‘Cloud Atlas’: Voices In Time

Cloud Atlas china dream

Cloud Atlas┬ácannot really be described as subtle, but there’s one very subtle effect that wavers gently in and out of the film. Like another repeated metaphor, a shooting star, it’s transient and easily doubted: did that just happen? Did anyone else notice that?

The effect is aural, and something I haven’t heard in a film before. During certain lines of dialogue – perhaps only lines of significance, though I’ll have to see it again to confirm that – a second, ghostly voice is layered underneath. It isn’t loud enough to comprehend, but it’s just loud enough to hear. Cloud Atlas is told across multiple timelines, with the same actors portraying characters in each, and it seemed to me like the layered voices might have been those of characters from other timelines in the film. They could have been words in another language, or they may not have been words at all.

On top of this, the characters read about each other – about their past and future selves – in books, or watch each other portrayed on film. A diagram of the timelines in Cloud Atlas, and particularly the interactions between those timelines, would make little sense but would certainly be interesting.

We keep making the same mistakes over and over, says one character at one point. We also keep doing the same things over and over through time, whether it’s through the words we speak, the desires we hold, the truths we believe, or the music we make. Cloud Atlas itself is a nobly large-scale attempt to talk about something that has been talked about many times before: what does it mean to be human? There’s love, there’s hate, and there’s a lot in-between – including a lot of violence. As the bloodletting reached a crescendo in the third act, and as I jolted in my seat at each destroyed skull, I realised that I had rather grown to care about this world of archetypes and broad gestures. It was a pity about the bar-room brawl, and the mujer ex machina, but you can forgive something so magnificently ambitious for the odd misstep. Our world has flaws, too.

Perhaps if you see it, you’ll get what I’m talking about. Or maybe this is just my own little shooting star in the cosmos. (Did anyone else notice that?)