We’re all connected. It’s either as a species, as part of a communal society, or as individuals living within universal maxims of love, fear, happiness, and struggle. Over time, over place, we still maintain a link, locked in to our shared humanity, no matter the situations or circumstances. Though it has much more to say about this subject than a few introductory sentences can proffer, this is the main theme of the brilliant and bold cinematic statement from Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix) and collaborator Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), Cloud Atlas. Unfairly dismissed when it was released, this artistic revelation reminds us that, though years and backdrops may divide us, a commonality of purpose and perseverance endures.
Interweaving six stories across eons and realities, we start with an old man (Tom Hanks) telling a story by a fireside. In 1850, a lawyer (Jim Sturgess) sails the Pacific and befriends a slave (David Gyasi) preyed upon by an unethical doctor (Hanks again). Then we move to England in 1931 and a composer (Ben Whishaw) trying to balance his love of a young physicist (James D’Arcy) and the demands of working as the assistant of an aging maestro (Jim Broadbent). In the ’70s, a journalist named Luisa Rey (Halle Berry) uses the musician’s story as inspiration in her attempt to uncover the truth about a possible problem at a nuclear reactor run by a shady businessman (Hugh Grant). Her friendship with a mystery-loving teen (Brody Nicolas Lee) leads to the story of a publisher (Broadbent) who, after angering a gangster client, ends up in a nursing home against his will.
A movie made of his comic story becomes the Bible for a genetically engineering servant girl (Doona Bae) in a future Seoul fast food conglomerate. With the help of an anti-government rebel (Sturgess), she becomes an effective propaganda tool. Her thoughtful and profound words of resistance become the basis for a religion in a far off distant future where the planet has been destroyed by radiation. Living like savages, a father (Hanks) tries to protect his family from cannibals while helping one of the last members of a technologically advanced race (Berry) contact possible help off on another world.
Cloud Atlas was the best film of 2012. It was and remains a misunderstood masterpiece that, in time, will be turned into the cinematic classic its ambitions aimed for. Working together, the Wachowskis and Tykwer have taken the complicated novel by David Mitchell and fashioned it into a genre-crossing complication of individual movie archetypes (the period piece, the future shock, the ’70s activist, the ’80s British comedy of manners) that meld together to form one emotional and entertainment epiphany after the other. The result is a remarkable, complicated experience. On the one hand you marvel at the meticulous moviemaking acumen at play. On the other, you’re stunned by how prescient it ends up being.
This is an unbridled success, a spectacular expression of the spirit of mankind synthesized into a storyline that ties seemingly divergent elements together in graceful, elegant ways. Music makes Berry’s character continue her probe of Grant, while a clone’s cobbled-together memories of a bawdy publisher’s problems become the foundation for a far off distant faith. Elements in the past play heavily in arenas in the present, while small asides add up to big payoffs in the end. This is what film as an artform is about — the transportation of the audience to somewhere they’ve never been, to see things they never would normally experience. While it doesn’t always work flawlessly, it does consistently amaze, turning the title into a map of everyone’s interwoven experiences. It’s a true gem.