Cloud Atlas is a big film, covering 500 years of history, telling the stories of six seemingly unrelated characters and how these people’s lives do, in the end, connect and influence each other. At nearly three hours long, the film does not bore nor drag. The cinematography, scenic and set design, and musical score are all appropriately lush and grand. The costumes help evoke the spirit of the time each character inhabits without drawing overt attention.
The film starts off in 1849 Pacific Islands, and through the course of the story we see 1936 England, 1973 America, 2144 Neo Seoul, and Hawaii of 2346. There’s at least one other, but you’ll have to watch the movie yourself to see when and where it/they appear. The times are not watched chronologically, nor completely – the story bounces back and forth, around and through, and thus made the job of inhabiting these times very important for the Production Designers, Set Decoration team, and Costume Designers. They had to come up with short-hand ways to clue in the audience as to when and who they were seeing on the screen, and throughout the film. I had no trouble keeping up with that point.
In addition to the unusually long timeline covered by this film, the six main characters also faced quite a challenge in making this movie. They each played from five to seven different characters. As challenging as that must have been, they also alternated races and sexes and sometimes both. In many of the cases, it was virtually impossible to tell who was who, whereas in a few, the makeup just didn’t quite work.
Watching this movie, I was able to grasp the big story that tied everything together, but I sometimes had problems keeping up with the individual stories. The scenes set in Hawaii had me struggling to understand the devolved slang language, and the scenes where the makeup wasn’t believable took my attention away from the story. That said, I will definitely see this film again, as it truly seems a work of great importance.
Reviewer: Michael Black, FIDM Museum Coordinator