A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Cloud Atlas -- the Wachowskis' massive sci-fi epic that takes place over six time periods, with several actors (including Tom Hanks and Halle Berry) playing roles in each -- has strong fantasy violence, including bloody attacks and battles with both guns and blades. Main characters die, and one commits suicide. Language is strong, though sporadic, with several uses of both "f--k" and "s--t." There are a few sex scenes, with one female appearing topless. Many characters drink, a few smoke cigarettes, and two smoke pot. Like Avatar, the movie's sheer, overwhelming size, scale, and spectacle may appeal to many audiences, and teens will likely be clamoring to see it; whether they'll enjoy it is less clear.
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What's the story?
With six interwoven stories, CLOUD ATLAS attempts to show how acts in one time period can resonate in another. In the 19th century, a notary (Jim Sturgess) receives mysterious treatments from a doctor (Tom Hanks) and befriends an escaped slave. In 1931, a young musician (Ben Whishaw) goes to work for a legendary composer (Jim Broadbent). In 1975, a journalist (Halle Berry) investigates a nuclear power company. In the present day, a publisher (Broadbent) escapes some gangsters by checking into a retirement home but can't check back out. In the near future, a clone waitress (Doona Bae) learns that she has a greater destiny. And in the far future, a simple tribesman (Hanks) receives a visit from a technologically advanced woman (Berry).
Is it any good?
By normal standards, this is a disappointing movie, but it isn't an ordinary movie. If the six stories were disentangled and laid out separately, it would be clear that none of them has much depth or surprise. Cloud Atlas cuts corners to rush the multitude of shallow characters through their story arcs, which results in a general lack of rhythm. It becomes one long, monotonous thrum. What's more, the almost fetishistic use of makeup to distinguish the characters from the actors who play them is highly distracting, and the guessing game of who's behind which fake appendage becomes more interesting than the story itself.
But since Cloud Atlas is an "epic folly" (like David Lynch's Dune), many audiences will find themselves swept away and perhaps even enchanted by the movie's mere efforts to be huge and impressive. Throughout Hollywood history, size and scale have often triumphed over content, and, for many, the magnifying and inflating of these empty stories may make them seem resonant.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Cloud Atlas' violence. Does "fantasy" violence have a different impact than "realistic" violence? How does the violence contribute to the story in this movie?
How does the movie portray sex/sexual relationships?
If the movie's theme is "connections" and events resonating throughout time, what are some examples of this? Can you think of a way that this has happened in real life?
Which character is the most admirable? Which story affected you the most?
- In theaters: October 26, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: May 14, 2013
- Cast: Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Tom Hanks
- Directors: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy
- Run time: 172 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
- Last updated: February 25, 2020
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