TIFF 2012: 'Cloud Atlas' is a Cinematic Revelation on a Grand Scale
by Alex Billington
September 8, 2012
"Fear. Belief. Love. Phenomena that determine the course of our lives." It's the movie of the year. A bold, ambitious, grand storytelling accomplishment that I dare say is a true cinematic revelation. I have been anxiously/impatiently waiting to finally see filmmakers Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer take on adapting David Mitchell's epic novel Cloud Atlas, which seamlessly blends six different storylines in an attempt to look at the meaning of life and the decisions that impact this universe. I will forever be able to say - I was there, at the Cloud Atlas premiere, that ended with an enormously deserving standing ovation.
Cloud Atlas found me at the perfect time in my life and the paths I happen to be on myself, converging at the right time and the right place tonight for this experience to pay off perfectly. In short - they pulled it off. The Wachowskis and Tykwer have made a movie that truly pushes the boundaries of cinematic storytelling. It pushes, even challenges, the audience itself to seek the brilliance within it, while also ask that they try to discover something about themselves while watching it. Not many movies come close to doing that, in any way. And those that are unmoved by the way this pushes the audience must be, unfortunately, blind to the revelations within. Cloud Atlas is an achievement of the grandest of scales. It may forever change your life.
As most should already familiar from the trailers, Cloud Atlas attempts to intertwine six century-spanning storylines. Everything from: a ship traveling across the Pacific in 1800s harboring a freed slave; a legendary composer working on his final moving piece with a young amanuensis; a journalist putting integrity above all else; an elderly book publisher living out his final years; a "fabricant" clone becoming independent and fulfilling her destiny in future Seoul; and the transcendence of love across time and space in the far future. There's no point in me attempting to explain the stories, how they intertwine, or why, because that is the revelation itself. It may take 3, 4, even 10 viewings to fully understand, and that's the brilliance within it.
I have always believed, and will continue to believe, that the Wachowskis are filmmakers who make movies that are ahead of their time. They make the kind of movies that stand as strong, and even grow, with time; that years down the line will be recognized as achievements (even if they're not the biggest financial hits). The kind of movies that, those who look for more out of experiential entertainment can find in them, if they choose to. If you accept their challenge in this, as the audience, to embrace what is presented, you too will discover the revelation, but it's truly up to you and you alone - to look for and find that magnificence within.
Cloud Atlas blends the various storylines and actors used throughout into a masterpiece of storytelling. It cuts between each segment, but never leaves the viewer confused or out of touch, unless they're too lazy to follow along. The dialogue in each timeframe is unique, but nonetheless lyrical, sometimes poetic, used in ways to convey the sense of depth they're exploring simply by living. I can see where some might gloss over the more revelatory nature of the segments, and instead scoff at the occasional levity and absurdity (Tom Hanks as a gangster? Wow no way!), but I believe that speaks more about them that it actually does the film.
Whether or not I understood every scene, I certainly felt the emotion, deep down within me. By the end I was wiping away tears. Tears of joy, out of pure happiness, from realizing that they have accomplished what I thought might not be possible. Tears because, remarkably, my mind might have been starting to come to an understanding of life and this universe merely through a presentation of a few different meaningful stories. How do they all connect? What does it all mean? What is life about? These are questions that I kept asking, and will continue to ask, every time I see it. Every person in the world could give a different answer, a different interpretation, again it comes down to what the watcher him/herself is looking to get out of it.
Not only is Cloud Atlas an achievement in storytelling, it is a technical masterwork as well. Especially the cast, and their make-up. Many of the actors do indeed appear in all six stories, playing people of different race and sex. Here it's not even asking the viewers to suspend their disbelief, because it's all pulled off with perfection, making it look like there isn't even a make-up job to be worried about. This is who they are, their soul captured in a different character. Again - what does it all mean? Why is Tom Hanks' character bad in one storyline, good in another? I honestly think it's just the century-spanning, multiple-lifetime character arc that we get to see many of these individuals go on. That is their path to one of the big revelations in this.
As for the cast, everyone shines. Tom Hanks runs the show appearing in all six, but is matched by Hugo Weaving (a total badass as always), Halle Berry (stands out in many ways), Jim Sturgess (particularly impressive), Hugh Grant (in his best roles yet), James D'Arcy (very endearing) and Doona Bae as the pivotal Sonmi-451. Tykwer and the Wachowskis' give us a taste of almost every genre, every kind of emotion, entertainment and intrigue in every form. While it could have been even longer, exploring each segment further, it's concise enough to my tastes, and gave me more than enough to believe in each storyline. I didn't want to find myself disinterested with one waiting for the next, and thankfully never felt that was the case.
What more can I say besides see it yourself and go in optimistic? Movies to me have always been about what you, personally as the viewer, take from them. How they impact you. What they mean to you. And I truly believe if you keep yourself open to it, Cloud Atlas can be a revelation and change the way you view life on this world. At the very least, it's a massive cinematic accomplishment on the grandest scale, an utterly enchanting, moving, remarkable storytelling masterpiece. Let it affect you. Discover the revelations yourself.
Alex's Toronto Rating: 10 out of 10