On rare occasion do I see a film that so challenges me, that has so much going on in it, that I come out of the theater thinking, “I must give this movie a second look.” One such film is CLOUD ATLAS, which I saw at the Toronto Film Festival back in September and which I will re-see upon its theatrical release.
It would be no exaggeration to describe CLOUD ATLAS as an epic, one which required three filmmakers-- Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski-- to direct. It features a wide array of characters, many of whom are played by the same actors often in heavy make-up, and it is set in different places and time periods: the Pacific Isles in 1849, for example, and Cambridge, England, in 1936, San Francisco in 1973, and London in 2012. Even though there are plenty of storylines, CLOUD ATLAS is never confusing. Rather, it is stimulating and mind-massaging.
At its core, CLOUD ATLAS offers insight into the human condition, exploring the manner in which people have been enslaved across the centuries whether because of gender, skin color, sexual preference, or having the misfortune of being born an outsider. It reflects on the meaning of freedom, and the idea that those who are deprived of it only will have the barest inkling of what it truly is. It examines how attitudes have changed across time, both individually and within cultures. Yet at the same time, it stresses that, no matter what the historical era, the weak are victimized by the powerful who rationalize their behavior by convincing themselves that there is a “natural order” in the world. Sure, the “victims,” the disenfranchised, can fight back, but are they doomed to failure?
CLOUD ATLAS also reflects on the hows and whys of celebrity in our present day and how people who are little more than bullies become famous, and even cult figures, for reasons that have nothing to do with talent or hard work. But CLOUD ATLAS is not just a rumination of the realities of our past and present. It puts forth a sense of the true meaning of spirituality. At one point, one of the characters observes: “I believe there is another world waiting for us. A better world.” So CLOUD ATLAS offers up the view that we are not isolated souls. We are bound to others, past and present, and we are bound by each crime we commit and each kindness we offer.
But also, in CLOUD ATLAS, visions of the future in this world are presented. One of them involves a science fiction-inspired futuristic city. The other may be best-described as post-apocalyptic. While watching these futuristic depictions, I could not help but think about a subject that is ever-present in our lives. That subject is violence, and how society has evolved in relation to violence. Cruelty and brutality existed in the world centuries ago, and exist in the world today. But will this change in the future? Will the world become more peaceful? Or will violence always exist, but be perpetrated in different ways? Here, yet another question comes to the forefront: Why do individuals keep making the same mistakes, over and over? Is it because of greed? Is it because of stupidity? Or is it something more?
CLOUD ATLAS is a movie about ideas: lots of big, important ideas. As I say, there is so much going on in this film, so much happening, so much worth pondering...