27 February 2015

Revisiting Cloud Atlas

Thank to the sour taste that the truly awful Jupiter Ascending recently left in my mouth (and you can read my full review here), I decided that a great way to cleanse my film palate would be to go back and re-watch a Wachowski film that initially blew me away - I'm talking, of course, about Cloud Atlas.

Directed in tandem by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer and based on a book of the same name, Cloud Atlas was considered unfilmable by a great many people thanks to the nature of the story being told. Cloud Atlas has no central narrative or main characters, the film instead being split into six short stories that are each set in a different time period, linked by something (whether that be a character, a decision, a piece of art or an idea) to the last one in a demonstration of how the decisions that we make now will no doubt have long lasting consequences in the future, not just for ourselves but for potentially the entire human race.

After introducing us into these six segments, Cloud Atlas frequently jumps from one to another, expertly switching stories at the perfect time so that you never get bogged down in one for too long, returning frequently so that you don't forget what was going on. The differences in tone and style in the stories being told mean that there is a great deal of variation in what you are watching from one scene to another. In the wrong hands this would have led to a severe case of tonal whiplash, a problem that Cloud Atlas avoids by making each individual story a compelling tale in it's own right, each segment a great example of the genre it lies in thanks to the abilities of the directors and actors involved.

More importantly, each of these six stories end up feeling intrinsically linked, the events of one providing a greater thematic context to next segment, narration from one character in one time applicable to all of the stories at once. It's an example of some truly brilliant editing, each story hitting their emotional points at roughly the same time, scenes from different eras linked by common themes creating an emotional, cohesive whole that flows just as well as the Cloud Atlas Sextet that the young Robert Frobisher is writing in one of the stories. It's a risky way to present a film, one that puts an awful lot of trust in the attention span, intelligence and tolerance of it's audience, but one that showcases an enormous amount of talent and confidence.

The same cast (who are all excellent here, by the way) are used in each time period playing different roles, often changing gender or race, riffing on the ideas of reincarnation and self improvement while looking at the way in which people are shaped. By reusing actors in this way, Cloud Atlas shows us the development of different souls throughout time, some of which are destined for good, others which are hopelessly evil, and other that are simply shaped by their surroundings, opportunistically malicious or benevolent depending on the situation they find themselves in. And that doesn't make them good or evil - it simply makes them human, capable of good and evil in equal measure.

Ultimately, it is this discussion on the nature of humanity and the concept of karmic retribution that makes Cloud Atlas so beautiful. This is as close to a masterpiece as a film can be, and is as under appreciated as the Cloud Atlas Sextet created within the film in an unfortunate and ironic example of life imitating art. Cloud Atlas is the definition of a hidden gem, an ambitious film waiting to be discovered by a new audience, and a film that I sincerely hope will inspire and impress you as much as it did me.

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