I hope Cloud Atlas is a blockbuster, but it's a film not easily categorized so it might not find the audience it deserves. I took my 11- and 15-year-old children and a gang of their pals and parents to see Cloud Atlas this past weekend. Everyone emerged inspired, enthralled and delightfully entertained. Despite the bewildering complexity of its intertwining plots, all of us understood why the Toronto Film Festival audience gave it an unprecedented ten minute standing ovation.
The film is really six movies in one ranging from a rip-roaring sailing yarn from the days of the clipper ships to a sci-fi thriller that makes the great classic, Blade Runner, seem dimwitted and plodding.
But Cloud Atlas's riveting story lines and nonstop action veil weighty lessons about bigotry, oppression and resistance. Cloud Atlas' central concern is fundamentalism which it shows to be cruel and tyrannical in all its forms and all its guises and in every age. And Orthodoxy is most cruel when it is wed to power. The film's ancillary theme is that even the most evil individuals can find redemption through acts of resistance to tyranny.
In his 1966 address in Johannesburg, the best speech of his life, my father observed:
"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
My father was referring to the contemporary rebellion against colonialism and racism and the global significance of even the smallest actions in opposition to despotism. Cloud Atlas makes a larger assumption: that a single act of courage and altruism in 1840 can cause a worldwide revolution against a monolithic and homicidal technocracy 200 years later.
An ensemble of extraordinary actors, led by Tom Hanks, playing multiple parts in each era, emphasize the connectedness of the human experience across geography, social strata and the ages.
Cloud Atlas is a brilliant film brimming with vital spiritual, moral and political lessons. Ironically, the film's finest strength -- its majestic expanse across half a millenium from South Sea adventure to sci-fi thriller -- leaves it with no obvious niche that might diminish the giant audience it merits.