An odyssey of the human condition told across lives and time.
Where to begin with this film? I shall begin my review as regards to how it uses the medium of film. The audience is introduced to the characters and various settings first, though some are at the end of their stories when we meet them, while others are halfway through, and still others just beginning. Following that, the plots of each vignette are built upon and the underlying arc connecting them is slowly revealed.
The transitions from each scene to another are smooth as the director's skill comes into play. Going forward or back, each sequence follows the recognizable narrative structure with some clever or logical lead ins to each bit. Leading to scenes where mundane troubles, individual bouts, and battles for civilization are played alongside each other yet there's no mood whiplash because both sets of characters are in the appropriate amount of peril to their respective settings.
For tropers, there's no better way to recognize what we are than this film. The time periods and characters are so varied that it almost transcends genre conventions while still telling a single story. By throwing out the comforts of linear continuity and fixed settings, the audience is forced to recognize the Jungian archetypes we call tropes. "Hero" "Message" "Truth" "Freedom" "Monsters" "Tyranny" "Friend" "Love" we are shown the various forms these ideas take in the world. It shows how little humans have changed throughout our history. While the cynic may take that at face value and say we've not truly advanced to anything beyond more sophisticated savages. My view is that we've advanced precisely because what we are hasn't changed. No matter what era, no matter what form of evil, there is ALWAYS good to oppose it. ("Within the context of the film." Disclaimer for cynics.)
What is Cloud Atlas then? Is it an epic about life? The purest form of mono-myth? Or just a collection of connected vignettes? My opinion is that it's all these things and more. I loved this movie and won't be forgetting it anytime soon.