Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Information

Cloud Atlas is a 2012 German drama and science fiction film written, produced and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Adapted from the 2004 novel by David Mitchell, the film features multiple plotlines set across six different eras. The official synopsis for Cloud Atlas describes the film as: "An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution."

During four years of development the project met difficulties securing financial support; it was eventually produced with a $102 million budget provided by independent sources, making Cloud Atlas one of the most expensive independent films of all time. Production began in September 2011 at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany.

The film premiered on September 9, 2012, at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival and was released on October 26, 2012 in conventional and IMAX cinemas.

Cloud Atlas polarized critics, and has subsequently been included on various Best Film and Worst Film lists. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score for Tykwer (who co-scored the film), Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil.


The film consists of six interrelated and interwoven stories spanning different time periods. The film is structured, according to novelist David Mitchell, "as a sort of pointillist mosaic."

  • South Pacific Ocean, 1849: Adam Ewing, an American lawyer from San Francisco has come to the Chatham Islands to conclude a business arrangement with Reverend Gilles Horrox for his father-in-law, Haskell Moore. He witnesses the whipping of a Moriori slave, Autua, who stows away on Ewing's ship, and convinces Ewing to advocate for him to join the crew as a freeman. Meanwhile, Dr. Henry Goose slowly poisons Ewing, claiming it to be the cure for a parasitic worm, aiming to steal Ewing's valuables. When Goose attempts to administer the fatal dose, Autua saves Ewing. Returning to the United States, Ewing and his wife Tilda, denounce her father's complicity in slavery and leave San Francisco to join the Slavery Abolishment Movement.
  • Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936: Robert Frobisher, a bisexual English musician, finds work as an amanuensis to composer Vyvyan Ayrs, allowing Frobisher the time and inspiration to compose his own masterpiece, "The Cloud Atlas Sextet." But Ayrs wishes to take credit for Frobisher's symphony, and threatens to expose his scandalous background if he resists. Frobisher, who has read a partial copy of Ewing's journal in the meanwhile, shoots Ayrs and flees to a hotel, where he finishes "The Cloud Atlas Sextet" but then commits suicide just before the arrival of his lover Rufus Sixsmith at the scene.
  • San Francisco, California, 1973: Journalist Luisa Rey meets an older Sixsmith, now a nuclear physicist. Sixsmith tips off Rey to a conspiracy regarding the safety of a new nuclear reactor run by Lloyd Hooks, but is assassinated by Hooks' hitman Bill Smoke before he can give her a report that proves it. Rey finds and reads Frobisher's letters to Sixsmith. Isaac Sachs, another scientist at the power plant passes her a copy of Sixsmith's report. However, Smoke assassinates Sachs and also runs Rey's car off a bridge. With help from the plant's head of security, Joe Napier, she evades another attempt against her life which results in Smoke's death, and exposes the plot to use a nuclear accident for the benefit of oil companies.
  • United Kingdom, 2012: Timothy Cavendish, a 65-year-old publisher, has a windfall when Dermot Hoggins, a gangster author whose book he has published, murders a critic and is sent to jail. When Hoggins' associates threaten Cavendish's life to get his share of the profits, Cavendish asks for help from his brother Denholme. Denholme tricks him into hiding in a nursing home, where he is held against his will, but Cavendish escapes. Cavendish receives a manuscript of a novel based on Rey's life and writes a screenplay about his own story in the home.
  • Neo Seoul, (Korea), 2144: Sonmi-451, a genetically-engineered fabricant (clone) server at a restaurant, is interviewed before her execution. She recounts how she was released from her compliant life of servitude by Commander Hae-Joo Chang, a member of a rebel movement known as "Union". While in hiding, she watches a film based on Cavendish's adventure. The Union rebels reveal to her that fabricants like her are killed and "recycled" into food for future fabricants. She decides that the system of society based on slavery and exploitation of fabricants is intolerable, and is brought to Hawaii to make a public broadcast of her story and manifesto. Hae-Joo is killed in a firefight and Sonmi is captured. After telling her story and its intent, she is executed.
  • The Big Island (dated "106 winters after The Fall", in the book cited as 2321): Zachry lives with his sister and niece Catkin in a primitive society called "The Valley" after most of humanity has died during "The Fall"; the Valley tribesmen worship Sonmi as a goddess. Zachry is plagued by hallucinations of a figure called "Old Georgie" who manipulates him into giving in to his fear, leading to the murder of his friend and friend's son by the Kona tribe. Zachry's village is visited by Meronym, a member of the "Prescients", a society holding on to remnants of technology from before the Fall. In exchange for saving Catkin from death, Zachry agrees to guide Meronym into the mountains in search of Cloud Atlas, a communications station where she is able to send a message to Earth's colonies. At the station, Meronym reveals that Sonmi was a mortal and not a deity as the Valley tribes believe. After returning, Zachry discovers the slaughter of his tribe by the Kona. Zachry kills the Kona chief and rescues Catkin; Meronym saves them both from an assault by Kona tribesmen. Zachry and Catkin join Meronym and the Prescients as their boat leaves Big Island.
A seventh time period, several decades after the action on Big Island, is featured in the film's epilogue: Zachry is revealed to have been telling these stories to his grandchildren on a colony of Earth on another planet, confirming that Meronym, who is present at the site, succeeded in sending the message to the colonies and was rescued along with him.


Actor "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" (1849) "Letters from Zedelghem" (1936) "Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery" (1973) "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" (2012) "An Orison of Sonmi~451" (2144) "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After" (2321)
Tom Hanks Dr. Henry Goose Hotel Manager Isaac Sachs Dermot Hoggins Cavendish Look-a-like Actor Zachry
Halle Berry Native Woman Jocasta Ayrs Luisa Rey Indian Party Guest Ovid Meronym
Jim Broadbent Captain Molyneux Vyvyan Ayrs Timothy Cavendish Korean Musician Prescient 2
Hugo Weaving Haskell Moore Tadeusz Kesselring Bill Smoke Nurse Noakes Boardman Mephi Old Georgie
Jim Sturgess Adam Ewing Poor Hotel Guest Megan's Dad Highlander Hae-Joo Chang Adam / Zachry Brother-in-Law
Doona Bae Tilda Ewing Megan's Mom, Mexican Woman Sonmi~451, Sonmi~351, Sonmi Prostitute
Ben Whishaw Cabin Boy Robert Frobisher Store Clerk Georgette Tribesman
James D'Arcy Young Rufus Sixsmith Old Rufus Sixsmith Nurse James Archivist
Zhou Xun Talbot / Hotel Manager Yoona~939 Rose
Keith David Kupaka Joe Napier An-kor Apis Prescient
David Gyasi Autua Lester Rey Duophysite
Susan Sarandon Madame Horrox Older Ursula Yosouf Suleiman Abbess
Hugh Grant Rev. Giles Horrox Hotel Heavy Lloyd Hooks Denholme Cavendish Seer Rhee Kona Chief



The film is based on the 2004 novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Filmmaker Tom Tykwer revealed in January 2009 his intent to adapt the novel and said he was working on a screenplay with the Wachowskis, who optioned the novel. By June 2010, Tykwer had asked actors Natalie Portman, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, James McAvoy, and Ian McKellen to star in Cloud Atlas. By April 2011, the Wachowskis joined Tykwer in co-directing the film. In the following May, with Hanks and Berry confirmed in their roles, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Susan Sarandon, and Jim Broadbent also joined the cast. Actor Hugh Grant joined the cast days before the start of filming.

Cloud Atlas was financed by the German production companies A Company, ARD Degeto Film and X Filme. In May 2011 Variety reported that the film had a production budget of . The filmmakers also secured approximately $20 million from the German government, including () from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), () development funding and () from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, a German funder, as part of their plans to film at Studio Babelsberg later in 2011. The project also received () financial support from Filmstiftung NRW, () from Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung / UE-Fonds (the biggest proportion of the budget), and () from FFF Bayern, another German organization. The Wachowskis contributed approximately $1 million to the project out of their own finances. The budget was updated to .

The directors stated that due to lack of finance, the film was almost abandoned several times. However they specified how the crew was enthusiastic and determined: "They flew"?even though their agents called them and said, 'They don't have the money, the money's not closed'". They specifically praised Tom Hanks' enthusiasm: "Warner Bros. calls and, through our agent, says they've looked at the math and decided that they don't like this deal. They're pulling all of the money away, rescinding the offer. I was shaking. I heard, 'Are you saying the movie is dead?' They were like, 'Yes, the movie is dead.' [...] At the end of the meeting, Tom says, 'Let's do it. I'm in. When do we start?' [...] Tom said this unabashed, enthusiastic 'Yes!' which put our heart back together. We walked away thinking, this movie is dead but somehow, it's alive and we're going to make it." "Every single time, Tom Hanks was the first who said, 'I'm getting on the plane.' And then once he said he was getting on the plane, basically everyone said, 'Well, Tom's on the plane, we're on the plane.' And so everyone flew [to Berlin to begin the film]. It was like this giant leap of faith. From all over the globe."

Principal photography

Some German journalists have called Cloud Atlas "the first attempt at a German blockbuster" (although the 1984 fantasy The Neverending Story was written about in similar terms before its release). Tykwer and the Wachowskis filmed parallel to each other using separate camera crews. The Wachowskis directed the 19th-century story and the two set in the future, while Tykwer directed the stories set in the 1930s, the 1970s, and 2012. Warner Bros. Pictures representatives have argued they are happy with the film's 164-minute running time, after previously stating that it should not exceed 150 minutes.

Filming began at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, on , 2011. Other locations include Düsseldorf, in and near Edinburgh and Glasgow Scotland (including the 'San Francisco street' scenes), and the Mediterranean island of Majorca, Spain. The scenes shot on Majorca were filmed in the World Heritage site of the Serra de Tramuntana mountains. Scenes were shot at Sa Calobra and near Formentor, amongst others. Port de Sóller provides the setting for the scene when the boat is mooring. Scenes filmed in Scotland also feature the recently built Clackmannanshire Bridge near Alloa, Edinburgh and Glasgow.


The original orchestral soundtrack was composed by co-director Tom Tykwer and his longtime collaborators, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. The trio have worked together for years as Pale 3, having composed music for several films directed by Tykwer, most notably Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and The International, and contributed music to the Wachowskis' The Matrix Revolutions. Work on the score for Cloud Atlas began months before shooting commenced on the film. The orchestra was recorded in Leipzig, Germany with the MDR Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Radio Chorus.

The soundtrack has received praise from critics. Film Music Magazine critic Daniel Schweiger described the soundtrack as "a singular piece of multi-themed astonishment... Yet instead of defining one sound for every era, Klimek, Heil and Tykwer seamlessly merge their motifs across the ages to give Cloud Atlas its rhythms, blending orchestra, pulsating electronics, choruses and a soaring salute to John Adams in an astonishing, captivating score that eventually becomes all things for all personages..." Erin Willard of ScifiMafia described the soundtrack as "cinematic, symphonic, and simply, utterly, exquisitely beautiful... in the wrong hands the opening theme, which is picked up periodically throughout the entire soundtrack, could easily have become cloying or twee or sappy, but happily this hazard was avoided entirely." Jon Broxton of Movie Music UK wrote, "Scores like Cloud Atlas, which have an important and identifiable structure that relates directly to concepts in the film, intelligent and sophisticated application of thematic elements, and no small amount of beauty, harmony and excitement in the music itself, reaffirm your faith in what film music can be when it's done right." Daniel Schweiger selected the score as one of the best soundtracks of 2012, writing that "Cloud Atlas is an immense sum total of not only the human experience, but of mankind's capacity for musical self-realization itself, all as embodied in a theme for the ages." The film's soundtrack was nominated for a 2013 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.

The film contains approximately two hours of original music. WaterTower Music released the soundtrack album via digital download on October 23, 2012 and the physical CD on November 6, 2012.


The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, whereupon it received a 10-minute standing ovation.

Cloud Atlas was released on October 26, 2012 in the United States. Warner Bros. distributed the film in the United States and Canada, and Focus Features International handled sales and distribution for other territories. The movie was released in cinemas in China on January 31, 2013 with 39 minutes of cuts, including removal of nudity, a sexual scene, and numerous conversations.


A six-minute trailer for Cloud Atlas, accompanied by a short introduction by the three directors describing the ideas behind the creation of the film, was released on , 2012. A shorter official trailer was released on September 7, 2012. The six-minute trailer includes three pieces of music. The opening piano music is the main theme of the soundtrack (Prelude: The Atlas March/The Cloud Atlas Sextet) by composing trio Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, followed by an instrumental version of the song "Sonera" from Thomas J. Bergersen's album Illusions. The song in the last part is "Outro" from M83's album Hurry Up, We're Dreaming.

Home media

The film will be released on May 14, 2013, on home media (Blu-ray, DVD and UV Digital Copy).


Critical response

The film has had polarized reaction from critics, who debated its length and editing of the interwoven stories, but praised other aspects of the film such as its cinematography, music, visual style, special effects and ensemble cast.

The film premiered on September 9, 2012, at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival, where it received a 10 minute standing ovation. Review aggregator Metacritic collected the top 10 lists of various critics and Cloud Atlas was placed at number 25.

Critical response to the film has been mixed to positive. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 67% of critics have given Cloud Atlas a "Fresh" rating based on 234 reviews, with an average of 6.6/10. The site's consensus from the collected reviews was "Its sprawling, ambitious blend of thought-provoking narrative and eye-catching visuals will prove too unwieldy for some, but the sheer size and scope of Cloud Atlas are all but impossible to ignore." The film currently holds a Metacritic score of 55 out of 100, based on 43 reviews, indicating 'mixed to average' reviews.

Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film for being "one of the most ambitious films ever made", awarding the film four out of four stars. He wrote "Even as I was watching Cloud Atlas the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I've seen it the second time, I know I'd like to see it a third time ... I think you will want to see this daring and visionary film ... I was never, ever bored by Cloud Atlas. On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters." He later listed the film among his best of the year.

Variety described it as "an intense three-hour mental workout rewarded with a big emotional payoff. ... One's attention must be engaged at all times as the mosaic triggers an infinite range of potentially profound personal responses." James Rocchi of MSN Movies stated "It is so full of passion and heart and empathy that it feels completely unlike any other modern film in its range either measured through scope of budget or sweep of action." The Daily Beast called Cloud Atlas "one of the year's most important movies". Michael Cieply of The New York Times commented on the film "You will have to decide for yourself whether it works. It's that kind of picture. ... Is this the stuff of Oscars? Who knows? Is it a force to be reckoned with in the coming months? Absolutely."

Slant Magazines Calum Marsh called Cloud Atlas a "unique and totally unparalleled disaster" and commented "[its] badness is fundamental, an essential aspect of the concept and its execution that I suspect is impossible to remedy or rectify". The Guardian stated "At 163 minutes, Cloud Atlas carries all the marks of a giant folly, and those unfamiliar with the book will be baffled" and awarded the film 2 out of 5 stars. Nick Pickerton, who reviewed the film for The Village Voice said "There is a great deal of humbug about art and love in Cloud Atlas, but it is decidedly unlovable, and if you want to learn something about feeling, you're at the wrong movie." English critic Mark Kermode called it "an extremely honourable failure, but a failure." Village Voice and Time Magazine both named Cloud Atlas the worst film of 2012.

Immediately after the film's release, the advocacy group Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) criticized the film for the use of what is sometimes labelled 'yellowface' makeup to allow non-Asian actors to portray certain Asian characters in the neo-Seoul sequences.

Reaction from the directors

On October 25 (after the premiere at Toronto), Andy Wachowski stated "(a)s soon as (critics) encounter a piece of art they don't fully understand the first time going through it, they think it's the fault of the movie or the work of art. They think, 'It's a mess [ ...] This doesn't make any sense.' And they reject it, just out of an almost knee-jerk response to some ambiguity or some gulf between what they expect they should be able to understand, and what they understand."

In the same interview, Lana Wachowski stated "(p)eople will try to will Cloud Atlas to be rejected. They will call it messy, or complicated, or undecided whether it's trying to say something New Agey-profound or not. And we're wrestling with the same things that Dickens and Hugo and David Mitchell and Herman Melville were wrestling with. We're wrestling with those same ideas, and we're just trying to do it in a more exciting context than conventionally you are allowed to. [...] We don't want to say, 'We are making this to mean this.' What we find is that the most interesting art is open to a spectrum of interpretation."


The film was pre-nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, but was eventually not nominated.

List of awards and nominations
Organization Award category Nominee(s) Result
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Editing Alexander Berner rowspan="4"
Movie You Wanted to Love But Just Couldn't Cloud Atlas
Art Directors Guild Awards Best Production Design in a Fantasy Film Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch
Austin Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Cloud Atlas
Top Ten Films rowspan="3"
Best Score Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil
Bavarian Film Awards Best Production Stefan Arndt
Black Reel Awards Best Actress Halle Berry
Boston Online Film Critics Association Awards Ten Best Films of the Year Cloud Atlas
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Best Score Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil rowspan="2"
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Film Editing Alexander Berner and Claus Wehlisch
Costume Designers Guild Awards Excellence in Fantasy Film Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Critics' Choice Awards Best Costume Design
Best Makeup
Best Visual Effects
GLAAD Media Awards Outstanding Film - Wide Release Cloud Atlas
Golden Globe Awards Best Original Score Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil rowspan="2"
Houston Film Critics Society Awards Best Film Cloud Atlas
Best Original Score Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil
Technical Achievement Cloud Atlas rowspan="6"
International Film Music Critics Association Awards Film Score of the Year Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil
Best Original Score for a Fantasy/Science Fiction/Horror Film
Film Music Composition of the Year - The Cloud Atlas Sextet for Orchestra
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Halle Berry
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski
Best Editing Alexander Berner
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Production Design Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch rowspan="2"
Best Visual Effects Cloud Atlas
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards Best Production Design Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch
Satellite Awards Best Editing Alexander Berner rowspan="3"
Best Costume Design Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Best Visual Effects Dan Glass, Geoffrey Hancock and Stephane Ceretti
Saturn Awards Best Science Fiction Film Cloud Atlas rowspan="5"
Best Production Design Hugh Bateup and Uli Hanisch
Best Editing Alexander Berner
Best Costume Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Best Make-up Heike Merker, Daniel Parker and Jeremy Woodhead
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Best Cinematography Frank Griebe and John Toll rowspan="3"
Best Visual Effects Cloud Atlas
Best Music Score/Soundtrack Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil
Washington D. C. Area Film Critics Association Best Art Direction Uli Hanisch, Hugh Bateup (production designers), Peter Walpole and Rebecca Alleway (set decorators)

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