Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’ Contains a Multitude of Tales Within One Great Film

I promised going into the weekend that I’d do my best to check out the Wachowski Bros’ Cloud Atlas, and that’s exactly what I did yesterday in an extremely comfy theater at my local AMC chain.  I knew nothing of this film’s plot outside of what I saw in the variety of trailers that led up to its release, but I was glad to find out that my lack of knowledge didn’t affect my viewing experience one bit.  That’s not to say that a quick stop to the Cloud Atlas wikipedia page before I watched the film wouldn’t have helped to glue the six individual, yet at times directly related tales contained within this movie’s near 3-hour run-time together, but it isn’t necessary (although with hindsight I do recommend doing so if you haven’t read the novel).  At times the editing of this movie will make you wonder where exactly the plot is headed, but by the time the credits roll I believe you’ll walk away satisfied just like I did after my viewing yesterday.

Cloud Atlas

EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome

  • Six unique tales in one overall story
  • Amazing Cast
  • Thoughtful subject matter

The Not so Awesome

  • Not required but some studying helps to iron out the jumpy editing
  • Odd looking characters due to the required make-up

Cloud Atlas, for all intents and purposes, is a movie that tells six individual tales that span from the 19th century Pacific coast, all the way to a far off distant future where man has nearly been wiped out, and is forced to live like a primitive race once again.  Each tale tells a different genre of story that range from an investigative mystery to a tale of a totalitarian futuristic society that relies on clones to do their service work.  Each one of the six individual stories is told through, or seen from the point of view of the main character in the tale that succeeds the previous one, which can be confusing, but at the same time this style of story-telling is what made Cloud Atlas so appealing to me.

This is one of the reasons for me suggesting a quick study of the Cloud Atlas wiki-page, because it clearly highlights how the six unique tales actually intertwine with one another.  This background knowledge isn’t necessary to enjoy the movie, but I found it to make the film’s penchant for jumping around to each tale at random times to make more sense after I had a little context of the overall Cloud Atlas formula.  For example, The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, which is the first story focused on in Cloud Atlas that takes place in the 1850’s is told through Ewing’s journal, which is being read by one of the main characters in the second story, Letters from Zedelgem, whose story is then told through love letters being red by the main character in the third story, Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.  This method of relaying the tale of the previous time period continues all the way through to the sixth story, Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After, which is set in a post apocalyptic world, and is told from the viewpoint of its own main character, Zachry.

Each cast member plays a role in each time period

Even though Cloud Atlas contains six very unique stories it still accomplishes the goal of relating an overarching theme, which is that of the human condition, and how something done in one lifetime can have the ability to affect others both past and present.  This concept is summed up beautifully in the film’s synopsis, which reads:

An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

Just like Cloud Atlas’ wiki-page, the synopsis above will also help you keep track of the overall motive of this film.  Even though each story featured a unique cast of characters, their souls, in one way or another, were tied together through each time period.  Some characters were always portrayed in a certain way, such as Hugo Weaving’s characters inability to be nice guys, while other characters, like the ones portrayed by Tom Hanks, actually shift from one side of the spectrum to the next by the end of the movie (his character’s soul is the one referenced in the synopsis above).

The concept of one actor playing multiple roles in different stories, set in different eras is in and of itself a great reason to watch this movie.  Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Bae Doona, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and the rest of the cast all did a perfect job of creating not one, not two, but at times six different characters.  Keeping the same actor in each story helped to tie one story’s theme to the next, and it also helped to push the concept of souls continuing on from one meat bag to the next throughout time.  It highlighted how these souls will make both bad and good decisions in each life, which can have strong rippling effects throughout time that could affect their souls in each time period moving forward.

Cloud Atlas’ main cast members

This concept is probably best highlighted in Tom Hanks’ role, because his is a soul that was evil for a time, but by the end of the movie it learned how to do the right thing.  Halle Berry’s many characters also go through dramatic changes in each story and time period, with her soul’s journey being one of rising from a slave in the 19th-century, to being one of the last of a technologically advanced race that inhabits the world during the post apocalyptic period.  If I had to nail down two main characters in Cloud Atlas’ stable of a cast, it’d definitely be Tom and Halle.  In each tale their characters are the ones that seem to grow the most, and they seemed to get the majority of the movie’s screen time.

Although, Bae Doona also plays a huge role in Atlas’ two later tales, and quite honestly her story is probably my favorite because it’s set in a future world of a totalitarian Neo Seoul society complete with clones and rad tech.  I’m a sucker for futuristic movies, as well as ones that focus on the apocalypse, so while I enjoyed each of the six tales, I would have to say that the latter two intrigued me the most.  This is due to the awesome effects, but also because the message being told is one that many recent movies have addressed, which is the concept of how to treat clones, and if these created beings can, or should be able to think for themselves.

It’s similar to the concept that the Wachowskis told in the Matrix, but rather than machines becoming self aware, one clone from the service sector questions her purpose, which leads to a revolution, as well as this clone becoming a Godlike character to those humans still alive in the post apocalyptic society (again the theme of one era’s actions can affect others is present).

Loved the futuristic setting of Sonmi-451’s tale

Outside of the muddy editing, which can be cleared up if you brush up on your Cloud Atlas lore before taking in a viewing, the only downside of this movie is the odd makeup used to turn white actors into Asian ones, and vice versa.  At times these particular characters looked very odd, and they appeared almost alien-like, but it never really hampered my viewing experience.  It was just weird to see the very pretty Bae Doona done up like a white ginger haired lady of the 19th century, as well as seeing Jim Sturgess looking like an alien in his Asian inspired makeup.  Oh well, I get why it was done, and it does make sense when you think about the theme this movie tries to impart, so it’s a minor gripe on my part.

In the end I absolutely loved Cloud Atlas.  It’s one of those films that will keep you, and you’re theater mates talking for hours after the credits roll.  It kept me thinking about it’s six individual stories, and how they relate to each other all day, which to me is a sign of a great flick.  The heavy hitting cast all did fine jobs in their various roles in each of Atlas’ stories, and each time period was re-created beautifully by the film’s directors.  It tells a great story of redemption, and it raises questions about what exactly happens to our souls after death.

Neo-Seoul may be a messed up society but it has some sexy clones

Regardless of your religious beliefs Cloud Atlas should make you feel good about being a human by the end, and it should give you hope that people can change for good with enough time.  It may be hard to follow without prior knowledge of its contents, and some of the make-up makes the characters look more alien than human, but when it’s all said and done, Cloud Atlas earns an impressive EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas.  I highly recommend giving it a shot, so be prepared to be enlightened.  You’ve been learned on the ins and outs of Cloud Atlas’ complex tale…

Cloud Atlas – Official® Trailer [HD]


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Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.