Nearly ten years later–and with a few more or less insignificant endeavours between– the Wachowski’s try to say ‘sorry we fucked up’ to the millions letdown by The Matrix’s ill-fated sequels, with their epic sci-fi blockbuster attempt Cloud Atlas.
Triply directed with Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer and based upon David Mitchell’s novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas is an ambitious and visually reverberating film that has one of the most engaging and functional multiple story line arcs I’ve ever seen.
A tale literally of all ages (and possibly dimensions?), the Wachoski’s and Tykwer attempt to soar to unseen heights with this would be masterpiece of digital age cinema that insists on the interrelated and multifarious natures of our existences. But with six different plot trajectories—that’s a lot of damn trajectories– the filmmakers appear to feel indebted to make a sextuplet of climaxes causing Cloud Atlas to slump from an imaginative and free spirited exercise in existentialism to a modern day parable about what happens to some directors’ wings when they fly too close to the Sun.
Cloud Atlas hits the ground running with six story lines that operate as odd fixtures in the Rube Goldberg machine of this film’s universe. A young, naïve lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) living in the 1800’s embarks across the Pacific on a voyage to California. Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) is a composer living in the 1930’s struggling with his closeted homosexuality as well as achieving his true musical genius. Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) is fierce journalist in the 1970’s whose commitment to preventing an atrocious corporation cover up becomes a life threatening affair. Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) is a scheming and greedy owner of publishing company living in the modern day. Somni-451 (Donna Bae) is a worker clone from the Korea of the future and whose escape from servitude proves revolutionary. Finally tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks) inhabits post-apocalyptic Hawaii with his clan but must choose which path he wants his existence to take.
With a link more concerned more with spirituality than causality—Cloud Altas transverses the lives of all these characters loosely connected by a similar shooting star shaped birth mark and who each harbour desires for liberation from their different situations of persecution.
First off, let me just say that after watching Cloud Atlas, I think the Wachowski’s felt really, really bad about shitty, enigmatic, boring jobs they did with The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. I say this because from the movie’s beginning, we’re flying through time and space, not really sure of what or who’s lives we’re watching and find ourselves thrown into an adventure which seems like it has a lot going for it emotionally. The payoff is here is quicker: after about 15 minutes of visually stimulating, yet plot wandering, sequences all the randomness begins to scab over and create something visceral, significant and coherent.
There’s a certain sense of beguiling awe watching composer Frobisher decidedly place a Luger in his mouth and cock the piece, claiming suicide is a brave act or, hearing a scarred and weathered Zachry allude to incomprehensible events of a grisly tale by campfire light. You don’t know what it is that makes these scenes compelling—but they are, and thankfully this director trios’ pacing is so immaculately executed that there is no aching, frustrating bewilderment creeping over us, but rather an enthralment to know more.
Cloud Atlas plays out like a meditation on six different emergencies and yes the Frank O’Hara reference is purposeful here. Just like the cryptic yet completely encapsulating writings of this fallen poet, Cloud Atlas hints at many issues distinctly pressing to our society since its inception—enslavement, bondage, destruction, thievery, the evil and good, the light and the dark—you name it, they’re there, but doesn’t give us all the answers. We have to fill in some gaps ourselves.
The issue with Cloud Atlas can be summed in one sentence: with a 172 minute running time, this film
should NEEDS to be a full hour shorter. It makes sense, I guess, that having six different plot lines you’re going to need six different climaxes. As we watch Sumni-451 evade malevolent THX-1138 inspired guards is cool and when we visit the gruesome clone reissue plant with Sumni-451 (a horror similar to looking at the rows and rows of human bodies harvested for energy in The Matrix) a nerve is certainly struck. But that’s only the first part of an finale which agonizingly edges towards being anti-climactic because of its drawn out finale. When we get to Sumni-451 and the rebel’s final resistance, Cavendish’s funny escape of a seniors home, Rey’s take down of the nuclear corp., Frobisher’s suicide or Ewing’s final battle with his confidence man doctor; its absolutely impossible to care about these outcomes we’ve been bashed over the heads with.
Cloud Atlas takes us on a rollercoaster ride that spends far too much time on its incline, so the drop feels like the release of a slow inching fart, rather than a gust of fresh air.
Finally, the dialogue in Cloud Altas takes too many critical hits from cheesy lines to be considered 100% concise. Conversation like “you will be nothing more than a tear drop in a vast ocean” retorted with “what is the ocean but not a vast collection of tear drops?”, are oozing with mouldy cheesy. I wish I could remember more of these lines—which were funnily enough delivered mostly by Berry who has a record of poor delivery—but I was in lactose intolerant shock of these creamy admissions.
I still count Cloud Atlas to be one of the most comprehensive and well tied together multi-plot films I’ve ever watched. It just should have ended about an 45 minutes earlier and its easy-out, cookie cutter, plain old ridiculous Disney ending could have done with some fresh and un-enchanted eyes telling the Wachowski’s and Tykwer that some of their foamy ideas simply won’t fly.