Random Thoughts on Cloud Atlas
Soon after the credits rolled, I jotted down a number of different thoughts I had while watching Cloud Atlas. This isn’t in the least bit a formal review, but more a collection of random thoughts, notes, and impressions I had during and immediately following my first viewing of the film. Below all my “notes” are a collection of screen caps from the film, which I will admit is masterfully shot. The aesthetics of the film (bad makeup notwithstanding) are quite impressive.
- Cloud Atlas is a deeply ambitious film that ends up feeling less like the epic masterpiece I imagine it was intended to be, and more like a patchwork of themes and ideas that sometimes fit, other times fit well, and still other times simply feel out of place or bizarrely misplaced. It encompasses so many different genres, and holds so many different tones and emotions that in one sense, it’s amazing that any of it works. And yet a good amount of it does not work, or at least does not work for me.
- This is not a film of logic to be picked apart and scrutinized for the inconsistencies of its minute details. It is a film of grand scope, meant to be viewed on the scale with which it presents itself. And though the individual moments at times work wondrously, in its whole grandiosity I’m left scratching my head as to whether it does or not as that whole.
- It’s definitely overlong. Its length is felt throughout the film, but by the two hour mark I was about ready for it to end. Unfortunately, an hour still remained. And though I was, admittedly, somewhat curious about seeing through some of these stories, I realized I was just as anxious for the credits to roll.
- Is there some grand meaning and message within the noise? A melody that gives coherence and understanding, just as the Cloud Atlas Sextet does to those who hear it in the film? I’m not sure. I have a feeling that the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer believe it to be so. And yet I am also left asking myself if it matters as much as I think it does. Maybe Cloud Atlas works best as a purely sensory experience. Some films do, to be sure. It’s certainly a beautiful film to look at, and to listen to. But I don’t think a sensory experience on its own is how I was meant to view and appreciate the film, simply one aspect of it.
- Despite the good intentions I sense behind the choice to cast actors in multiple roles, of multiple ages, and multiple races, it’s the most major aspect of the film that felt more a distraction – and at times a laughable one at that – than anything else. It’s true that there is an argument to employ such a tactic given the subject matter, but the finished product ends up feeling like a sad joke more than it does a deep cinematic choice. For example, Jim Sturgess looks more like an alien than a Korean in the story in Neo Seoul.
- I admit that sometimes the emotional cues of the film feel as deep and meaningful as I’m sure they were intended to be – pieces of the ending are a testament to that, Doona Bae’s strange makeup notwithstanding. Other times, however, the emotional or visceral weight of one story is entirely upended by a cut to a more lighthearted situation. At first this didn’t seem like a huge deal, but after a while, when some of the stories grew in intrigue or tension, cutting away so brazenly felt frustrating. Moreover, the emotional framework that had been building was suddenly cut off. Though we return to those stories, by that point the damage is already done, so to speak.
- What else can I say? Someday I would like to maybe revisit Cloud Atlas. Despite my issues with it, it’s certainly an intriguing film. And I’ll be the first to admit that it may deserve a bit more consideration than I’ve given it. But I’d be hard-pressed to take that position at this point. It really is a gorgeous visual feast, though, isn’t it?
One of the few images from the film I wouldn’t qualify as “beautiful.” I have included it as a visual reference for those curious about my criticism of Jim Sturgess as a Korean.