Cloud Atlas: A Sextet Of Artistic Genius, Daring Imagination And Profound, Multi-Layered Meaning

Cloud Atlas is the best movie that I have seen in a long time.

It is profound, artistic, unconventional, avant-garde, ambitious, smart, unique, brave, stimulating, epic, challenging, inspiring, transcendent and transcending. And brilliant… all at once.

…It has comedy, tragedy, suspense, drama, action and romance. (even farce)

It is intellectually challenging and spiritually rewarding. (It puts out all the clues that you need to find the treasure yet it makes you earn it.)

It is everything that a great film should be.

I found it refreshing not only intellectually but also spiritually.

I also found it addictive: I saw it once on Saturday and had to go watch it again on Sunday.

Cloud Atlas easily fits in my top 10 list of the best films that I have ever seen. So I have to let it sink, digest it slowly and watch it again a few years from now. If it still has the powerful effect that it has on me now, then it will end up on my top 3 best movies ever list. How stimulating.

I am sure that by now you are itching to ask me “Why? What’s the big deal?”

I can take the easy and safe road and say that this is simply my opinion. I can then quote Picasso who said that the worst thing one can do is try to explain art. Throw in the fact that it is always easier to write a critical rather than a positive review. (Just like it is easier to hurt someone rather than heal them or make them feel better.)

Still, though with just a couple of paragraphs, I am about to commit exactly that horrible crime against art – I will attempt to explain it. Sort of…

In addition to Picasso’s views on explaining art, Cloud Atlas is extremely hard to describe in its own right. You just have to see it and experience it for yourself. And you have to pay attention.

Anyway, let me start with some of the less controversial, more obvious features:

The movie has an absolutely fantastic music score and the actors’ make up is totally groundbreaking. I believe that it will be a strong Oscar contender in both of those categories and is worth your while even if it is just to see the make up and try guessing who is played by whom or hear the amazing music.


It is also uncontroversial that the film has a number of Oscar winning a-list actors working under the experienced guidance of the The Wachowskis – creators of The Matrix trilogy, and Tom Tykwer – the film-maker behind Run Lola Run. Thus, if you like their unique cinematic style and particular story-telling approaches you should definitely see Cloud Atlas for you are going to love it.

In terms of the plot the movie is also pretty unique. Named after its titular musical sextet, Cloud Atlas revolves around six stories which, like six musical instruments, weave into a single piece of harmony. Some will disagree, but for me another good reason to watch and like the film is the fact that in its 3 hours and 6 plots it manages to cover pretty much everything – comedy, tragedy, suspense, drama, action and romance. Even farce. It is philosophical, artistic and spiritual. In some ways it is nostalgic and in others it is futuristic. I believe that there is something for everyone in it. So, if you are like me, you will laugh and you will cry. You will learn something about the past but also about the future. Perhaps even about yourself.

The six narratives are spanning across the depths of time yet they unfold simultaneously, while the main film characters are moving in harmonic progressions through the centuries. The movie has profound, multi-layered meaning that isn’t instantly obvious. I believe that this can be one reason why many, perhaps most viewers will dismiss it.

Cloud Atlas also has a number of subtle, hidden references and messages that will reward people who watch it more than once and pay close attention to all details. I will limit myself to spelling out only the most obvious one – that we are all connected. It is a message about caring for each other. About how our paths in life connect, cross-over and impact each other through choice, action and consequence. It is about transcending conventions and breaking through limitations. About freedom, finding it and holding on tight to whatever it may mean to you. It is about never giving up and standing for what you believe, even if this means going against the “natural order to the world” and ultimately death:

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.” Sonmi-451

***

Cloud Atlas is a marvel of film-making and story-telling that will deliver more upon each viewing. It is extremely ambitious in its scope and scale and in that sense it is a huge step up from The Matrix. I really want this movie to be a huge blockbuster success. Yet I doubt it would happen. For if it did, it will mean that it didn’t challenge us hard enough. And my greatest reason to recommend watching this film is that it is as challenging as it is rewarding in a number of subtle though profound ways.

Movies are like music – we can all listen to the same tune but not all of us can actually hear it. Mozart speaks to some people. Beethoven to others. Bach takes a whole other level of appreciation. Likewise, many may watch Cloud Atlas but I suspect most of them will not really see and appreciate the profound, multi-layered meaning behind the film. Whatever the case may be, if Cloud Atlas speaks to you the way it does to me – enjoy it. If it doesn’t – don’t worry about it. It means nothing.

Socrates’ verdict: 11 out of 10. (Must see. More than once!)

Synopsis: From acclaimed filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, and Andy Wachowski, the powerful and inspiring epic drama “Cloud Atlas” explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.

Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire.

A revolution in the distant future.

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P.S. Blog readers have already asked me about my best ever film list. I wouldn’t put too much weight on it but for those who insist here are some of the movies on that list in random order:

Peaceful WarriorLawrence of ArabiaSeven SamuraiFight ClubThe MatrixLegends of the FallSchindler’s ListGood Will HuntingRomeo + Juliet; Forrest Gump.

 

  • http://twitter.com/33rdsquare 33rdsquare

    Great review Nikola. I’m not quite as enthusiastic, but it was a good film and worth seeing. The music for this film was outstanding. Jim Broadbent (and his younger version) stole the show for me with his humorous story line. Bae Doo-na and Beb Whishaw really stood out as well with great performances. I was concerned going in that Tom Hanks would overdo it, but once again he proved why he is a double academy award winner. Hank’s performance shows his deep understanding of the roles and great control in each of his performances.

    The one thing that affected my reaction to this film was the gimmick of using the same actors in the different story lines. Although it was interesting and effective, on my initial viewing I did find myself looking to hard for who was who, rather than getting involved in the story at a deeper level. The make-up was top-notch, but once again I kept on finding myself trying to see who was behind it, rather than what the character was about and saying. Seven out of ten for me.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Interesting. It seems that you connected with some parts and less so with others. Do you think that watching it again may enhance or diminish your rating of the film?!

  • http://twitter.com/33rdsquare 33rdsquare

    I don’t think so. Sonmi-451’s message did not really have an emotional or philosophical impact for me (too much of a libertarian/objectivist). The impression for me was a little more Matrix 2 and 3 rather than 1 if that makes sense. I would like to see it again on Blu-Ray just to enjoy it, because the visual and auditory work is really superb. Fortunately, I got to see Cloud Atlas in an ‘extra’ theater and the effect was well worth the premium price. I would also like to read the novel now, not so much to compare to the film, but to explore some of the ideas a little more.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    This is very strange. I would argue that Cloud Atlas is quite the opposite of being objectivist or libertarian. The message of being connected, that your life does not belong to you is quite the opposite in my view. (Just think if your life doesn’t belong to you then how would your property?!)

    Also, personally I am a social libertarian, political centrist with left leanings and economic Keynesian. As far as objectivism goes I can’t stand any simplistic theories such as Rand’s objectivism… So, in fact, one of the reasons I liked the film so much is because in my view it is definitely anti-objectivist…

  • http://twitter.com/33rdsquare 33rdsquare

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. I meant I am too much of a libertarian/objectivist.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Aha, I understand – now what you say makes sense. Thanks for your comments!

  • Tracy_R_Atkins

    I found the Sonmi-451 story the most interesting of the film.

    There were so many layers to this particular segment that resonated with the ideals of the story. It was the most direct when it came to overcoming oppression, which was the overall theme of the entire film. However, the ideas behind the total lack of compassion for the clone workers, including the “Soylent Green” treatment , was telling in a way that people today, especially in the US needed to see. People tend to glaze over issues of slavery in the US, no matter how graphic or innovative, as they have become accustom to slavery parables and been desensitized. However, by showing a future police-state-consumer-utopia, built upon slave labor with people that are as meaningless to that society as dairy cow, was a bit of a revelation for the people I have talked to about it. So, though the message was ham-fisted in delivery, it still made a solid connection that I think many will appreciate. Because it WAS ham-fisted, it allowed the other stories to take more subtle anti-oppression tones. it was brilliant.

    I also enjoyed the fact that the “2400” story had taken a horrible life and turned it into a spiritual one.. But that is a whole new conversation. The whole film was just so very uplifting.

  • Voo de Mar

    I watched this movie tonight because of your introduction here, Socrates, albeit I read your review afterwards. And I’d like to share a couple of thoughts:
    – I’ve never seen a movie before which forced me to focus more on my personal connections than on the plot, I mean I used this movie to make in my mind some parallels between my past experiences and experiences of people I know, it seemed to me more challenging than trying to follow precisely the plot of “Cloud Atlas”, so in some sense I watched this movie on two different layers: personal & external
    – “Cloud Atlas” wasn’t funny to me at all (!), maybe our perceiving it’s a matter of events of our lives which directly precedes movies we watch (?); even those scenes which tend to be funny, like for example the young Timothy Cavendish felling out of window (I heard collective laugh in a theater at the time)
    – I was wondering when I left the theater: if movies are prone to exponential growth as well, we seriously need cognitive enhancement soon to grasp plots of more and more complex movies in the not too distant future ;)

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Very interesting my friend,

    we certainly will need more and more cognitive capacity – even if it is just to watch profound movies like this one ;-)

    More importantly for me, however, is this question:

    Did you actually enjoy the movie as much as I did?!

    Or was it just like when you didn’t find funny even those supposedly funny moments?!…

  • Voo de Mar

    Yes I did enjoy. I suppose it might be very important movie in the history of cinema.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Very happy that you did enjoy it my friend! I also believe that this movie may well be one to retain its value throughout the ages. That is why I said that I must see it again a few years from now to see if it will stand the test of time. For example, I recently saw another one of my all time favorite movies – Laurence of Arabia. I first saw that film when I was probably about 10 years old in the mid 1980’s. Then I saw it again when I was about 19 and about 28. I just saw the 50th year anniversary digitally remastered 4k IMAX edition of the film and enjoyed it as much as ever. This is how we know those movies are a work of art…

  • Voo de Mar

    Fully agree, we should refresh our favorite movies in different decades to revalue our opinions about them and ourselves :)

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    The same principle applies to great books, great works of art and great ideas of philosophy and science…

  • http://twitter.com/alberthartman Albert Hartman

    The great movies for me are those that leave us changed. More aware of the world, the truth and the possibilities, the beauty lying right in front of us.

    My wife thought that the recurring actors were reincarnations of those same souls re-living the same circumstances again and again. Some improving with each life and others (Hugo Weaving) falling further down.

    The best films give us the encouragement to take on the harder truer paths that we know we should do. Cloud Atlas succeeded for me.

  • CM Stewart

    Aww . . the trailer is blocked on “copyright grounds.”

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    Sorry about that Cynthia and thanks for letting me know. I just updated the link so you should be able to watch it if you refresh your browser. Also, make sure you have your sound on and play it at the highest resolution possible i.e. 1080p HD. Cheers!

  • CM Stewart

    Intriguing and ambitious! Thanks for the trailer. :)

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    No problem Cynthia, hope you enjoy the actual film as much as I did. Plus, the music is phenomenal…

  • Pingback: The Very Best of Singularity Weblog in 2012

  • Terrence Lee Reed

    Being in Hong Kong, I finally had the opportunity to watch Cloud Atlas 3 months after you, but it was well worth the wait and the 3 hours (and at least by watching it Hong Kong no one laughed and the audience payed serious attention throughout the film).

    This is a very bold film, I am very surprised that it made it through Hollywood’s self-censoring, but I am very glad it did. I am keenly aware of the issues covered in the six narratives of bigotry. I constantly have to look for its shadow in myself and I can see a clear representation of it whenever I visit my parents in the USA and am subjected to 3 hours of Rush Limbaugh every day, not to mention FAUX News.

    My favorite scene was when the slave holds the young lawyer’s hand with a knife to his own throat, this is the exact truth of the matter, by deferring your own responsibility to others you are just as guilty of murder as those that commit it outright. Not by law, but in conscience.

    From a Singularitarian point of view, some of the future technology is well represented, but the social dystopia that is the future is a bit hard to swallow. It makes for a good story, but does not represent any future I could imagine, but I guess that was the point of Soilent Green the Matrix after all, it is not a real future, but the future as a literary device. I can appreciate that.

  • Pete Johnston

    After watching Cloud Atlas last night I fully agree with your assessment. It is simply a wonderful wonderful work of cinematic art. Thanks for your great job reviewing it.

  • http://www.singularityweblog.com/ Socrates

    It brings me great joy to know that we can share in our appreciation for this amazing film Pete – thank you for letting me know!

  • Steve Morris

    Just watched this on DVD. I’m a huge fan of the Wachowskis and also love all the actors in this film. In fact, it’s hard at first not to be completely blown away by the quality of the acting, of the make-up and special effects and the dizzying rotation of diverse and interesting plots, scenes and characters.

    It definitely scores 100% for entertainment value – intellectual, emotional, action and comedy all thrown in together. And for that reason alone it is an absolutely brilliant film.

    Some way in I began to wonder if there is anything more than that. Is there profundity here, or simply the illusion of meaning? That question wasn’t answered until nearly the end of the film with the liberation of the future slaves and the anti-slavery speech in the early story. Of course there are many other layers here, but it’s the anti-slavery message that stood out for me, even more than the “we’re all connected” theme. Perhaps that’s because of my personal politics. My thought is that it scores 90% for profundity, which is pretty unique for a Hollywood movie.

    Overall, I think it’s a brilliant film with a powerful message, which although perhaps obvious in some ways, is valuable to retell as often as possible to as many people as possible and in as many imaginative ways as possible. In that, the film certainly succeeds.

    By the way, I watched it with my 13 year old son and he was totally mesmerised by the movie.