Neo-Seoul: an inside joke in a movie about reincarnation?
Everything becomes and recurs eternally — escape is impossible!
—Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Sweeping, grand and ambitious. I will happily throw all those overheated adjectives at Cloud Atlas, the latest film from the makers of The Matrix and Run Lola Run. Much about this movie is uncommon and unusual. Based on a book by David Mitchell, it takes six separate stories set in six separate historical eras (two of which are set in the future) and drives them forward simultaneously.
Remarkably, through the sheer talent of the directors, this awkward sounding device works and works well. Cloud Atlas is long (almost three hours). While it took real effort to hold all six story lines in my head, I was never bored. More often I was amazed at how the directors managed to harmonize the geometry of the stories. They rose and fell together in a way that made the overarching themes both more compelling and nuanced.
Like The Matrix and Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas is about choice and fate. A small army of characters (played by the same set of actors) is propelled through four centuries of human history. Choices made in one life echo in the next. Kindness begets kindness, greed begets suffering and, through it all, redemption remains ever a possibility.
Cloud Atlas is about big ideas expressed through small stories. At its worst it becomes maudlin in it is sentimentality; at its best it becomes epic in its vision of human evolution, on both the personal and cultural levels.
And speaking of eternal recurrence — I will probably go see it again.