Review in five words or less
Ok… this movie was … to quote my friend Kim:
It’s a trip!
I would only add “epic” to that description. It was an epic trip.
I rented Cloud Atlas last night and was very impressed with the really great story-telling. The movie is super complicated to explain, as far as “facts”, so … no spoilers here. While not comprehensive, this post will talk about the themes, symbols, and the artistry of the movie.
I have purposefully not read any reviews of the movie so far. However, I would imagine my more far to the political right friends will not care for many of the underlying messages of the movie. The messaging was infused with quite a few interests they tend to oppose. Some examples: A gay love story has a positive effect on the future and portrayed as a natural pure love (gay equality), the seas rise to destroy a major city (a nod to global warming), along with brutal depictions of both stigmatized conservative political ideology (“there is a natural order”) and murderous greed of corporate power. There is also a very graphic depiction of the meat packing industry born out of hyper-capitalism (can’t tell you more without revealing a spoiler) and the elite/powerful/consumerist/culturally religious culture is depicted as soul-less and barbaric.
There is quite a bit of humanistic, Buddhist, messaging for the inspiration and spiritual messaging of the movie. I mean reincarnation is of course a main theme but Buddhist thought and symbolism is almost always present. For example, even the “hope” for sending up a prayer for salvation from a dying planet is a satellite dish that unfolds like a Lotus flower rising above tremendous danger, superstition, and darkness.
I only say all of that as facts about the movie, not negatively. For me personally, none of that took away from my appreciation of the movie. All of the parallel story-lines were compelling to me. I had compassion and empathy for all of the characters (except the villains of course.) Even with the villains though, they were good at being villains.
The redemptive elements all came when deception was overcome with the assumption of the best and a commitment to respect all. Another redemptive element was found in that there was always a sacrificial hero to rescue hope, inspiration and purity. In all of the story lines there was a power struggle between humble leadership and abuse of authority, innocence and evil, sacrifice and greed. There was also a constant tension of maintaining the status quo to the detriment of most and fighting for true justice regardless of the outcome (good or bad.) These are all very basic themes that the human soul finds compelling and calls out to what I think is an echo of Eden, to be at peace with a just and gracious God and each other. Mixing those basic themes, with some very archetypal characters, and great parallel connected stories made for a very compelling movie.
The only criticism that keeps coming to mind is some of the make-up and costumes were just … not good. The CGI was fantastic but the band-aid implants were distracting. Some of the cosmetic alterations were wonderful but some on the secondary characters looked rubbery and sometimes melted rubbery. It wasn’t the worst I have ever seen in a movie but a couple of times I just rolled my eyes and thought, “I can crochet/braid better than that.”
Well … I can. It’s a gift.
The tagline of the movie is “Everything is connected.” And the very downplayed “savior” symbol of the film for the two futuristic story lines, Sonmi-451, was highlighted a few times (directly or through a quote) as saying, “from womb to tomb we are bound to others.” Again, given the Buddhist undertones and symbolism in the movie … I would assume that is where those quotes came from. However, as a Christian I also believe that “everything is connected” but by God and in Him. I also believe that even before we were born we were destined to be in relationship through our entire existence. It’s the primary way we bear the image of God, to know and be known.
So the positive takeaway from Cloud Atlas is first of all … great story telling, wonderful artwork. The second and more important positive takeaway is to think, on a personal level, about how we are connected through our relationships and actions to the people around us and our legacy. I don’t believe in reincarnation or that my free will is bound to another unless I want it to be but are we contributing to the betterment of our present relationships/situation with the future in mind? <–that’s never a bad question to ask.
Would I recommend it?
There are some extremely difficult themes (slavery, misogyny, homophobia), graphic violence, and one nothing left to the imagination sex scene within the movie as well. Keep that in mind. That said, I would highly recommend the movie simply because of the artistry and the opportunity to have thought provoking themes presented within that context. Do NOT show it to the kiddos though. It earned its R rating honestly.