What is an Ocean but a Multitude of Drops?
Today’s movie was requested by an old high school friend by the name of Francisco. I was very excited to finally have a good reason to watch this movie. I remember first hearing about it going to see another movie in my local theaters, where a giant cardboard advertisement caught my eye. And that was it. I saw that a bunch of big named celebrities were taking part in this movie, but that by itself won’t drive me to a movie. I then heard about the movie again while listening to the Nerdist podcast, where Chris Hardwick was interviewing the writers of the movie, two of which have definitely driven me to theaters on roughly three occasions. Then the movie came up again on Smodcast, where Kevin Smith talked about seeing the movie. Now my interest had piqued. Unfortunately, by the time all of these things had come together, the movie had probably been out of theaters for about three months. I then patiently waited for the movie to reach RedBox. It came out for purchase near the beginning of last month and still hasn’t made it to RedBox. Then it occurred to me that there was a time when one could drive to a place called Blockbuster to rent things. Thankfully, one of those is still open in Paducah, Kentucky. So now I can review Cloud Atlas, from a novel by David Mitchell, written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, and starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Doona Bae, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant.
Jesus. How does one recap this? Here goes… In 1849, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) is sailing from San Francisco to the Chatham Islands to conduct business with his father-in-law, Reverend Gilles Horrox (Hugh Grant), when he finds a stowaway slave that he witnessed being whipped earlier, Autua (David Gyasi). Autua convinces Ewing to vouch for him to join the crew of the ship. Also, Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) is trying to poison Ewing while stealing his valuables. Almost 100 years later, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) starts work as an amanuensis (look it up! I had to!) for famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent). Frobisher uses his free time to compose his own masterpiece, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet” that Ayrs decides to take credit for because he believes he heard the song in a dream, and if Frobisher has a problem with it, Ayrs will expose his gayness. Almost 40 years later, Journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) meets an aged version of Frobisher’s gay lover, Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), who now works as a nuclear physicist. Sixsmith tips off Rey on a conspiracy relating to a new nuclear reactor run by Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) and is killed by Hooks’ hitman Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving), getting Rey dangerously involved in the conspiracy. Last year, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) publishes a book by gangster Dermot Hoggins (Tom Hanks) that propels to success when Hoggins murders his most outspoken critic. With Hoggins in jail, associates of his threaten Cavendish for his share of the book’s earnings. More than 100 years later, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) is a clone waitress at a restaurant that becomes involved with Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess) and finds out that the ascension her fellow clones were promised is actually them getting killed and fed back to themselves. She records a manifesto that is broadcast to the people. Almost 200 years later, humanity is mostly wiped out in something called “The Fall.” The remaining humans are either low technology tribesman or high technology “Prescients.” One of the tribesmen, Zachry (Tom Hanks), is plagued by hallucinations of a demon named “Old Georgie” (Hugo Weaving). He becomes an outcast when Old Georgie convinces him to let his brother-in-law to be killed by the cannibalistic Kona tribe. One of the Prescients, Meronym (Halle Berry), comes to visit the village with the intention to scale the tribe’s sacred mountain looking for a communications station called Cloud Atlas. Later, Zachry is an old man telling these stories to his grandchildren.
And I tried to keep that short! I found Cloud Atlas to be a very daring, innovative, imaginative, and complicated idea. But does that mean it was good? I have no fucking idea. I barely know what I just watched. I feel like any problems I had with the movie was not so much the story as it was the way it was presented. It was like Pulp Fiction with twice the stories and half the ability for comprehension. If they had played the stories chronologically, I might have understood what was going on while watching the movie. Instead, I kind of understand it now that I’ve read the Wikipedia page about it. The story itself is fairly good. It’s basically anti-slavery. Always a good cause to get behind, but one that might have meant more when there was still slavery. I guess they’re looking forward to a future where we enslave sexy Asian clones, when the message of the movie will be powerful again. But it also ties it into homophobia with the Robert Frobisher story, so I guess that part of it still resonates. So the story had a chance of being effective, but that’s not the way they chose to show the story. Instead, they mashed it all up until anything it was trying to say was completely lost on me. I don’t really have a good enough memory to keep up with six simultaneous stories, trying desperately to remember what already happened in the story I’m currently watching in the four other movies I was watching in between. There were only a few things that I was sure about while watching the movie. Slavery is bad. So is homophobia. Jim Broadbent yelling, “Soylent Green is people!” is interesting foreshadowing. And killing critics is bad. Don’t do it, guys.
The look of the movie is pretty fantastic all the way throughout. The movie cost half as much to make as The Avengers, but it looked really good AND had to look really good across about 500 years. It starts off looking like Pirates of the Caribbean, looks like Total Recall at one point, and then looks like 10,000 BC. The makeup effects also work really well. Watching the credits at the end of the movie prove that much. The same actors play different characters throughout the different stories, which we know while watching the movie. But when you watch the credits at the end of the movie, you see all the characters you didn’t realize were being played by them. Things like Halle Berry as the old Asian man or Ben Whishaw as Georgette. There wasn’t a whole lot of action in the movie, but when it happened it was pretty interesting. It mostly happened in the 2144 period and the fight over the fabricant clones. It was really reminiscent of the Matrix, though not nearly as awesome.
I applaud all of the performances in the movie as well. They got some great people to be in the movie, and they would have to because all of the actors would have to show a lot of range. Pretty much all of them would need to play hero and villain, star and background actor, and even man and woman. And the various characters raised some interesting notions. For instance, Hugo Weaving is does not make a convincing woman, but he does make a fairly intimidating one. I also discovered that turning Halle Berry into a white woman makes Madonna. Whoda thunk it? This movie also shows us that we should appreciate the differences in our races as they are, if for no reason other than the fact that white people make terrible Asians, and vice versa.
I’m as confused about what to say about Cloud Atlas as I am about Cloud Atlas itself. I found the story to be ballsy and innovative in the way it was told, but also very confusing. The look of the movie was deserving of applause, and the makeup effects were able to keep you guessing, and the performances allowed the actors to show a great deal of range. If the story were told chronologically, then I feel like it would’ve been much easier to follow, but it wasn’t. I guess I would say that this movie deserves to be watched, if not out of quality then out of morbid curiosity. Rent it, and then feel free to try to help me understand it in the comment section. Cloud Atlas gets “I believe there is another world waiting for us, Sixsmith. A better world” out of “I will not be subjected to criminal abuse.”
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