a Korean, plays a caucasian woman of a different race, married to an abolitionist in this story. Sonmi-451 and her struggle against oppression is referenced again in another story set even farther in the future in which both Hanks and Berry play major roles.
I had no trouble following the various storylines in this epic film (it runs nearly three hours) although I couldn't say what it all means. Parts of it are clear enough. It champions liberty, diversity, openness and tolerance and opposes slavery, secrecy, oppression and intolerance. The recurrence of a peculiar comet-shaped birthmark seems to indicate some kind of genetic memory function. The idea of some kind of reincarnation, memories of past lives also arises. In some cases, characters played by the same actor, such as Tom Hanks, seems to evolve over time to a higher state of being. The idea of past and future events influencing people back and forth in time also comes up.
What I took away from this movie is the long view that societies and liberties rise and fall, but people will always arise to to fight oppression. Those heroes may die in the process, but their cause lives on, and over time, the cause will prevail. Slavery was abolished and perhaps the clones, and robots will eventually be free, too.
One of the story lines involves homosexual characters (including Robert Frobisher, played by Ben Whishaw, who composed “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” the underlying musical theme of the film) who were trying to be free years ago. Their struggle continues to this day, and remarkable progress has been made against stubborn resistance.
Overall, the message of this movie is positive and uplifting, which explains some of the negative reviews this film has gotten. Others may dislike this film because it champions liberal values and opposes conservative values. I like it because it is positive and uplifting and because it has a heroic journalist, Luisa Rey, played by Halle Berry. It is also a very daring film which takes on a very complex story with big themes and big ideas. It is a challenging film, and there aren't very many films these days that take these kinds of chances. This film rates an A.
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