The Occasional Movie Review

Cloud-Atlas-posterToday’s movie is Cloud Atlas. And let me just start by saying that it’s interesting and fascinating, but I have absolutely no idea what I watched. So if this review gets confusing, just realize the source material was confusing too.

And let me just also point out that the Wachowskis (who made the Matrix series) haven’t made a movie that really made sense since the first film in the Matrix trilogy.

This is a film containing six somewhat intertwined stories, and they jump back and forth between all of them seemingly at will and at random. And while this would ordinarily confuse viewers, it’s simplified here because all six are in different places and different times, both past and future, and on Earth and maybe an alien world.

From there, it’s complicated to explain, so I’ll draw upon the movie’s own synopsis: “An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”

A couple of the stories deal with human slavery and exploitation. One of those stories produces Sonmi 451, a cloned “fabricant” who serves as a slave and server in a fast food restaurant in a future city called Neo Seoul. Sonmi 451 becomes a celebrated god-like character to a primitive group of remaining humans after some apocalyptic event. And one member of that primitive tribe helps an advanced group of those remaining humans to send a message to off-Earth humans seeking rescue from the dying Earth.

Sonmi 451 is rescued from her slavery and records a manifesto promoting an end to exploitation and slavery just before she is executed for treason. But in a 19th century story, an American lawyer witnesses whipping and other mistreatment of slaves while representing his father-in-law in a business deal in the Chatham Islands in the Pacific. In spite of being doomed to death after her rescue, Sonmi 451 is eternally grateful to her rescuer, just as the slave who the lawyer saw being whipped is grateful to him for befriending him when he discovers him stowed away on the ship for their journey back to California.

Then, we have two stories that more or less involve one character: Rufus Sixsmith. We first meet Sixsmith as he and his male lover are forced to part when they are discovered in a hotel. The lover goes on to work for a composer as his scribe, and Sixsmith eventually goes on to work for an energy company in San Francisco in the 70s. Sixsmith discovers that his employer wants to build an intentionally flawed nuclear reactor so that the public will stop supporting nuclear power after a catastrophic accident, and will return to the oil and coal that the energy company produces and sells. His report becomes a danger to the company, especially once it falls into the hands of a feisty magazine reporter. But meanwhile, back in the late 1930s, the scribe, Robert Frobisher, becomes engaged in reading the published diary of the lawyer in the previous story set, while writing his own classical work, called “The Cloud Atlas Sextet.”

And finally, as if to try to tie everything together, a book publisher reaps and loses a huge amount of money thanks to one of his authors who kills a reviewer at a party. When he goes to hide from some of the authors friends who are seeking some of the money earned from the book, the publisher finds himself locked in an asylum funded by his brother, which was created to hostel those who others just wanted out of the way for a while. Oh, and the tie-in? The publisher starts reading the manuscript submitted by the fiesty magazine reporter about her experience with the energy company story.

Confused? Hell yeah.

I have no idea what they were trying to say in this movie. Sure, the interconnection is a theme, but at times, it’s a really weak connection that is so weak that you wonder why they had to force a connection. What makes it more confusing is that most of the actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant) have different roles and appearances in most or all of the other stories. So all the way through, you’re wondering if there’s a reason they chose the same actors in different roles in the different stories, or if it’s just a way to make you feel like their tied together more closely than they really are.

But as I said, it’s easy to follow all of the stories, and you don’t spend too much time in each story as the film keeps cutting between fairly quickly. The movie is also pretty to look at, as I’m fairly certain that a good deal of it features CGI backgrounds. But at nearly 3 hours long, and with so much to keep track of, it’s frankly kind of exhausting. So while it’s well done, it’s just confusing and tiring. Two out of Five Stars. 

See you tomorrow.