There is no way to fully understand Cloud Atlas in a single viewing. With six stories running at the same time and a plot that involves no less than an attempt to answer mankind’s place in the universe there is just way too much going on to comprehend everything in one sitting.
The film is a monumental undertaking for everyone involved. It takes two directors and some of the biggest names in Hollywood and even then you get the feeling the movie only scratches the surface of the message it is trying to get across. Which is why splitting the film between two directors was probably a good idea. The concept that the everyday actions of mankind in one time period can have profound effects on future generations is far too much for any one creative mind to chew. Instead the Wachowski siblings and Run Lola Run’s Tom Tywker each take a section. One of the biggest hurdles of the film is that there is very little structure to it. The audience must follow six stories, in six distinctly different time periods each of which has very little relation to the other except in flashforwards and flashbacks. Using the same cast does anchor the film a little but playing with their genders and ethnicities has a tendency to get in the way of the film itself.
That being said there are multiple ways that the film can be watched. You could literally go the entire movie playing Where’s Waldo with the cast. Because of the role reversals the directors tend to hide much of the cast in minor roles throughout the stories. Susan Sarandon shows up as a man twice, Halle Berry plays an Asian man, even Hugo Weaving plays a woman. Or could ignore all that and try and find the meaning in the bigger picture.
Cloud Atlas is the kind of filmmaking that movie lovers have been seeking for years. It is ambitious and truly epic, but it is challenging too. This is not the kind of film you go to so that you can turn off your brain. Not everything works but everyone involved should be commended for taking the chance. This is a movie that will polarize everyone who sees it. You will either become endlessly fascinated with its search for answers or simply give up in frustration.
In theaters nationwide October 26th, watch the trailer.