I went into Cloud Atlas (film) knowing next to nothing about it or the novel on which it is based on. All I knew was that it was a Sci-Fi by the Wachowskis.
It has an unusual premise, it's a set of stories set across 6 different time periods. Many different characters are played by the same actor, with each of the key characters possessing an identical birthmark (which I ultimately think wasn't necessary, it may have been clearer in the book). The point to remember here is that you're supposed to understand early on that there's a connection between these characters across these different settings and time periods, there's little ambiguity here.
So I'll start by saying that it's definitely one of the more interesting films I've seen for a multitude of reasons that extend beyond the actual product. The bravery, ambition and integrity required to see a film made like this is - to me at least - worthy of admiration, regardless of how you feel about the final result.
This is a film that tests your patience and rarely stops to encourage you by the way of hints of where you expect to end up. At 2 hours and 52 minutes, it's a long film and it's a slow burn. As you're aware that there is some kind of connection between these characters, you are perhaps directed along a certain path, to find the commonalities.
It's easy to assume there's a big pay off coming, what is the connection between these characters? It can't be that these sometimes minor details crossing between stories are it? That the composed works of one character is listened to by another in another era? But actually yeah, I think that was supposed to be it. The elaborate stories of these individual characters are really only connected by these sometimes thin threads and that is the point.
As the film draws to an end, as each story wraps up to their dramatic end, positive or otherwise, it does become clear. It is a 3 hour film that is about the small ways in which individuals are connected and how their actions, in often small ways can eventually play a part in big events and changes in our world or other people's lives.
I can understand how this may feel dissatisfying, 3 hours without something we'd traditionally call a 'big pay off' is a bold move, but at least without having read the book, it does seem like this is necessary. These subtle connections and small actions are the point.
What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?
There are probably some good arguments to be made against many of the decisions in how this film was made. Should the film adaptation strayed further from the original novel in order to be more digestible and.. respectful.. of the audience and their time? Maybe.
However I don't think I would have felt quite so positively about it had they done that. I do think the approach taken, whilst naturally flawed given the scale of the film, is the right one to achieve the intended effect.