“Cloud Atlas” is confusing, with six different stories set in six different time periods told in six different styles but with the same actors in different roles in all of them and the same themes — fighting tyranny and oppression, the power of love, the spirit of creation. And a comet-shaped birthmark. Those who are still trying to figure it all out and would like some help should try:
My friend Jen Chaney has an excellent primer in the Washington Post on the movie’s Where’s Waldo-style age, race, and gender-melding multiple casting.
Entertainment Weekly helpfully explains the differences between the book and the movie. Big surprise — the movie has more emphasis on the love stories.
Slate also has a glossary for the annoying Jar-Jar Binks-style patois of the episode set farthest in the future. And the Slate Spoiler Special podcast has the kind of post-movie discussion you could have, too, if your friends were in grad school.
And while we’re at it, let’s take a look at what the Wachowskis (the “Matrix” siblings who are two-thirds of the directors of the film) have to say about it. From Lana Wachowski:
Foucault gave us insight into power in the postmodern world, and now we understand it in a different way than Homer did, but power will be a subject in the human story, I think, as long as we’re human. [Laughs.] And so when we first read David Mitchell’s book, I thought it was an unbelievable examination of incredibly varied perspectives, and also the relationship between the responsibility we have to people we have power over, and the responsibility we have to the people who have power over us. Are we meant to just accept their conventional construct of whatever they imagine the world to be? Or are we obliged in some way to struggle against it? In the reverse, what is the obligation of the person whose life we have power over? Are they obliged to struggle against that conventional relationship? This is stuff of good stories.