The film comprises six interwoven stories that span over 400 years following souls who reincarnate as they follow their paths to ascension or decline with the key to completion or salvation being in my favorite line, "You have to do what you can NOT do."
Nine actors appear in four or more of the stories with Jim Broadbent,
What’s wonderful about this film is that it doesn’t proselytize about reincarnation. There are only a few instances where a character has visions about his/her past existences…and they don’t realize that’s what they’re seeing. More often, it’s the case of feeling an affinity for a place or a person. And, from my own experience as a long-time regression practitioner, that’s how it really is for most everyone. So, it is the film’s honesty that is appealing, especially after The Master where regression was treated as a parlor game. And, you really don’t have to accept reincarnation to enjoy the film. (But, could a billion Hindus be wrong?)
For example, while it is easy to follow the same actor through different looks, sexes and even ethnicities, there is a particular birthmark that is carried through the stories, most noticeably on Halle Barry’s character in the 1970s sequence, when it’s remarked at. Then, at the end, it’s on Tom Hank’s character while Halle Barry also appears in that sequence. This made me wonder if different actors were playing incarnations of the same soul while other actors were always playing different incarnations of a single soul. For the answer, one would have to have read the book. And, that’s a fault of the film.
Other faults are technical, but need to be mentioned.
The novelist created different speech patterns or lingos and the film starts with a Tom Hanks character uttering one of them. Unfortunately, either he wasn’t properly directed or it was the sound department’s fault in not recording him so that we could hear what he was saying. This happened on a few occasions. And, it wasn’t that the lingo was too difficult to pick up after hearing it spoken clearly.
Those problems aside, I might even see this film again and, at nearly 3 hours of playing time, that’s no small commitment.
I’m giving Cloud Atlas a 4 out of 5 for its daring and thought-provoking enjoyment.
Update: I did go to see Cloud Atlas again a week later and enjoyed it even more. In fact, I’m raising my rating to 4+ out of 5.
I, also, want to point out the excellent editing by Alexander Berner and the superb acting by James D’Arcy, especially in his role as the Archivist.In this viewing, I noted that a character in each of the time periods had the aforementioned birthmark, which makes me feel even more that it marks the same soul despite the fact different actors play its progression through the ages. But, I’ll have to verify that through the book, which still makes it a problem for the screenplay and the reason the film doesn’t get a 5 out of 5.