Let me preface this by saying that Cloud Atlas is not exactly what you would call an ordinary Hollywood film. For starters, the stories are not told in a conventional manner. Much like Tarantino’s works, the stories follow no chronological path. The film is edited in such a way that it constantly jumps between all six stories, telling them simultaneously. While initially quite disorientating, this style of storytelling is actually vital to understanding the film. After a while, you begin to realize that, in all the tales, all the heroes go through the same trials and challenges. At one point, the film flashes between several different characters trying to escape and gain their freedom, while another point shows the heroes all experiencing tender moments of love and kindness, and so-on. Despite their differences, each character contributes a unique aspect of the same story, and the film explores how that same story repeats through time. All of this has happened before and all of it will happen again.
This film is remarkable in so many ways. I know of no other film that is able to tell six different stories (in six different genres no less!) at once and have it not only make sense, but also do so in such a manner that it increases the artistic quality of the film. The editing alone deserves an Oscar, not to mention the costumes, special effects, and makeup. Halle Berry was white for one role while Hugo Weaving was a woman, and I didn’t recognize either of them the first time I watched. And the screenplay! David Mitchell’s novel, upon which this film is based, was ordered entirely differently and yet the film still makes just as much sense.
Cloud Atlas is greater than the sum of its parts. Just as six stories come together to tell one overarching story, this films shows how all the constituent parts of modern cinema can come together to make a masterpiece. When writing, acting, editing, special effects, makeup, and everything else truly sync, the result can be absolutely marvelous. Cloud Atlas is at its core a perfect example of the magic of the cinema to sweep us away on a journey through what is possible and what is impossible. Cloud Atlas is, simply, a great story; six and one at once.