If there is one film that is going to change the way that you see filmmaking, visual storytelling and the human condition, in the same way Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life did, it's Cloud Atlas, an epic sci-fi drama that is every bit as much of a head-trip as the film that made the Wachowskis famous 13 years ago, The Matrix.
With a running time of 164 minutes, it is an adaptation of David Mitchell's acclaimed 500-page tome of the same title - a meditation on karma, past lives, and freedom that jumps across the centuries (past, present and Twilight Zone-ish future) and genres (drama, comedy, sci-fi and everything in-between) - that even Mitchell himself thought was unadaptable.
Cloud Atlas is written for the screen and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) and based on the celebrated best-selling novel by David Mitchell.
Questions about life and purpose
An ambitious and dazzling epic spanning five centuries, Cloud Atlas explores questions about life and purpose that humanity has contemplated since the beginning of conscious thought. With a kaleidoscopic array of action, emotion and urgent human connections that light points along an infinite timeline, it suggests that individual lives continue their personal trajectories through the ages. Souls, reborn, renew their bonds with one another, time and again. Mistakes can be rectified or repeated. Freedom can be gained or lost, but is forever sought.
The film consists of six interrelated and interwoven stories that take the viewer from the South Pacific in the 19th century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future.
"It is a cinematic journey for which audiences are starving," said Tykwer. "There is an audience that is undernourished and wants to be fed. They love to soak up and think, and have a full dinner just about what you've just seen and then take it to bed and wake up in the morning, still thinking about it. That's how we fell in love with cinema. We cannot be alone because we meet those people all the time."
Cloud Atlas was made on a budget of more than USD100 million, a portion of which was furnished by Warner Bros., but most of which was raised independently, which has led some to call it "the most expensive indie film of all time".
Most expensive German-produced film to date
Cloud Atlas is considered to be "the first attempt at a German blockbuster" with its budget making it the most expensive German-produced film to date.
It features a stellar cast: Academy Award winners Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) and Halle Berry (Monster's Ball) lead an international cast that also includes Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent (Iris), Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D'Arcy, Xun Zhou, Keith David and David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) and Hugh Grant. Each member of the ensemble appears in multiple roles as the story moves through time.
Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis filmed parallel to each other using separate camera crews. The Wachowskis directed the 19th-century story and the two set in the future, while Tykwer directed the stories set in the 1930s, the 70s, and the present day.
Unlike the original novel, the film is structured, according to novelist David Mitchell, "as a sort of pointillist mosaic: We stay in each of the six worlds just long enough for the hook to be sunk in and from then on the film darts from world to world at the speed of a plate spinner, revisiting each narrative for long enough to propel it forward. (Pointillism is the technique of painting elaborated from impressionism.)
The epic journey
Here's an outline that sums up the epic journey and six stories (without revealing the secrets that guarantee to blow your mind). Pacific Ocean, circa 1849: The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing Adam Ewing, (Jim Sturgess) an American lawyer from San Francisco during the California Gold Rush, has come to the Chatham Islands to conclude a business arrangement for his father-in-law. He meets Dr Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) who offers a cure for the parasitic worm that is seemingly eating his brain. While ashore, Adam learns about the enslavement of the Moriori tribe and observes a slave being whipped. The slave, Autua (David Gyasi), stows away on the ship and Adam reluctantly keeps him hidden. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936: Letters from Zedelghem Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), a penniless young English musician, finds work as an amanuensis to a famous composer, allowing Frobisher the time and inspiration to compose his own masterpiece, The Cloud Atlas Sextet. San Francisco, California, 1975: Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), is a journalist, sent to write a story about a new nuclear power plant. She meets Sixsmith (James D'Arcy), a respected nuclear physicist who decides to help Rey expose a conspiracy regarding the safety of a nuclear reactor. United Kingdom, 2012: The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish. Timothy Cavendish, (Jim Broadbent) a 65-year-old publisher, flees the associates of a jailed gangster author and ends up confined against his will in a nursing home from which he attempts to escape. Neo Seoul (Korea), 22nd century: An Orison of Sonmi~451. Sonmi~451, a genetically-engineered fabricant (clone) server at a fast-food restaurant (Bae Doona ), rebels against the totalitarian society that created and exploited her kind. On a beautiful ocean island on a distant post-apocalyptic Earth: Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After. A tribesman named Zachry (Tom Hanks) living a primitive life after most of humanity have died during "The Fall" is visited by Meronym (Halle Berry), a member of the last remnants of a technologically advanced civilisation and agrees to guide her into the mountains in search of Cloud Atlas.
Daniel Dercksen has been a film and theatre journalist in South Africa the past 30 years and as a trainer and educator has presented regular workshops in scriptwriting and creative writing during the past 17 years.
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