Tom Hanks and Halle Berry head up a top-notch cast in “Cloud Atlas,” a tremendously complex study in storytelling, now playing at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Review by Maria A. Cortes

Ever wondered who were you in the past life? Have karma and the idea of reincarnation ever sparked your interest? The directors of The Matrix trilogy, Lana and Andy Wachowski, in collaboration with German director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) are presenting their new movie Cloud Atlas, a film that would definitely make you think about past life experiences and its relation to the present and the future. Based on David Mitchell’s bestseller, Cloud Atlas opened last Friday at The Somerville Theatre.

It is hard to describe events in Cloud Atlas, since the movie (as well as the book) is such a matreshka of stories, characters, meanings, and ideas (spoilers are to follow). Six independent stories bound together by recurring thoughts, by the same mistakes made over and over again, by souls on their eternal journey that reappear in different bodies and times in order to resolve the conflicts of the past. Unlike the book, with strict, symmetrical structure, the movie shuffles stories like a pack of playing cards to keep the audience focused on main ideas and to help the viewer understand the connection between characters and themes.

What could a greedy doctor, a nuclear physicist, a gangster, and a goatherd possibly have in common? Or a 19th century lady, a Mexican woman, and a genetically-engineered clone? Cloud Atlas creates a tangled web of seemingly impossible connections between the characters throughout different epochs and locations.

It all starts in the 1850s with the young lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), from San Francisco befriends a slave while sailing back home and fighting a parasite infection. To keep himself sane, Adam writes in a journal that was later discovered by a penniless English composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) in 1931. Robert, who serves as an amanuensis for the famous composer, writes letters to his lover and friend Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) about a Pacific Journal he is reading. In his letters, he also expresses his hopes for composing the best piece of music ever heard. In 1975, Frobisher’s letters get into hands of Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a journalist who discovers that a nuclear power plant she is writing about is not safe. Luisa’s book, Half-lives, based on the events of her nuclear investigation, is about to be read by an English publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) in 2012. Apparently, his career in the 21st century is not what it once was. Dealing with the accomplices of his gangster client, Timothy is forced to ask his brother for help, who then locks Cavendish into a nursing home. In the next century, the dramatization of Timothy’s story is watched by Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae). Sonmi, one of the genetically engineered clones, or “fabricants,” works in a fast-food diner in Neo Seoul. A tribal goatherd Zachry (Tom Hanks) watches her story of life and rebellion through a special recording device in a post-apocalyptic future.

Cloud Atlas will satisfy fans of each movie genre since it is an incredible mixture of them all. Directors used elements of action, adventure, thriller, detective mystery, romance, drama, and sci-fi to tell their multifaceted story. Although the movie seems to combine six different stories quite harmoniously, it is not hard to distinguish between parts shot by Wachowskis and by Tykwer. Known for their visionary style with intensive use of special effects and focus on larger-than-life ideas, Wachowkis masterfully crafted stories of Adam Ewing, Sonmi’s rebellion against totalitarian system and Zachry’s tribal life in the future. Tom Tykwer brought the European charm and elegance for creating the tragically poetic story of Robert Frobisher. It is as beautifully sad (or sadly beautiful) as the Cloud Atlas Sextet that Robert composes. The funniest story of all six, a life story of Timothy Cavender, is also shot by Tykwer. As well as Luisa Rey’s investigation, that will throw you in the atmosphere of 70s.

One thing about this movie that can easily make it one of the best movies of this year are the amazing actors’ metamorphoses. The same actors play characters of different epochs in all six stories. Thus, Halle Berry goes almost unnoticed as a silent native woman in the first story with her face covered in tribal tattoos. She is hardly recognizable as Jocasta Ayrs, Robert Frobisher’s secret affair, in the second. Her most natural look is Luisa Rey in the detective story. She tries on a different hair-do and make-up for the party guest in the story number four. A specialist releasing Sonmi-451 from her collar, an ugly old man with rotten teeth, is Halle Berry again. A survived member of a high-tech civilization with a distinctive look and accent in the sixth story is Berry’s next transformation. Through the actors’ metamorphoses, directors successfully introduced the idea of reincarnation. Transformations of Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Broadbent are also notable.

Adapting such a complex book as Mitchell’s made Wachowskis and Tykwer decide on several alterations to the plot and structure. Although the puzzle of stories comes together by the end of the movie, it is very hard to focus on each story as they are constantly interrupted and overlapped by one another. The ideas of choices that influence our lives and the importance of freedom, truth, and love seem to be drilled into the audience by Sonmi’s character and by multiple narrators. However, it might be a necessity considering how much information every story brings to the table. It is easy to get lost in the Cloud Atlas. Visually striking, it is also quite violent and full of realistically bloody scenes.

Cloud Atlas is a movie that envisions the eternal journey of souls, changing as clouds in the sky. It invites the audience to think of their actions that affect their present and might change their future. Prepare to unravel the sophisticated puzzle of the Cloud Atlas at the Somerville Theatre (For information about the tickets, go to www.somervillethatreonline.com).

Cloud Atlas: Directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachovski. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant. Rated R. Shows at the Somerville Theatre (55 Davis Sq., Somerville, MA 02144).

 

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