Considering the vastness and intricacies of David Mitchell’s novel, turning “Cloud Atlas” into a movie took considerable work and strategy to make it connect with the audience and required top-notch actors. In short, “Cloud Atlas” is a combination of six stories spanning from the South Pacific to the far future of Neo-Seoul to the post-apocalyptic future.

“Cloud Atlas” can be extremely overwhelming for those who aren’t prepared for a movie of its caliber: six different stories can be difficult to keep track of, especially when audiences are trying to grasp and meaning and theme behind each one. Many who have read the novel imply that the film had been simplified to elicit the right emotional responses, whereas the book had more depth and well-thought-out ideas that can only be conveyed through ink and paper. Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, the most advertised actors of the film, were featured in stories in different eras that eventually lead to their union in a post-apocalyptic future. Another notable role is Sonmi-451, played by actress Doona Bae. Her character as a “fabricant” (clone) in Neo Soul being rescued by rebel Hae-joo Chang (Jim Sturgess) is reminiscent of “Blade Runner,” where a dystopian society places value on oppression over humanity. Sonmi-451’s transformation from a programmed serving girl to a martyr for freedom and an inspiration for equality is particularly touching and resonates within the other stories. Jim Sturgess consistently plays the hero in his two main story arcs. Other than being Sonmi-451’s savior, he is also Adam Ewing, a naïve American notary from 1850 who witnesses slavery and violent racism first hand. His nature leads him to defend an African American stowaway on the ship named Autua (David Gyasi), who eventually saves Adam’s life from the evil doctor Henry Goose (Hanks). This experience leads him and his wife Tilda (Bae) to leave California and head east to join the cause against slavery.

Ben Whishaw does a phenomenal job of portraying tormented young English musician Robert Forbisher in the 1930s. The talented Forbisher is in love with fellow student Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy) but has to leave him to work as an amanuensis for famous yet egotistical composer Vyvyan Arys (Jim Broadbent). The love story between Forbisher and Sixsmith ends tragically, as both die decades apart, but with the same loneliness and helplessness echoing through their story.

In present day, Tom Cavendish (Broadbent) is an old, comical, down on his luck publisher that gets caught up in the dealings of his gangster client Sachs (Hanks) and seeks help from his brother, only to be confined against his will in a nursing home. Cavendish’s experience later becomes a film that plays a major role in Sonmi-451’s story in the future.

The final story is set in a post-apocalyptic future where Sonmi-451 has become an odd deity of some sorts, and where Zachry (Hanks), haunted by a devilish figure, and his family live with a small tribe of people on a remote island. Their pre-historic way of living is sharply contrasted with their foreign visitor, Meronym (Berry), who comes from a technologically advanced ship with a whole colony of people looking for a place to call home.

All six stories intertwine in one way or another, and each hero from their time period bares a similar comet-shaped birthmark that symbolizes their importance to the story and the rippled effect they create throughout the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, it’s hard to put the theme of the film into one sentence, or a paragraph for that matter. Simply put, “Cloud Atlas” is an exploration of human kindness, compassion, oppression, bravery, love and how the human soul can transcend centuries to become capable of something else entirely, good or bad. Despite the different tones in each arc, the common undercurrent to all of them is optimism, that no matter how dark the world gets, humanity lights the way to a better future.

While a difficult film to digest at first, the almost three hour movie is definitely worth the watch for those who have the time, will and taste for, as “Variety” puts it, a “big emotional payoff.” Even if it’s tough to get a handle on the narrative, the cinematography and daring ambition alone is enough to warrant it a watch (or two). One of the most expensive independent films ever made, “Cloud Atlas” is worth every penny, and Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis deserve recognition for taking on and handling beautifully the daunting task of translating such a dense book to the screen.

4 Stars