** SPOILERS **
"Our lives are connected."
Yeah, no shit. In Cloud Atlas, three writer-directors, brother and sister duo Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy) and Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run), spend an interminable 172 minutes beating that idea into us. Encompassing a half dozen interconnected realities taking place in the past, present and future, from 1849 to 1973, today in 2012, and "109 Years After The Fall" in the far, far future and on another planet, Cloud Atlas bakes six cakes and wants to eat them all too.
Remember in Coming to America when Eddie Murphy played multiple characters while wearing prosthetics and everyone in the 80's was like "Whoa! That was all Eddie Murphy? Even the old Jewish man in the barber shop?!" The Wachowskis-Tykwer go completely apeshit with that idea, disguising their cast - Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving - in every type of prosthetic this side of Jim Henson's Creature Shop to play multiple characters of multiple genders and races speaking multiple accents. Look at how many characters they each play. To some, this is probably mind-blowing. Or rather, completely bewildering. Half the actors are given slanty-eyed prosthetics to become Asian in the "Neo-Seoul" future reality. (The Caucasian actors made up to be Asian always have narrower eyes than the actual Asian actors). Berry, and more laughably, Bae, are made up to be Caucasian, and most hilarious of all is Weaving made up to be Asian and a woman, convincingly looking like neither. Hanks gets to be all manner of races and affects cockney and Scottish accents, along with a bizarre future speak language with Berry that sounds like music to Jar Jar Binks' ears.
Cloud Atlas is an excruciating endurance test. It's a decathelon of several films in one; a 19th century Patrick O'Brian-like nautical tale, a 70's detective yarn, a British music murder drama, kind of a riff on Sucker Punch but with old people busting out of a nursing home, and two different types of sci-fi future action adventures, one like Blade Runner and the other like the far future section of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. They're all connected somehow, vaguely, though the characters in each are not necessarily related to each other as descendants, except sometimes they are. Some characters from the different eras cross paths, some don't, and occasionally Hanks will interject with some sorely needed voice over to hammer home the grand theme of interconnectedness and underline whatever the plot is supposed to be. There's always something to look at; most of the time it's bizarre. About ninety minutes in, Cloud Atlas starts piling on the action scenes - laser gun battles, shoot outs on the streets of San Francisco, bloody sword fights in the woods - so there's always stuff happening, whatever it might be.
What's it all about? I haven't the vaguest idea, besides it's all connected and we're all connected and Tom Hanks speaks with a lot of funny accents. There's a subplot about a piece of music called the "Cloud Atlas Sextext" that's important to some characters, but not to others, or us. The characters who hear it remark how beautiful the music is; it sounds all right, but we'll take their word for it, sure, why not? Cloud Atlas is a funny wig, false face, goofy accent parade with lots of big themes and profound messages, and all the time in the world, according to the three directors, to pound it all into us. In six alternate lives, I walked out on Cloud Atlas, but in this one, I sat through the whole thing. It's all connected, I suppose.