The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Cloud Atlas

You don't watch Cloud Atlas the way you watch most movies. This is a film to be experienced as much as to be viewed. Whereas most movies take you on a very linear journey, this one is intentionally non-linear, asking you simply to absorb its ambiance until the bigger meaning becomes clear. To call it a “mind bender” would be an understatement. Cloud Atlas is quite literally mesmerizing; the more I watched it, the more I wanted to watch it.

The film consists of six stories, spanning eons. A young clerk (Jim Sturgess) fights for the rights of a slave on a 19th century ship. In the 1930's, an aspiring composer (Ben Wishaw) gets tutelage from a well-known but eccentric colleague, while pining for a former male lover. An investigative journalist (Halle Berry) attempts to expose a scandal involving a nuclear power plant in the 1970's. A modern-day book editor (Jim Broadbent) finds himself trapped in a retirement home while trying to hide from some dangerous men. In the distant future, a synthetic being (Doona Bae) is put on trial for leading a revolution. A man (Tom Hanks) may be the key to mankind's survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Cloud Atlas bounces around in time, moving back and forth between all these stories, switching at precisely calculated moments. Although each mini-plot centers around one specific character, the actors appear in all of them, playing different roles. Sometimes, they even play other genders or races. Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving are in multiple stories, always as evil or hostile characters.

For the first 45 minutes or so, I found Cloud Atlas very confusing. It wasn't clear how the tales linked together, or what the film was attempting to do. Then I slowly began to notice certain themes being mirrored in the stories: loyalty, repression, captivity, rebellion, cooperation, love, freedom. Connections started to reveal themselves. Things that happen in the 19th century story also occur in the futuristic ones, suggesting that humanity has been grappling with the same issues for all of time, and will likely continue to do so. My intrigue grew exponentially as the pieces began to assemble themselves. By the final hour, it was clear that Cloud Atlas was about the connectedness of life, about how what one person does can dramatically impact someone else, or even lots of people. Certain things, it says, transcend time and an ever-changing society because they are essential parts of who we are as human beings. Although diverse, the stories all tie together at the end, driving home some deep thoughts about how past, present, and future are intertwined.

Cloud Atlas was co-directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). They each take three of the segments. The various pieces work well as individual tales: the story about the synthetic being is exciting, the tale of the book editor humorous, the composer's plight romantic, and so on. Yet when all is said and done, they also compliment one another wonderfully and meaningfully. Oftentimes, films that contain separate stories end up having some sections more interesting than others. I found all the subplots in Cloud Atlas equally absorbing because they mesh nicely to create a powerful impact.

This will not be a movie for everyone. It approaches storytelling in a very experimental manner that you will either find thrilling (as I did) or baffling. I can already guess what detractors will focus on to pick apart. They may even be right about a few things. Part of the appeal of Cloud Atlas is that its occasionally confounding nature is part of the pleasure. Rather than holding your hand and leading you down a path, the film allows you to find your own way through it. Certain ideas are clearly stated, but there is also room left for each viewer to create his/her own personal meaning. It's a celluloid Rorschach test.

Visually dazzling, superbly acted, and massively ambitious, Cloud Atlas is a spectacularly fun ride through several centuries, showing how everything changes and nothing changes. I found a great deal of haunting beauty in it. Repeated viewings will undoubtedly reveal more connections and associations that aren't initially apparent. It's exceedingly rare for me to want to see a movie again as soon as it's over, but this is one of those occasions. Cloud Atlas is so hypnotic that I can't wait to experience it once more. I'm going to be obsessed with this visionary saga for a while.

( out of four)

Cloud Atlas is rated R for violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use. The running time is 2 hour and 46 minutes.

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