This film polarized critics and patrons into distinct love-it, hate-it groups when it hit theatres. Now I see why. The first hurdle to understanding this film is a belief in reincarnation. The second, whether you want to call it the Butterfly Effect, Causality or Karma & Prana, is a belief in the notion that we are all connected and words and deeds exacted by one, have an effect on others. Not just in this lifetime.
The structure of the film, 6 interleaved stories bouncing back and forth in time, stems from these beliefs. The actors play parts in more than one story, therein lies one aspect of the ‘connectedness’ and its the most straightforward. After the first several time slices you see how the stories connect; actions taken in one story have effect on the others.
I liked Cloud Atlas but had mixed feelings. The cinematography is breathtaking. Production design is excellent; costumes, makeup, location, special effects. These aspects are motivation enough to see the film but not enough to capture and appreciate its meaning. The stories are interesting, even if some have taken elements from dystopian films Logan’s Run, Soylent Green, 1984 and Blade Runner. The acting is good, if not excellent in spots, considering some actors were playing upwards of 6 characters at once.
While an ambitious project, its ambition may be its shortcoming to some. The stories were fragmented and interleaved too frequently for a 3 hour film. In many spots, the editing from one story to the next was jarring, if not abrupt. Without clear story transitions I can see how some would not understand the continuity and eventually throw their hands up in the air then run over to the hate-it camp.
If you’re curious about Cloud Atlas and need a airbag to guard against time transition whiplash, I’d suggest focusing on the characters played by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. While their appearances and the situational minutiae are different in each time line, their big-picture roles are exactly the same. In the final scene we see, despite all of the drama and missteps in previous time lines, the inevitable Buddhist hammer drops and their fate is realized; good in this case.
I will likely see Cloud Atlas again since it partially aligns with my own belief system, however it will not be in the near-term.