Oh, this movie. This beautiful, beautiful movie. It’s a shame that the word “breathtaking” has been so fucked out by hack movie critics, because it actually applies to Cloud Atlas. Sure, it was three hours long, and I probably shouldn’t have seen it for the first time stoned out of my gourd, but damn — this movie rocked my fucking world.
Structurally, Cloud Atlas is a challenge. There is no way to absorb everything in one viewing. The film’s layers aren’t just stacked on top of one another — they extend outward and through time in an exploding fractal of visual, textual, and cultural motifs. It’s fun when you catch one of the echoing references, but don’t get greedy and try to catch them all. You will only frustrate yourself. Just sit back, let it flow over you, and trust that more will be revealed when you see it again.
It’s not all work, though. Emotionally, Cloud Atlas is as easy as it gets. The narrative may be complicated, but it is still very traditional. People who compare this film to Malick’s Tree of Life are off the mark. Both films are deeply philosophical, but the Wachowskis aren’t writing a poem. They’re telling a story, and they’re damn good at telling stories. You may not know what to think at any given moment, but you’ll know exactly how to feel in every scene.
Intellectually, Cloud Atlas is a fucking masterpiece. Anyone who says otherwise is either incapable or unwilling to deconstruct a film with so many moving parts, the sum of which aren’t meant to be as great as the whole. If you didn’t enjoy it, that’s fine. If you didn’t connect with it, that’s fine too. You don’t have to love it, but you sure as hell have to respect it. It reaches further and achieves more than the very best films from any of the genres it encompasses.
If you haven’t already, go see it. If you have, by all means, go see it again.