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Movie Review: 'Cloud Atlas' is long but exhilarating

Here’s what you can do with three hours of your life: Travel from a city or country to another (or a pothole to another, if you live in Mumbai); listen to the entire discography of Greenday - or Daler Mehendi; watch the first part of The Lord of the Rings or, umm, the first part of an average 20 hour Ashutosh Gowarikar movie; download and read one of Firstpost’s awesome ebooks, or if you are a nice human being, read all the other awesome-ish reviews and interviews by this author (hint!).

In fact, you could spend three hours of your life reading better suggestions of what to do than trying to make sense of this article’s feeble attempt at humour and intelligence.

So when you can make your life this much more exciting, why should you choose to spend this time in an overpriced multiplex, with a popcorn-soft drink combo that costs more than the pension you’ll get on retiring per year, watching a three hour epic fantasy-sci-fi-comedy-thriller-romance-adventure-horror period drama that does not have any people in capes, masks and incorrectly-worn underwear in it?

The answer is… well, actually, there are about six answers to this question, one each in the six stories that the three-hour long Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Twkwer-directed movie, Cloud Atlas, skilfully interweaves with each other in a motion picture experience you haven’t had since the… erm… re-release of Titanic and Avatar.

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in a still from the film. AP

If you haven’t read or heard of the David Mitchell novel on which this movie is based, it’s difficult to reduce the movie to a single comprehensible line (although the IMDB page thinks otherwise). Because in its six stories, the movie flirts with just as many themes as there are characters in the movie – over six hundred, probably. But the core of the movie lies in the belief that everything in the world is interconnected, and your actions, good or bad, will echo throughout history, impacting the bodies your soul inhabits, and those of everyone around you, in each subsequent life.

Too much to take in a trip to the same multiplex that generally plays you close up shots of Sonakshi Sinha’s bosom and Salman Khan’s CGI bisceps? There’s more: In each of the six mini movies, that are intercut mercilessly in a puzzle the makers assume you are intelligent enough to solve for yourself, the lead actors – Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Hugh Grant and more - appear in different avatars, with no identifiable caste, creed, colour or even gender!

So where Jim Sturgess is an American notary in the 1850s, he’s a Korean revolutionary from the 2100s. Where Halle Berry is a black American journalist in the 1970s, she’s the white lover of a famous composer from the 1930s. And where Hugo Weaving is a green Grinch-esque devil far ahead in the future, he’s a she in the present: an evil nurse with a dominatrix complex. And all these characters are connected not only metaphorically and spiritually, but also literally, through a story the lead character in each movie reads/watches that was recorded by a character from the previous generation. (My favourite one is set in the present and features Jim Broadbent as the lead)

If this sounds too complicated a premise to spend your hard-earned money on, the good news is, this is exactly what makes the movie a must-watch. Because Cloud Atlas does what so few movies can claim to do these days – it dares. It attempts to go beyond conventional techniques of storytelling and screenplay, it takes the risk of juggling six different time periods, genres and universes in the same movie with the same actors on a grand, sprawling canvas unlike anything you’ve seen before. It takes its own time to reveal its cards, assuming that the average moviegoer possesses the intelligence, patience and trust to wait for the payoff.

And what an exhilarating payoff it is, both visually and emotionally, as the movie tries to bring home a point we all know only too well – be good and kind, and the rewards won’t be just yours to reap – but in a manner so beautifully complex and enriching, you will continue being affected by it long after the end credits roll. Because essentially, the message of the movie is one of hope: that in the grand scheme of things of this infinite universe, we don’t just exist, we matter.

So if you have the patience and bravado to sit for three hours without BBMing, texting, Facebooking or letting your mother know loudly on the phone when you will be back for dinner, watch Cloud Atlas because it’s not just a movie, it’s an experience. And do stay back for the end credits, for some surprises!

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