In general films released today follow a broad structure of three acts, with the setup, the obstacle and the resolution. There are some films however that bend and manipulate this structure and try and create something more fluid. Then there are films that are pure and utter madness. A chaos of ideas and themes that distinctly do not follow the classical structure. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, Cloud Atlas is a sprawling epic, historical, science fiction film that covers six distinct time periods from early settlers in the United States to a post-apocalyptic savage land after the 'fall of humanity' and it's quite unlike almost any other film around.
Cloud Atlas consists of six interrelated and interwoven stories throughout six time periods, each containing the same collection of actors playing different roles. It is a tapestry of stories that include destinations such as the South Pacific in 1849 with a young American lawyer (Jim Sturgess) who witnesses a Moriori slave (David Gyasi) being whipped to modern day United Kingdom and a publisher (Jim Broadbent) being chased for money owed. There's also trips to the future and Neo-Seoul and the far future after an apocalyptic incident have left the human race in a desperate situation, which follows a budding relationship between Zachry (Tom Hanks) and Meronym (Halle Berry).
To say that Cloud Atlas gets confusing would be an understatement. Directors Tom Tykwer, Lana and Andy Wachowski have suggested that artistic expression is meant to be confusing and boundary-pushing and they've certainly put their money where their mouths are here. The narrative sweeps along tying characters and their actors together by shared roles and themes, investigating fate, history, love and progression.
It's a smorgasbord of film-making techniques, special effects and individually beautiful scenes. Much like Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life a year earlier, Cloud Atlas is a captivating, head-scratching conundrum that leaves more for the audience to decipher than it explains. The performances from the actors are all carefully considered and in the case of Jim Broadbent's publisher and Xun Zhou's Neo-Seoul clone are something quite magnificent to behold and perfectly encapsulate the barmy comedy to serious drama that all lie within Cloud Atlas' ample running time.
Many will declare it pretentious, nonsensical or just plain insane, but none will call it boring. As an audience it's impossible not to be swept along as the narrative jumps from genre to genre, period to period and from Halle Berry as a white woman to Hugh Grant as a post-apocalyptic cannibal. Cloud Atlas is a one-of-a-kind film that should be applauded despite its obvious failings. Beware though, it's long and at times, completely baffling.