Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

I went to the screening of Cloud Atlas tonight. Turned off my Nexus, settled myself into my favourite seat (end of the row, top left, right at the back), berated myself for not having read the notes I’d been sent earlier in the day.

You know what? I’m glad I didn’t. The film was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. I’ve written a proper synopsis and review over at Geektown, so I’m not going to repeat myself here, but there are a few themes in the movie that I thought I’d like to talk about a bit more.

The first: truth.
The second: honour, and doing good.
The third: love.

I’m not that fussy when it comes to movies; I generally don’t like war films, or things that are set too far in the past. Pretty much everything else goes, though: action, chick flicks, sci fi, kids’ movies, whatever’s on. I don’t watch all that many films, which is probably why: my brain is so excited to see pictures in front of it rather than just words that it goes into overdrive and decides to LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THE FILM.

Which is pretty much what it did with this one, actually.

I do think it was worth it, though. It reminded me of The Shawshank Redemption, not because it had a similar storyline or anything (it didn’t), but because it’s the kind of film that’s just so excellent that I couldn’t help but love it.

Apparently I was in a minority of one there. Filing out of the cinema at the end of the night, all the other reviewers seemed to be talking about how awful it had been, citing its length and complexity as their main complaints. Personally, I thought those were some of the best things about it.

It spans six centuries and assumes that reincarnation is a thing that happens. Synopsis of all the intertwining plotlines here.

Truth is upheld as something to be striven for, upholding it being the main goal of a person’s life. One of the heroines, Sonmi-451, devotes her entire life to uncovering a secret that threatens to kill a huge number of people; the most interesting thing about this being that the saving of lives seems secondarily important to the displaying of truth itself. When we meet her, she is in an interrogation room, and as the film progresses she explains her life and the events that led to her incarceration. By the end, she has given a full run-down of the history of the world in the 2140s as she knows it, but more importantly she has shown how standing up for truth can fulfil a person.

The interrogator looks deep into her eyes.

“Why did you do it?”
“I had to tell the truth.” 
“What if no one ever believes you?” 
“Someone already does.”

The idea that any contribution is important, no matter how small, runs through all six storylines. The concept of giving up your own life for the sake of the greater good, even if you don’t know you’ll succeed, even if you know you might only change the life of a single other person, is held as paramount to being whole.

“No matter what you do, it will never amount to anything more than a single drop of water in a limitless ocean.”
“What is an ocean, but a multitude of drops?” 

The movie is packed with people giving things up, risking their lives, breaking boundaries, looking out for each other even when it means putting themselves in danger. It’s about friendship and honour, and once again, truth.

It’s not so much about love. Not in a romantic, happily-ever-after way, anyway. And this is one of the reasons why I liked it. It didn’t have unrealistic visions of love trumping everything, of people riding off into the sunset after being improbably saved at the final moment by a string of coincidences that meant their love could save the world. It showed loss, and disaster, and sadness, and the state of the human condition when corporate consumerism takes over. It demonstrated how friendship can bloom in the oddest of places, how people can die for love without even meaning to, how ultimately who you love doesn’t matter: it’s who you act towards that makes a real difference.

Perhaps I liked it so much because it struck a chord with me. I’ve always wanted to do something actually good in the world, which is partly why I left my full-time job and decided to go it alone: it meant I could devote more time to tracking down internet criminals and solving child protection cases. The thought that one person can make a fundamental difference to another’s life is a constant source of amazement. We are all insignificant in the grand scheme of things, all just ants running hopelessly around a forest floor, waiting for a giant to come along and squish us dead, but the way we can move and shape the worlds of others just by deciding to devote our lives to something is such an overwhelming concept that my mind can’t quite comprehend it.

It’s also worth mentioning that Cloud Atlas was linguistically interesting and visually breathtaking. In the time “After the Fall” (between 2321 and 2346), we meet a village of people who speak a kind of Creole English; initially it was difficult to understand what they were saying, but gradually it became more and more obvious. I liked the level of thought that went into this. And the photographic work was stunning.

So, there you have it. Beautiful, moving and inspirational, this movie dealt with notions of truth, goodness and personhood without romanticising ad nauseum.

Worth watching, I think. Even if it is three hours long.


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