2012, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
One of the many running themes throughout Cloud Atlas is universality, and the making of the film really defined that in a multitude of ways. A collaborative effort between three directors, Atlas saw the helm being taken by Tom Tykwer, a German, as well as the Chicago-born Andy and Lana Wachowski. The cast was assembled of actors from America (such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry), England (Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw, etc.), Australia (Hugo Weaving), Korea (Doona Bae) and Germany (Martin Wuttke). Even the production of the film ended up having to be a collaborative effort, receiving funds from Germany, the U.S., Hong Kong and Singapore in order to put up its appropriately massive budget.
It’s fitting that the behind-the-scenes involvement was such an international effort, as the plot of Cloud Atlas takes us from the wildly diverse locals of the South Pacific Ocean in 1849 to 1973 California to 2144 Korea and all the way to a post-apocalyptic Earth dated 106 years after “The Fall” and that’s only naming about half of the different settings. With the principle cast all taking on many distinctive roles across each section of the film, allowing them to traverse time, genre and even race, Cloud Atlas is the rare film that truly lives its themes as much as it presents them to the audience. As the story of interconnecting spirits takes us on a roller coaster of emotion, thrills and technical astonishment, these themes become ever-clearer and the focus with which Tykwer and the Wachowskis are able to convey it all is really hard to imagine possible.
Running through an almost three hour duration, the breathtaking quality of Cloud Atlas never ceases for a moment and I found myself just as in awe of the final moments as I was when the whole thing began. It’s a film that practically demands multiple viewings for several reason, not the least of which is being able to fully appreciate the sheer magnitude of ambition on display here. As the story moves through its various settings, we are also transported across different genres, from romance to conspiracy thriller to daft comedy and post-apocalyptic adventure. The easiest classification of Cloud Atlas would be as science fiction or fantasy, but even that would be missing out on so many of the wonderful layers that are incorporated throughout it. To view it simply as a work of science fiction would unjustly dismiss the supremely touching emotion of the 1936 storyline of two male lovers who are met with tragedy, yet are still able to see the serene beauty of the world.
Cloud Atlas is the first film since perhaps the Lord of the Rings trilogy that is able to fully meet the definition of a grand, sprawling epic and the most impressive achievement of all is how the directors are able to make it flow so smoothly together. With some absolutely phenomenal editing work done by Alexander Berner, these stories transition into one another seamlessly, never jarring you from one to the next and in fact doing quite the opposite. There’s a natural flow between each move and at times Berner’s editing is even able to add emotional cues for the audience from the way that he brings each story to connect with one another. It’s a rare case of editing not only being utilized on a technical level, but in a way to enhance the themes and story as well.
Of course, with many different genres, settings and time periods on display here, the work of every member of the crew is essential to making the overall product a success and thankfully no one misses a beat. Whether it’s the practically revolutionary makeup work, the key costume design or the absorbing set decoration, every story feels just as rich and alive as the ones surrounding it and there’s never a moment that feels as though it’s lacking in any department. Special note must be given to the musical score, by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tykwer himself, and the way that they are able to adapt the music fittingly to each genre — whether its the romance of the ‘36 story, the white-knuckle intensity of the ‘73 one or the grandiosity of the post-apocalypse era, each section is highlighted by a rich involvement of the musical work.
Cloud Atlas is a film that leaves you thinking long after it’s over, whether you’re like me and continue to reflect on your favorite characters (Halle Berry’s Luisa Rey was mine), segments, performances or you dive more into the heady themes of inter-connectivity, predestination and revolution that are effectively employed across the grand landscape of the entire work — there is so much to digest here that you can’t truly appreciate it just upon that initial viewing experience. If you open yourself up to Cloud Atlasand it takes hold of you, it can truly amaze you on levels both sensory and emotional, and it will surely leave you thinking well after the credits roll (and be sure to stick around for the end credits to see all of the cast members in each of their many different roles). A truly unique, engaging and unquestionably epic experience, this is a movie unlike anything you will see this year, or perhaps ever again. Three hours long and when those credits rolled I was left craving so much more.