You know the really cool art friend you have that then goes away to art school and overnight becomes a douchebag? That's the level of pretension (or should I say pretentiousness) that I was expecting going into this movie.
What I found instead was an utterly riveting and remarkably told story that left me with no disturbing images of the multiple directors masturbating all over the film (like how I feel after every Quentin Tarentino movie in spite of enjoying them!)
Here's the Amazon streaming link:
you can find the other formats on that page also.
Even though I did not find the movie pretentious, it's definitely not for your casual viewer. It demands, no, it arrests your attention and any sort of multi-tasking during this film will leave you pretty ridiculously lost.
Through some Herculean feat of will, I turned this movie off after 30 minutes (probably closer to an hour and 30 minutes) in order to meet my work deadlines, but it haunted me—molested me—through my dreams.
The premise is stated more than one time throughout the film (the actions you take in your life affect your future lives in a sort of cosmic alignment scale of good and bad, i.e. you don't start off with a blank slate, you have a past), but what overwhelmed me was that in spite of being a trippy science fiction movie that starts in the 1800s and progresses to the far future, it has a stealthy romantic quality that I was blind to for the first 2 and 1/2 hours. This quality managed to sneak its giant of a self into my living room and destroy any guards I may have had erected around my psyche to annihilate me in one of the most enjoyable movie-going experiences I've had.
That said, there are some drawbacks.
I remember people crying racist over the make-up making non-Asian characters look Asian, but this is relatively absurd when you have male characters in one life playing females in another and races similarly being changed multiple times. Once I realized that they didn't avoid Asian actors with this choice, but rather had each actor/actress have a "main life" that defined their looks throughout all the other lives, I was surprised that anyone took any cries of "racist" seriously when this was released. That said, I bring this up in the drawbacks because the make-up of each character in each life WAS DISTRACTING. Not racist, but ridiculously distracting from the story. You frequently find yourself asking, "Is that the same guy as the one guy?" and "Is that his real nose?"
Luckily, I watched this by myself. If I had been in a group, I am sure that such questions would have been spoken aloud to force me to miss some interesting dialogue in the movie, necessitating a rewind, an aneurysm 30 years from now from quietly swallowing any annoyance and trying to watch the movie in parts missing something every time somebody opened their FAT MOUTH, or a speedy defenestration of the offending individual.
Personally, I'm not the most observant person in the world (see any example of me trying to find anything in my house, ever), but I was still surprised by some of the reveals in the credits when they showed you each character played by each main actor.
This is a drawback, and it could be a deal-breaker to anyone that could not look beyond this. I think the film might have fared better animated (or I suppose with better make-up, some of it looks quite bad, although I'm not 100% sure if that was me realizing that was someone else or the make-up being bad...no, I'm being too magnanimous, the make-up was frequently bad (although there were some great examples as well)). If you're not a pretentious douchebag yourself though, and you're able to enjoy things for what they are supposed to represent, then you're probably able to look beyond the bad make-up to the story being told, which to my mind had only one negative.
The idea that your past lives affect your future lives is a fine one, but in spite of the movie being ~3 hours long, it seems like there were shortcuts made and that the cosmic alignment meter was fudged a bit. Maybe this critique is vanished from the novel, which I look forward to reading, but in a movie of this scope, it was, well, depressing.
This movie could have been the best movie of my life. The potential was there. I can look beyond bad make-up. Heck, I still watch cartoons (this is relevant because animated people look nothing like real people usually, but I still identify the animated person as a person). But at the end of the day this movie came up short from being the best movie I've ever seen.
And when you're in the running for being the best movie ever, falling short is quite apparent. It's like watching a, not a hero, but a person you wanted to be your hero fall before becoming a hero. They could have been something.
At the end, the absence, the void, the emptiness where your hope existed gnaws at you. Cloud Atlas could have filled the emptiness, but it just came up short.
Zero's Review: 9.5/10 A
PS Oh, and if you have a bit less of a liberal mind, Cloud Atlas is not for you. It makes the case without apologies that clones have souls, that souls can be male or female, and of different races, and that gay people have souls. So again, if you're too much of a douchebag to get past this (although I suppose the term here is bigot), then this movie is not for you. And by, "makes the case", I mean, doesn't even address it as an issue. It's just how it works.