This film was a difficult watch. It is a long film consisting of 6 stories which don’t have any relation to one another. And I should know, because I spent nearly 2 hours trying to figure out what the point of the narrative style was.
Ok, I’m going to go off on a Dan Harmon-style meta tangent here. There are few films which are a several individual strands stories built around a theme (Valentine’s Day, Love Actually, Crash, Magnolia). There are films which are individual stories which are interrelated (Pulp Fiction is the only one which springs to mind right now and then only tangentially). So I was familiar with what they were trying to achieve. Or so I thought.
I was trying to figure out what the point of employing that narrative style here was. Yes, I realise that Cloud Atlas was a novel first but still, someone chose to make a movie of it and they chose to film it in this way. Therefore there was a reason for the way it was made.
The stories are very different in style, tone and narrative, which is quite a feat. They are all period dramas, but you must understand that some of those periods haven’t happened yet…
The first is set in the 19th century and features an American lawyer writing a diary while voyaging to the Chatham Islands to finalise a business arrangement.
The second is set in the 1930s and has a young musician with a secret working with a celebrated composer and the relationship that unfolds. He does find and read the lawyer’s diary from the previous tale.
The third is set in the 1970s and has an investigative journalist uncovering a financial conspiracy. While doing so, she reads letters between the musician from ‘30s and his lover.
The fourth is a modern tale of a 60-something publisher who ends up being committed to an old person’s home. He receives a manuscript of a novel based on the journalist’s life and writes a film based on his own experiences.
The fifth is a futuristic story about a genetically engineered wage-slave working in a restaurant. While doing so she views a movie of the publisher’s life story.
The sixth and last story is a post-apocalypse tale about a man trying to survive the attacks of a cannibalistic tribe. The tribe people worship the wage-slave as a Goddess (and I hope it hasn’t escaped your attention that the story of the previous strand is the religion of the last…).
What is interesting is the same actors play roles in each story. Sometimes they are in the background, sometimes they are the major players, others, they are off to a side. Sometimes they appear as another race. Sometimes they appear the opposite gender. But Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, David Gyasi, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Ben Wishaw and Jim Sturgess all make multiple appearances.
Even more amazing is that each of the six stories genuinely feels like its own thing. The modern day story set in an old people’s home? That was a twee British comedy. The fifth story could have easily been a Tom Cruise science fiction movie. The 70s conspiratorial thriller really felt exactly that. As pretentious as it sounds, as a fan of the art of cinema, that was a great achievement in of itself.
As you might imagine with a list of actors that long and of that calibre, no one has a bad performance. Sure, the make-up might put some people off, or at least distract them, but the whiting up of Halle Berry etc all serves a purpose for the story. And in fact, sometimes, you won’t even recognise some of the actors unless you have the keenest of eyes.
Now different people will enjoy different elements of this film. Some will enjoy the different stories more than others.
There is a point to the narrative style here. And when it was revealed, it really spoke to me. It shared elements of my own personal beliefs and that makes it a fantastic film for me. Others, not so much.
And I have to say, I am a little bit in love with the soundtrack. I could sit and listen to the Finale theme over and over.
Ultimately, I think this is a film which will divide audience opinion. It is a very clever film, with great effects, great acting, superior direction and cinematography. But whether or not it hangs together very much is down to the individual.
My only advice is to stop trying to figure the film out and just enjoy the ride. Because in the end, aren’t we all just someone else’s story?
TL:DR “Unfilmable novel is filmed. It goes on for all time but is worth every minute of it.”