Cloud Atlas gives us a number of primary characters in six story-lines scattered throughout time. At the beginning, of the timeline not the storytelling of the movie, we have:
- The 1850s where a lawyer is on the business of his father-in-law in the south seas, where he takes ill and is tended to by a clownish doctor and an escaped slave, on the ship returning to San Francisco.
- The 30s where a young gay composer seeks out the tutelage of an aging maestro where he is to create his masterpiece.
- The 70s where a vibrant reporter investigates unseemly happenings at a power plant and meets a man who instantly falls in love with her.
- Now, where a failing publisher gets tossed into an old age home by his scheming brother and plots to break out.
- the 2100s in Korea where slaved retail clones learn about freedom and the truth of their existence.
- The post-apocalypse future where a primitive man and a more advanced survivor work together to save both their peoples.
The stories are not told with obvious threads for the theme is more quantum than it is linear. We are connected to each other, not through repeating lives nor reincarnation but through distinctions that emanate throughout time both forward and back. It is very complicated science but it is also so very beautiful and it makes you very very aware of what you do now. I don't think the story tellers, the Wachowskis, Tykwer (who i have been calling Twyker for more than a decade) and the original author Mitchel don't need you to understand every connection or see the exactitude of the movie plot, but to catch the strains of truth in what they are saying --- that we are connected. Like the strains of he Cloud Atlas Sextet that plays throughout the movie, when we catch the music we may not know why it rings true but it does.
I agree with Kent in his saying that it was a necessary story telling element to have the same actors playing characters (of both genders sometimes) in all the time lines, to give us a visual cue to connect with, but that it was sometimes very distracting. For me, it was Hugh Grant, who looked out of place in his makeup, especially when he was playing with his nose. But there were only so many mature primary roles so I am not surprised A-list actors played some support.
I am still startled when I learn the movie was over two hours as I sat, while not entirely enthralled, for I will admit to some boredom with some of the stories, I was at least attentive for every minute. The threads weave and bob throughout moving us back and forward in time, in plot and occasionally dropping a connection for us to see and understand. It tells something as to how good the Wachowskis are as craftspeople that they could do this so precisely with the amount of time used.
This movie will not be for every one. Some tales will resonate with you more than others. Me, you know I loved the post-apocalypse one the most with the south seas story not connecting as much. You may be offended by people wearing "yellow face" or makeup to change their gender but I don't think there was a way to accomplish the story without the sweeping makeup gestures they made. It may confuse you but try not to explain it so much. Get swept up, make the connections you do and enjoy it for what it was.