In Greek mythology, Atlas was the primordial Titan who held up the celestial sphere and in the modern world the word means a collection of maps. Whatever be the meaning, the word Atlas brings to mind something huge.

Cloud Atlas is a film of epic proportions. An adaptation of the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell, it was made on a budget of $102 million. Financed by independent sources, this is  is one of the most expensive independent films of all time! And if that does not impress, the cast definitely will! Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Dennis Thatcher in The Iron Lady), Susan Sarandon, Halle Berry,  Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving (the amazing villain Agent Smith from Matrix), Keith David and the delightful Ben Whishaw (also seen inSkyfall) ……the list is endless!

The film weaves in and out of 6 stories spanning many times and spaces. We see a lawyer from mid 19th century Americas come to the Chatham Islands in the Pacific Ocean to conclude a business arrangement for his father-in-law and falls prey to a supposedly debilitating illness. The story deals with people he meets on the island, his journey back to San Francisco, his friendship with a slave from the island and the turn his life takes as a result of that. We then travel to early 20th century Scotland where a talented but penniless musician Robert Frobisher finding an opportunity to assist a famous composer and being able to compose his own masterpiece, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet”. Unfortunately the Sextet remains an undiscovered gem for many years. Late 20th century San Francisco, California and Luisa Ray a tabloid journalist has a chance meeting with Sixsmith, a nuclear physicist, in an elevator. Based on their conversation she decides to investigate the safety of a nuclear reactor built by a giant conglomerate and in the process jeopardises her own safety. Early 21st century, Timothy Cavendish, a publisher seeks his brother’s help to pay off a fair bit of gambling debts to thugs sent by a jailed gangster. He lands up confined against his will in an old age home and hatches a plot to escape with three other residents. In mid 22nd century Neo Seoul, Sonmi~451, a genetically engineered clone who is one of the many servers in a fast food restaurant is interviewed before her execution. Sonmi’s colleague had rebelled against the system and is executed. Sonmi’s life is in danger since she was an accomplice. She was offered a chance to escape into a world she knew nothing about and grabbed it. Her awakening as a person and understanding of the policies of Neo Seoul makes this a compelling watch. The last story is set on a beautiful island on post-apocalyptic Earth, ‘106 winters after “the Fall”. Zachry, a tribesman lives with his family in the village after most of humanity have died in “The Fall”. The villagers are sometimes attacked by a savage tribe who destroy everything they come across (quite reminiscent of the massacre seen in Apocalyto). Meronym, a lady from one of the last technologically advanced civilizations visits the village and gets Zachry to act as her guide into the mountains in search of Cloud Atlas which is……now that would be telling!

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb we are bound to others, past and present and by each crime and every kindness embrace our future.”………….

………….This line is the guiding principle of the film. The same people appear as different characters in the 6 tales mentioned above. The biggest challenge in watching Cloud Atlas is the bewildering sense of being lost in a maze without a guide. You would be forgiven for staring blankly at the screen for the first  twenty minutes or so, wondering what is going on! Then, slowly but surely the supposedly random pieces start falling in place and you go from bewilderment to breathlessness at the sheer imagination of the author, the brilliance of the scriptwriter in adapting a very difficult novel, the vision shared by makers of the film. Three of the stories are directed by  Lana and Andy Wachowski (Matrix) and the other three by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), but nowhere would you find a disconnect in the thread that weaves seamlessly through the narrative.

The performances are brilliant and so they should be with a cast this experienced. The make up and costumes are great specially when you consider the great range of looks showcased in the film, from period to post modern. Cloud Atlas is a must watch if you love sweeping sagas and bold vision but a please avoid for those looking at instant gratification in a film. I would recommend you watch it at least twice to understand every nuance in this ambitious narrative. 


Copyright © Taraa Vermaa Senguptaa November 2012

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