By Jimmy Liew
Perhaps the film most overlooked by the Academy for a Best Picture Award nomination this year has to be none other than Cloud Atlas, helmed by no less than three directors including the Wachowski siblings of ‘The Matrix’ trilogy fame and German director Tom Tykwer, who conjured up the masterpiece that is ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ (admittedly, it’s the only film of his that I know off).
David Mitchell’s multi layered time-leaping epic novel, a 2004 Booker Prize shortlisted piece, is brought to life in this Hollywood adaptation. The story begins in a post-apocalyptic future sometime after The Fall, which is inferred to be a nuclear fallout, where an ancient man, Zachary (Tom Hanks) sits around a campfire recollecting his memories of yesteryear. We then move on to 1930s Britain where an aspiring gay musician, Robert Forbisher (Ben Whishaw) has just landed a job as an amanuensis to a famous composer, Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent) who is well past his twilight years. In 1970s America, Luisa Ray (Halle Berry) is hell bent on exposing a sinister conspiracy by an energy conglomerate involving a nuclear reactor. The next story happens in the present where Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) gets a windfall when one of his clients murders a film critic. Then there is Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), already on board a ship sailing in the South Pacific Ocean on a mission to finalise a business transaction on the Chatham Islands for his father-in-law. In neo-Seoul, a waterlogged Seoul in 2146, Sonmi-456 (Doona Bae) is part of a sub-class being cloned to provide services at a fast food restaurant who manages to inspire the world.
The trio of directors have wisely decided to introduce the six epochs the story plays out in, before slowly intertwining them. By doing that however, this seamlessly put together book has unfortunately been reduced to a clichéd version whereby we are all told that our purpose in life is to combat subjugation and that our souls can transfer to another body through reincarnation. While exceptional in many aspects, including concept and execution, Cloud Atlas leaves its viewers wanting. As the saying goes, some works are better left in text than tailored for the big screen.
With its huge array of characters usually played by the same few actors or actresses, multiple interlocking timelines as well as the philosophical themes of death and karma, Cloud Atlas turns out to be an example of creative over-ambition. On the bridge between insanity and genius, some might argue whether Cloud Atlas truly belongs together with such legendary works like The Life of Pi. If you wish to get your mind blown and wreck your brains out trying to understand a story à la Inception, this is your go-to movie.
While the Academy clearly has no love for Cloud Atlas, one wonders whether somewhere along the future people will still continue talking about Cloud Atlas instead of Argo or any of the other nominees. We’ll just have to wait and see what next year’s Oscars hold.
1. Malaysian release date: 21 February, 2013
2. Runtime: 172 mins
3. Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
4. Cast: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant