Directed By: Tom Tykwer, and Andy and “Lana” Wachowski
Written By: David Mitchell (Novel) Tom Tykwer, Andy and “Lana” Wachowski
First Attempt (5/2/13)
My brother, who twisted my arm into watching this movie, described it as “ambitious.” After seeing it I could not think of a better way to describe it. In fact I think this represents how movies will be made in the future. One day we will look back at this film and it will be seen as a landmark accomplishment. In the movie, “Moby Dick” is specifically referenced. It is said that in its time the author died starving but at the present every serious literary student owned a copy of it. I think this movie is the Moby Dick of films. It was not a financial success and largely misunderstood by its audience. One day however, we will look back at this film and marvel at it. One day this film will stand out as ahead of its time and be proclaimed as a classic. I had lost faith in the Wachowskis after the completion of their Matrix trilogy but this film has proved to me that I was wrong about them. They are brilliant filmmakers with an ability I admire and I will never lose faith in again.
Reviewing this movie has been a long time coming because I wanted to understand the story completely before doing so. There are six story lines within the movie and I have figured out how the first three and the final three piece together but not how those two halves connect. I bought the book the movie was adapted from but have yet to read it. I find this film so impressive I wanted to write my review before the book has an opportunity to destroy my impressions of it. Under almost every circumstance in which I have read a book after seeing the film the book has destroyed my perception of the film. The only exception being The Godfather, but even with that film the book is much better. I hope the book offers some sort of clarity on how the story pieces together in its entirety and after reading it I will update this review with what I am able to find out.
This movie blew me away in a way that no other movie has blown me away before because it brought to light a realization that I find so profound. This story in its entirety is simply the only thing that is left after the fall of mankind and after our time on Earth comes to an end. The idea hit me so hard because under those circumstances what does anything any of us do really matter? We have so much history documented throughout our existence but after the fall of society if nothing survives then nothing is remembered. In the beginning of the film Tom Hanks, in the character of Zachry, is telling a story that doesn’t make much sense at first. He is a much older version of Zachry in that scene and it isn’t until the end that we see where he is and who he is talking to. He is on another planet, telling his grandchildren the only story he knows from Earth. It is the story this film tells and this story has very little bearing on our actual existence. It is simply the only story he knows from his homeland and the only story that has survived from the entire history of this planet. That is a lot to swallow because it is such a real possibility for the future. I don’t know how everybody else sees it but I see the possibility of humanity crumbling in the eventual future as very real. If that happens what is it that lives on in memory? There is such a real possibility that nothing any of us have ever done makes any difference in the future of existence. As the slave owning father tells his son-in-law in the end of the film, his notion to stand up to slavery will never amount to being “more than a single drop in a limitless ocean.” To which his son-in-law replies, “What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?” That brought the whole thing full circle for me and I had a moment of clarity that was as clear as any I have ever had. That’s all we are, drops in a limitless ocean. The significance of our personal lives are more important than anything else, but they only matter to us as individuals. Our individual worlds of existence are separate from one another but ultimately part of something so large we can never wrap our heads around it.
Second Attempt (12/26/15)
I think this movie is so innovative in its use of actors. In fact I’ve said several times that I thought this was such an incredible opportunity for an actor to showcase their talents that it was very possible this was only a hint of what was to come in the future. In this film the actors portray not one but many roles that allow them to show a much wider range of skill. Not only do they play multiple roles but they play incredibly diverse characters in turn. They play a variety of different ages, classes, and in many cases even races of people. It is an interesting idea usually only reserved for silliness like we see in several Eddie Murphy movies. Here the effort is made not to be funny but to be serious and it is an exceptional opportunity to appreciate the actors on hand. The actors in this movie show a tremendous amount of talent and a diversity that garners our respect. I’m always discouraged by the reality that so many actors and actresses succeed based on looks over talent. When actors are required perform on this level such a thing will never happen. It’s no easy thing what the actors in this film accomplish and the strength in their talent is showcased perfectly.
This movie can be a difficult one to follow simply because it is so complex. There are six different storylines that are seemingly alien of one another taking place across a wide spectrum of time and location. It can be easy to get lost in the vastness of how everything pieces together but after giving this film several viewings and much consideration I think I can dumb down how it all fits together.
There are six storyline within this film:
1. The free thinking lawyer, the two faced doctor, and the stowaway slave on a journey across the world.
2. Robert Frobisher, Rufus Sixsmith, and the creation of Cloud Atlas with Vyvyan Arys.
3. Reporter Luisa Rey’s chance encounter with an aged Sixsmith and her battle with destiny and the truth.
4. Timothy Cavendish and his desperate and oddly comedic struggle that inspires Somni-451.
5. Somni-451 and her realization of existence. In custody she testifies about living a life that changed the world.
6. Zachry and the true-true. A haunted man in a world that has moved on and is at the end of its run.
These six storylines weave together to make a story that is as incredible as it is complex. I have put a lot of thought into them since seeing the movie for the first time. Once I started doodling a web like design in which I wrote out these storylines and started drawing lines to connect them all to one another. I was just passing the time but the bad thing was I left it sitting on my desk. A week or so later I had to clear out of the house for an overnight ladies only party Amber was hosting. While I was gone, hanging with my brother watching this movie incidentally, my wife and her friends found my doodle. While totally reasonable in truth, the Beautiful Mind-looking series of words and lines I had drawn out about this movie made me look like a totally insane person. My wife and her friends had quite a time speculating on both what it was and exactly what was going on in my head. It’s been a year or more since that happened and some of them still bring it up to me when I see them today. Now, I will attempt to explain how these stories fit together without the aide of a spiderweb looking doodle that may or may not make me appear to be insane. Keep in mind this is a rough effort and I am undoubtedly missing plenty…
1. The free thinking lawyer Adam Ewing is on a mission at the behest of his slave owning father-in-law Haskell Moore. He suffers from a rare illness in which he enlists the help of the sketchy teeth harvesting doctor, Dr. Henry Goose, he first meets on the beach. Adam does his business and begins to make his journey back home with his new doctor acquaintance of secret sinister motives. Along the way he happens upon a stow away slave that he befriends and bounds his life to. His story is one of the finest in the movie and quite interesting. It fits into the grand scheme of things by way of the journal Adam keeps. Robert Frobisher later finds the unfinished journal in the home of Vyvyan Arys and mentions reading it in his letters to Sixsmith. Letters which in turn are read on by Luisa Rey a lifetime later.
2. Robert Frobisher is the talented but delinquent musician who captures the heart of the promising young student Rufus Sixsmith. When we meet the young couple Frobisher is rushing out the window while men of authority aggressively knock on the door of Sixsmith’s apartment demanding entrance. It seems their homosexual relationship is frowned upon and a letter is being drafted to Sixsmith’s father. Frobisher runs off to work on his masterpiece with the once great composer Vyvyan Ayers. Sixsmith and Frobisher correspond regularly writing letters to one another that are saved by Sixsmith and later fall into the hands of the young reporter Luisa Rey. While staying with Arys, Frobisher creates the catalyst for the entire film. A sextet called Cloud Atlas that will go largely unknown in modern times but live on with significance in the future.
3. Luisa Rey is a reporter who has a chance encounter with an aged and considerably older Rufus Sixsmith in a stalled elevator. While they are stuck in the elevator Sixsmith realizes Rey is exactly who he has been looking for as an outlet for a dark secret he is in possession of. Sixsmith’s efforts to unveil the secret he holds gets him killed by the powers that be. Rey, who is simply minutes too late, enters into a dangerous search for the truth that Sixsmith died for. She comes across the letters Sixsmith has always kept between himself and the late Robert Frobisher. Reading through them she learns about the Cloud Atlas and in passing learns about Adam Ewing’s journey across the Pacific. The truth she is trying to uncover about the shady dealings of a nuclear power plant is obviously what leads to the world of Somni-451 and the downfall of society that leads to the civilization of Zachary and the need for humanity to find new dwellings off planet.
4. The story of Timothy Cavendish is one of my favorite in the film. It is an unusual story packed full of humor and curious circumstances. The unsuccessful but savvy publisher has sat down to write his life story. Which largely involve his personal differences with his brother that lead to him being imprisoned in a retirement community. He hilariously assumes he is signing himself into a hotel while drunk and is in fact signing over his rights as a person to the facility. His efforts to free himself and the escape that follows is nothing short of hilarious. His story is eventually made into a movie and secretly watching a small clip of it inspires and changes the life of Somni-451 forever.
5. Somni-451 is a slave of the future. A genetically engineered servant that lives for no other purpose than to serve the consumer. Her path starts by chance when she catches the closest thing she has to a friend breaking the rules and living a little. One of her fellow servant slaves, Yoona-939, has a curious nature that influences and changes Somni’s existence forever. She shows Somni a clip of the Timothy Cavendish movie and together they share the secret until Yoona’s boldness gets her killed. Somni is rescued by resistance fighter Hae-Joo Chang who uses her as a focal point for the resistance. He shows her the truth of her existence and it is a truth that she cannot live with. As a genetically engineered slave she is part of a recycling process that simply kills and feeds the servants to one another in a cycle that is inhumane for beings capable of thought. As the servant slaves are led to “Exaltation” i.e. extermination/recycling they use their voices to harmonize the Cloud Atlas sextet. I have no idea why the Cloud Sextet is involved but it is some connecting factor I have failed to figure out. Once Somni is captured and interviewed she is executed by the government, but she “Obi-Wan Kenobis” death and becomes more powerful than anyone could have ever imagined. She become a martyr and rises to the status of a God in the future after the fall.
6. Now to Zachry and the true true. Although I can’t remember it specifically right now I found the time period given to be a very fascinating aspect of his story. Zachry’s society exist in a time that as listed as a certain number of seasons since “The Fall” or something like that. While I can’t remember off the top of my head what it said, it is merely the suggestion that time as we understand it no longer exists in this future. There are two types of civilization in this future. One where Zachry and other dwellers live in a village that would form a peaceful society were it not for the harrying cannibals that come calling now and again. The second sort of civilization lives with all the left over technology from a strong hold where society as we understand it has survived to a certain degree. Zachry’s people live a rudimentary life and marvel at the occasional visitors from the advanced culture of the past. The advanced civilization is represented by Meronym who seeks the help of Zachry in searching for a lost beacon of salvation. The world is dying and locating this beacon is the last chances to find a habitable planet and preserve what is left of the human race. In Zachry’s society they worship Somni-451 as a God and follow her teachings in their every day life. Meronym knows the truth of Somni-451, that she was simply a slave that was martyred, but Zachry is really reluctant to believe when she tries to explain it to him. As far as Zachry is concerned the true true lies in the teachings of the great Somni.
Now excuse me if any of this is not entirely correct. I’ve written this without a full viewing under my belt. This review has become something on the shelf that I started long ago and waited to finish up. Last night my brother and I found ourselves watching this movie yet again at the end of a heavy drinking session and I must admit I only made it through about half of this beautiful but enormously long film. The moon was on the far side of the sky when I, deep in my cups, decided to jump back into this review. One of the reasons this review has taken so long is simply because I refuse to do any actual research on it and have insisted on figuring it all out on my own with no additional input. So, aside from cross checking the names of specific characters on IMDB, I have pulled all this from memory and there are holes in it because I lacked a full viewing before jumping in. Bottom line, don’t hassle me over little things because I’m admitting this synopsis is full of tiny errors but the big picture is all on the table. Connecting the dots and outlining the big picture to this magnificent movie is my main goal with this review.
The movie begins with Zachry, ancient and scarred, telling a story dramatically to an unseen audience. The movie closes with that same scene, and it’s revealed that the story is being told to a large gathering of children. The product of Zachry and Meronym’s eventual union and a suggestion of success with the relocation of the human race. Zachry has overcome all of his demons to survive the end of Earth and serve as a future version of Noah for the human race. As he raises his growing family he regales them with the story of the Earth as he knows it. Making this story of Cloud Atlas and all that created it seemingly the only history that survives the doom. Certainly Meronym’s people might have more records of the past but the movie gives the impression to me that this was what was left and this is what survived. This is the story the future of mankind grows up with on this new planet it inhabits.
Such an idea struck me as so reasonable and so profound. What do the lives of any of us ever matter when such a thing is not only possible but certainly probable? To put it in the words of Haskell Moore we amount to little more than a drop of water against an endless ocean of possibility. The response to that line in the movie is equally profound because why we all may only amount to a drop we are the individual drops that create the ocean. We are all part of the greater story of life regardless where we stand in it. It’s an idea that has bound me to this movie that I would have loved regardless because it is interesting, funny, exciting, and profound all on it’s own. It’s such a deep movie, both provocative and inspiring in the idea it can prompt in our imaginations.
A movie such as this is on a platform all by itself. Revered by some but given no consideration at all by most. It’s a movie that makes you think and while I have known so many exceptions I find that the averaged audience is opposed to thinking. Too many simply want to be dazzled and mesmerized by the images on screen and never gain anything more out of the experience of watching. Some movies are simply made to hypnotize us for a short time with excitement and nothing more. There are still movies like this one though and they are not for everybody. I find this to be such a compelling movie but it has few precious other fans out there. I have gotten swept up in finishing up this review today but find it disappointing I haven’t had the time to do it the right way. With a full viewing and more specific information this review could have been much more but I will settle for this. It’s grown to a length that I would be shocked to find out there is even a single person that makes it this far. Like the movie this has turned into a creation of enormous length, such is necessary and not even enough with a film like this.
Final Thoughts (5/15/16)
I don’t know what stopped me from publishing this back in December. Maybe I was a little intimidated by this film. I love this movie but it is so unlike any other and so deep. It has provoked plenty of criticism in popular culture yet here I am claiming it is great. Not only am I claiming this to be a great movie but more than great, something for the future to build on. I am not the type of person that conceives my personal feelings from what others are thinking or even what everybody may think. If everybody else says yes but I think the answer is no I am digging in.
I’m digging in on this movie and saying the haters out there just didn’t get it. I get it, and I get a lot out of it. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter to me what anybody else thinks because in this little droplet of the ocean it’s all gravy. I think this movie is worth your time to see. I think this movie is worth plenty of your time in fact. I think with considerable attention this movie has the opportunity to teach you something, to inspire, to open the third eye and make you see. It is truly a rare film that can do such a thing and films like this should be treasured.
This is the Moby Dick of films, and I hope you give it a chance. There is so much more that should be said about this film but I have said enough for now. It’s time to finally drop this post.