Cloud Atlas (2012)

Will you like ‘Cloud Atlas’? Somebody already does

Photo of Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in Cloud Atlas (2012)

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in Cloud Atlas (2012)


A physically and emotionally scarred elder recalls the first time he faced evil eye to eye. An ailing young man introduces himself to an eminent doctor on the beach of a tropical island. A reporter wonders why she's driving into danger pursuing a story. A sensitive young man methodically prepares his suicide. An editor claims a disdain for flashbacks and flashforwards, but tells us there's a method to the madness of this particular story if you only give it a chance. A prisoner in a future world is introduced to an archivist who is there to record her story. So begins Cloud Atlas.

Six plot lines interweave through this nearly three-hour epic. Some actors, like Hanks, play major and minor roles in each one: a charletan doctor, a nosey hotel manager, a scientist risking his life to reveal a corporate secret ... and so on. With makeup so good that often you don't recognize the actors ... unless you're supposed to.

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It would be pointless trying to describe the threads in detail. They are all bound together loosely by a cascade of events, starting with a journal describing an act of kindness and nobility on a sea journey in the Pacific Islands in 1836. Years later, this journal intrigues a tortured composer, whose lover plays a key part in a corporate scandal decades later. The movie climaxes, both in timeline and emotional force, "106 years after The Fall," when survivors in a dystopian future Hawaii grapple with the devil incarnate and the truth behind a reverred, Christ-like figure of the past, Sonmi-451.

So hopefully that's enough for you to understand this: Cloud Atlas is either your kind of movie or it's not. Even with the brilliant editing that propels these interweaving stories forward, it's not easy to catch glimpses of the method among that madness. After two viewings, I can tell you it's at least my kind of movie. It might be yours, too, but the key, I think, is to be willing to relax and just experience the story rather than try to fit it into a set of neatly joining puzzle pieces.

But along the way, be on the watch for scenes that do illuminate the themes. My favorite is in "Neo Seoul" in 2144, where a man known only as The Archivist (James D'Arcy) is interrogating a clone-turned-freedom fighter, Sonmi 451 (Doona Bae), whose life inspires the islanders later. Behind the professional skepticism required for his job to simply record her testimony before her execution for treason, we can see her story is affecting him nonetheless. "What if no one believes you?" he asks. She gives him a delicate glance of acknowledgment. "Someone already does," she says.