Does "Cloud Atlas" Meet the Expectations of its Audience?

Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
November 12th, 2012

Does "Cloud Atlas" Meet the Expectations of its Audience?

-- "Cloud Atlas" is a 2012 German film written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski, who are best known for the "Matrix" trilogy. It is primarily a science fiction drama, although it encompasses many genres. "Cloud Atlas" consists of six distinct stories that are only loosely connected. The highly unusual format of the film has proven to be a polarizing element for its audience.

The primary theme of "Cloud Atlas" is the idea that a single decision by one person can affect many lives in the future. This theme is reinforced by using the same actors to play multiple parts in the six storylines. These disjointed storylines will make it difficult to appreciate by mainstream audiences accustomed to films with a single storyline, and a well-defined beginning, middle and end.

Unlike the "Matrix" trilogy, which consists of three full-length films, the Wachowski brothers fit all six stories in "Cloud Atlas" into a single 172-minute film. This leaves less than 30 minutes per story, each of which could have been a separate film. The pace of this film seems rushed, since it only spends enough time on each story to advance the narrative before darting to the next story. Plot and character development must be sacrificed, which will be the biggest reason that "Cloud Atlas" does not meet the expectations of its audience.

"Cloud Atlas" is most likely to please audiences who have read the original novel by David Mitchell, since they will not be expecting a linear storyline. The film requires a certain degree of intellectualism from its audience in order to keep track of the six stories. Most people will need to see this film multiple times in order to fully appreciate all of the elements that connect the stories together. "Cloud Atlas" will likely attain a cult following in DVD form, which will allow fans to see it over and over.

"Cloud Atlas" will certainly meet the expectations of its audience with respect to cinematography and special effects. The Wachowski brothers spared no expense to make the film visually stunning, especially for the stories that are set in the future. With a budget of $102 million, "Cloud Atlas" is the most expensive German film of all time and one of the most expensive independent films ever made.

The critical reception of "Cloud Atlas" has been strongly positive, with many critics praising its ambition and thought-provoking narrative. It also received a standing ovation when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. Even critics who panned "Cloud Atlas" agree that no one who sees it will be bored. The complexity of "Cloud Atlas" makes it unlikely that anyone who sees this film will remain ambivalent about it.

The first story in "Cloud Atlas" is set in 1849 and takes place in the South Pacific Ocean. Adam Ewing is an American lawyer who travels to the Chatham Islands on business. A slave stows away on the ship, and Ewing keeps him hidden. The slave saves Ewing's life, causing Ewing to denounce slavery when he returns to America. The scenes of the ship sailing on the high seas are especially breathtaking.

The second story in the film is set in 1936 and takes place in England and Scotland. Robert Frobisher is an unknown English composer working for the famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs. Frobisher composes a masterpiece, but Ayrs tries to take credit for it. Frobisher shoots Ayrs and commits suicide.

The third story in the film is set in 1973 and takes place in San Francisco, California. Luisa Rey is a newspaper journalist who receives a tip about a safety hazard in a nuclear reactor that is about to become operational. Her informant is assassinated before he can provide Rey with conclusive proof of the problems at the power plant. Rey is able to publish the story with the help of the security chief at the plant.

The fourth story in the film is set in 2012 and takes place in the United Kingdom. Timothy Cavendish is a publisher who must hide in a nursing home when one of his authors tries to have him killed. Cavendish escapes from the nursing home with the help of the patients. This story may surprise the audience with its comedic elements.

The fifth story in the film is set in 2144 and takes place in Neo Seoul, Korea. Sonmi-451 is a clone servant who joins a resistance and discovers that clones are being used as food. She announces this information to the world shortly before her execution.

The sixth story in the film is set in 2427 and takes place in Hawaii, 106 years after a nuclear holocaust. Zachry joins with Meronym to reach an outpost where he can contact people who are living on other planets. The audience will find the panoramic views of other planets to be especially realistic.