Movie Review: ‘Cloud Atlas’

October 26, 2012 Updated: September 29, 2015
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Reincarnation and karma. These two words have grown rapidly more popular in the last 50 years as humanity expands its understanding of the mysteries of the universe. 

Rudolf Steiner wrote four plays in 1910–1913 that he called “mystery dramas,” which are similar to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Steiner was a Western seer who founded the now hugely popular international Waldorf education system, as well as the (literally) groundbreaking biodynamic agriculture movement that purports to work in harmony with elemental beings (such as fairies) existing in the “etheric” dimension.

The difference is that Steiner was clairvoyant. (Clairvoyance has been proven scientifically valid.) He was, therefore, able to follow all these actual, existing characters through the so-called Akashic Record in other dimensions and personally witness their various incarnations. In other words, it’s the real deal. That subject matter is probably not yet ready for prime time.

However, we’re getting close; from the directors who brought us the game-changing film “The Matrix” comes another paradigm shifter—the powerful Cloud Atlas.

This thoroughly engrossing film encompasses six storylines, spanning five centuries. As author David Mitchell mentions in the press notes, “I thought of it as a menu with courses from different cuisines.” 

There are a couple of dramas, a romance, a crime thriller, a comedy, and a futuristic sci-fi adventure. Yet it is all one story. 

Cloud Atlas is a majestic tapestry depicting the interwoven skeins of human lifetimes; all the actors reappear in all the scenes. We normally can’t see dead people, but that doesn’t mean they’re not like threads disappearing below the tapestry’s surface and resurfacing elsewhere. 

It’s all connected, and the tapestry portrays the meta-narrative. As one character says, “We cross and re-cross our paths like figure skaters.”

Across the board, this film is packed with sumptuous visual riches. It’s beautifully shot, lit, costumed, directed, and acted. 

The main problem is that it’s unintentionally geared toward those with an audial neurolinguistic information processing system. That is, if you happen to be one of those people who knows the lyrics to and can sing along with thousands of songs on the radio for the past 40 years—you’ll be able to follow the intricate plot. 

If you’re predominantly visually oriented and go to the movies to watch the pretty pictures move (like this reviewer does), you’ll be a bit baffled and need two or three viewings (or the press notes) to figure out what’s going on. 

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With the six quickly shifting and flipping storylines, multiple actors reincarnating in multiple roles and lifetimes, makeup that sometimes renders them unrecognizable, and various and occasionally unintelligible accents and patois, it gets a bit hectic. 

Add to that lots of action in the form of fast-moving futuristic gunships and explosions, slave horse-whippings, replicant euthanasia, and a fair amount of tribal bloodletting—it takes a keen intellect to sort it all out. 

As one character says: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others, past and present … and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” 

Cloud Atlas gives basic insights into the workings of reincarnation and karma. Here’s to hoping that the next Wachowski cinematic endeavor is a series of films titled Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas.

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch