When Cloud Atlas was released, it polarised critics and barely broke even at the box office. Based on David Mitchell’s wonderfully complex 2004 novel, the film contains multiple plotlines and narratives spanning six different eras, genres, and settings. Only the creators of The Matrix and the visionary director of Run Lola Run could adapt this supposedly “unfilmable” book, dividing directorial duties between them and assembling an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugh Grant.
The film presents one of the most complex narratives ever attempted on screen. Mitchell’s novel was split into chapters devoted to each separate “period”, but the filmmakers decided to interweave and flip between each era simultaneously, accumulating a mosaic narrative of interrelated storylines. Some have called this “messy”, but it is one of the most heroically ambitious endeavours of modern cinema.
There’s an uncompromising depth and beauty to the sheer vastness of the narrative. We jump from explosive sci-fi action to a quaint Cambridge love story. There’s even a touch of Terrence Malick in the sprawling sublimity of the film’s central philosophy. It passes beyond mere sentimentality in order to ask more fulfilling questions about humanity. At its heart, there is the age-old “butterfly effect” question – how do our actions influence each other? Are we all connected?
It’s also very funny. The cast seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves. Broadbent is effortlessly hilarious when trapped in a sinister nursing home; Tom Hanks sports hysterical Scottish, Irish and English accents in his eclectic range of characters; and who wouldn’t want to see Hugh Grant as a can- nibal? It’s an immensely charming film.