Cloud Atlas (2012)
Everything Is Connected
I heard you like stories, so I found you a movie whose stories contain stories. Do us all a favor though, go get your thinking cap out of the closet because I can almost guarantee that you will need it. You see, without your full attention as you travel down the roads of plot that weave back and forth in time you will most likely find yourself in a strange town with no real recollection of how or why you got there, so strap in for a long haul. With all those jumps back and forth, can the movie keep its message clear enough, or does this tale through the ages find itself getting quite cloudy?
We start with an older man getting ready to tell some campfire stories. His story exists within this twisted web of tales as well, but for the sake of keeping things more understandable and not giving up too much of the stories, I'll do this in a more (as far as I know) chronological and steady manner. You see, within this film is 6 individual stories, all wrapped together with a series of premises - the most prevalent of which seems to be love endures and reincarnation. Keep that in mind as we travel across the tales and you should have a slightly less confusing time.
Earliest in the timeline is the tale of a Lawyer who goes overseas to get a document signed for his wife's father. When he's there, he witnesses plantation-style slavery in it's desert hot domain, and unknowingly befriends one of the slaves. Our major most conflict in this story as the Lawyer tries to travel safely home to his wife is the greed of his doctor, who seems more interested in riches than in health. A fine moral here is found in the form of friendship, specifically the one that develops between the stowaway slave and lawyer. Next up, we jump forward in time to a more musical-themed adventure. A man with a bit of musical genius known mostly as a con and deviant finds his way to a well known musical composer in the hopes of long run getting fame and recognition as it propels his own career. Conflict here arises late in the tale, when it is discovered that the old composer plans on taking advantage of the younger man's talent by laying claim to all that he writes forcefully.
Next up is a bit debatable, but I believe that at this point it would the tale of the paper reporter who finds themselves stuck in the middle of something really big. Conflict here is a "right choice" sort of thing, as she tries to blow the lid off of a secret plot to ruin Nuclear Power and ends up becoming targeted for assassination by those in charge. From there we get a story of an older man who happens to get into a bit of trouble with all the money he's made off of being a certain man's agent. It then changes into a very amusing tale feature a large selection of older folks as they try to escape to regain their freedom. We then get to blast forth into the future for our next tale, complete with flying cars and all sorts of neon as we follow the story of a manufactured woman whose role as a server takes a sudden twist of fate when she is freed by a member of a "underground" movement (of sorts). The action is pretty heavy, but the main conflict is indeed that of standing up for what's right and showing the truth for what it is as she (the freed server) reminds people that regardless of if you were born in a womb or a vat, you're both still equally human.
Finally, we get to the old man's tale in the time line. Here it seems to be almost post-apocalyptic, with bands of fierce cannibals and a distinct difference between the inhabitants of the valley (very low tech) and those across the sea on their floating boats (very high tech) that come to trade. Here we are introduced to the proverbial devil in a very visible way, and our conflict is multiple folds - as the storyteller grapples with his own personal devil, and as the woman from the high tech searches for a way to signal those off-world. Friendship again plays in, and the general good versus evil is the most blunt in this section thanks in no small part to the "Old Georgie" devil character.
The entire thing is shown in a manner where all of the 6 stories are constantly intertwined, jumping (sometimes seemingly at random) back and forth between the different stories in a manner that's supposed to help show how intertwined they are. A birthmark recurs throughout, and it's only purpose seems to be to be a visible distinction that these are the same souls across the times - a rather straight forward way to display the idea of reincarnation without just a lot of "deja vu" talk (although it does happen anyways). I won't lie, if ever there was a movie that I believed would have a good chance of confusing people, it would be this one - if not entirely due to the constant shuffling of story focus. The main idea of soulmates trying to always catch up again because love beats all or destiny sees fit or however you perceive it is there and floating about to tie it all together, and the cuts are generally pretty gracefully done, but still I have a hunch that there will be at least a few who are still a little out of the loop by the end of the movie.
Actors do a phenomenal job here, and thanks to the makeup department the same actors play different characters through the various stories, meaning that although the same actor will play (on average) 6 different characters, most of the time you won't notice it outside of the nagging feeling that they look really similar to the specific actor. Each individual has their own quirks, even if in the long run many of the same incarnations of that specific character may share common traits (be it through story or acting). There is a possible issue I should bring up about some of the movie being rough to understand as far as language however - it's not exactly foreign "I don't understand it" language, but I did find myself turning on the subtitles by half-way through just so I could more easily understand them - which might have been just me having an off night, as usually I don't have much trouble with understanding accents and the likes. Music plays a stronger part in the story of the composer, and indeed during that segments the soundtrack becomes quite beautiful.
The sets all look great, even the CG ones. It could be quite the spectacle really, except it really is driven to and by the characters. Costumes, thanks to the very diverse time frames, also get the chance to shine. From fancy old-timey to futuristically plain, the details of the costumes tend to do more for them as the time passes then the actual costumes themselves (such as the 'implants' many of the future-based folks have, or the tattoo's present on the slaves or valley-dwellers). As already stated, the make-up effects do an amazing job of making an actor look different enough that you believe each of their characters is different, yet may be related in some way to one of their past versions.
In the long run, it's a pretty not bad movie - but only if you're willing to put forth some thought and be a little open minded about it. It's got a lot of stuff going on at once, to the point some may get confused (and I would highly recommend not watching this with one of those people who constantly asks questions during a movie, or else you will both probably end up missing things). Some might even risk a venture to watch it twice to fully understand it, although I myself am perfectly happy with just having seen it once. In the long run, I may come back and watch this one again, as it certainly is interesting enough, although with certainty I can tell you by far my favorite part of the movie is in fact the second part of the old agent's tale, when it takes on an a whimsical tone as the old folks try to break free of their guardians and gain the chance to live again. Just a last little bit of advice though - you may want to turn on subtitles, it can really make things (such as the old man's story arc) much easier to understand.