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Cloud Atlas


I spent the first 2 hours and 52 minutes of Cloud Atlas trying to understand what the hell any of it was about.  After that time the film ended and I spent probably another 3 hours of time still trying to figure out what the hell the entire film was all about.  It’s 3 hours of complete nonsense and outlandish theories on the meaning of life.

The film was created by The Wachowski’s, of Matrix fame, and Tom Tykwer who’s Run Lola Run was one of the most interesting films of the 90’s.  Cloud Atlas is the product of three film makers who it seems can’t agree on how to make a film, or at least write one that makes sense.

The film takes place across a number of different time periods and across different worlds, in which actors such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry become entirely different characters all together.  These characters seem to have nothing in common at first, and seem to have even less in common by the end of the film.  I kept wondering when these ridiculous sub-plots and stories would merge together, or at least begin to make sense on their own…they don’t…ever.

Cloud Atlas is a complete disaster, and reminds me a lot of another film with grandiose ideas that was just as bad, Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales.  These are two films whose ideas live in a post-apocalyptic future and confuse and, more importantly, bore the hell out of you.  It is an almost complete waste of time and brain power.

Six separate stories make up Cloud Atlas.  Now I’m not going to go in to depth on these stories because it would take a 20 page essay to even begin to explain them.  Just understand that you will be jumping around a lot from the future, to present day, to the 1970’s, to the 19th century, and back and forth.   The film attempts to humorous at times, spiritual at other times, and pretentious all of the time.

The central idea amongst the stories is that the human soul can be re-born and live anew within different time-frames throughout history.  It has no boundaries.  It can transverse the great divide of space and time.  It can live again.  It can receive a new chance.  This is a great concept that is so poorly explored within Cloud Atlas that it is a complete shame.  It is easily one of the 5 worst films I’ve seen all year.  It is epic in its failure along the lines of films such as Waterworld, The Postman, Battlefield Earth and even Ishtar.  

There is one story that gives a glimpse of hope to the film. It involves a future society in which a woman who is a replicant becomes self aware.  She cries out for the fair treatment of her kind, and there are pople that are behind her.  Humans and artificial intelligence alike will fight for the treatment and existence of their kind.  The film would have been better if we just learned of this story…but then again…it probably would just make me want to watch Blade Runner again.

I have never read David Mitchell’s novel but I’m sure it works much better as a book than as a film.  You can jump in and out of these worlds at a whim on paper, but doing so on the screen makes for an awful messy instance.  You get lost.  You forget who you’re following.  You forget who’s who and what they want and what matters in the greater context of the story.  Most importantly, you don’t even care after a while.

The film is ambitious in scope, and some of the ideas seem to ring through at times.  This idea of a recurring song or hymn throughout the film is a nice touch, binding the characters together.  As is the idea of humanity’s attempt at hope.  It feels so over the top and ridiculous though.  Laughable at times.  Even the poor makeup effects hurt the believability of anything that happens.

I tried.  I tried very hard to pull something meaningful and enlightening out of the film.  I felt the Wachowski’s got a bad rap for their last film Speed Racer which I actually thought was one of the better films of 2008.  Their vision is almost completely lost on Cloud Atlas, and so is Tom Tykwer’s.  That’s the true failure of the film.  It’s not even worth the time.   

Grade: D

Side Note:  After writing this review I read both Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper’s reviews.  Two critics I have extreme respect for. They gave the film an A.  Very rarely do I find myself at such polarizing views of a film with them.  I can understand where they are coming from, but at the end of everything I can’t disagree more with how poorly made a film Cloud Atlas is.