Friday, November 16, 2012

Cinema 2012: A stirring and poignant opus

“Cloud Atlas” from 2012 is a compelling film that explores the human condition by combining a handful of colorful tales set in the past, present, and the future in places around the globe and beyond.

Based on the novel by David Mitchell, the film is clearly bolstered by the author’s exquisite language and his treatment of life, love, and death. But make no mistake, “Cloud Atlas” as adapted for the screen and directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, and Andy Wachowski, is pure and glorious cinema.

Members of an ensemble cast recombine to portray a smorgasbord of characters in these far-flung parables. The film splashes the screen with startling images of primitive lands and seas, comforts us with the genteel English countryside, adds a tale of noirish intrigue, and mesmerizes with scenes from a surreal, choreographed dystopia. But never is cinematic attention to detail overlooked. The tragedy of a selfish life is summed up by the dull sterility of an empty bath tub. The connection between all men is conveyed in an instant by the pleading eyes of a slave under the lash.

There are also farcical scenes, over-the-top car chases, and science-fiction shoot outs here. Perhaps the latter action sequences are intended to broaden audience appeal. They might not add substance but they cannot detract from the overwhelming inspiration the film delivers. “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others. Past and present.” Those lines, spoken by a character in the film, encapsulate the overriding theme of “Cloud Atlas.” The sublime poignancy here far outweighs any tacked-on blockbuster bravado.

“Cloud Atlas” depicts how survival often demands our courage and that caring for another human being can awaken that courage. Cowardice on the other hand is a kind of selfishness. The broad scope of this film creates an overarching perspective that promotes the understanding of these ideas. When the individual looks beyond his own life, he may see that what matters is to live courageously, which means to embrace the truth.

Another line from the film explains that the “nature of our immortal lives” lies “in the consequences of our words and deeds.” When the vulnerable ones exhibit courage they acquire a sense of empowerment which by its very nature begins to alter the world. Meanwhile defenders of “the natural order,” desperate to hold on to power and privilege, must end up on the wrong side of history.

In one of the stories, set in 22nd century South Korea, the needs of consumers are served by government-issue clones called fabricants. These DNA-sharing, wide-eyed waifs are considered subhuman. They are indoctrinated as inferior to the “pure bloods” and kept in line by a strict catechism and a false promise. In the film this warped social order is pierced in the same way prejudices are often knocked down in real life, that is, by focusing on the individual. Here fabricant Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) comes to the realization that “we are all pure bloods.” She goes on the lam and falls in love. In perhaps the most profound example of selfless courage in the film, Sonmi-451 transcends her own newly realized humanity in order to “teach people the truth.”

In addition to Bae, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry deliver outstanding performances in “Cloud Atlas.” In this wide-ranging cinematic opus, Hanks and Berry project a genuine human quality, while their on-screen interaction is serenely stirring like gazing on a beloved relative.

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