Review: Cloud Atlas

So we saw Cloud Atlas last night. It was interesting on several levels. I found that the reincarnation aspect could be regarded as entirely figurative or completely literal depending on your preference. The movie instead focuses on stories with strong thematic unity.

As you might expect from a Wachowski movie by now, it has strongly provocative revolutionary themes, violent imagery, and amazing production values. The production itself raises strong issues of race and LGBT politics quite apart from those raised by the story itself (no surprise there, of course — it looks like nearly every one of the principal actors did at least one trans-gender part).

The script has a flawless integrity, casually linking the different stories even in moments of comic relief. And you have good actors having to demonstrate their craft by playing very different parts. It’s a very ambitious production.

If it has a flaw, it’s only where it fails to attain the enormity of what it attempts. Makeup cannot perfectly erase ethnicity, age, or gender — but they gave it such a good try that it’s hard to fault them for that.

That… and thematically I found something of a depressing and fatalistic assessment of human nature: that we are not capable of learning from our mistakes. The prediction that 200 years hence we will be fighting the same battles we fought 200 years ago. But there is also a heroic thread running through it all that is surely hopeful.

I was bothered (though this is not necessarily a criticism) that the film focuses on moments of dramatic decision — the moment when you decide to cross a line or break a social rule, and largely ignores the long-term consequences of making such choices. In my own life, it has not been the ability to make such leaps, but the ability to live with them in the day-to-day grind of living out your life that presents a real character challenge.

We do not for the most part get to see the aftermath of these choices (except for some vague and sanitized happy-ending flash-forward which is hardly worthy of the gritty style of the rest of the film). I felt the film was essentially telling me to go and be cannon fodder if I want to live up to my convictions. The reality and subtlety of living daily with the tensions of balancing survival within an existing and powerful system and achieving change — a balance necessary for making real, decisive, long-term changes in my opinion — is not represented here.

It was a film that left me thinking about the world, mankind, and how my own life decisions relate to them for all of the night and day, and so I guess that has to mark it as a good one.

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About Terry Hancock

Terry Hancock is the producer and director of "Lunatics" ( http://lunatics.tv ). He is also a regular columnist for Free Software Magazine ( http://www.freesoftwaremagazine.com/articles_by/5 ), and a lifelong advocate for space, science, and technology. More at http://terryhancock.narya.net
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