The film works on the logic of a silent film. Much of the dialogue is kept to a minimum, nothing important said outside voice-over. The characters are trapped by their inability to express themselves, are inside their limited understanding of the world, possess desires that causes them pain whether embraced or denied. The characters move through space, happy or sad, together or apart, the film felt using essential, pared movements, accumulating through a variety of emotional states.
What is important to the approach is that the emotions are not written into glib dialogue, nor is the story progression shown in segments that suggest an growing artificial understanding of the other. Each of the lovers remains trapped by themselves, each story area informing the next yet they remain apart in soul, allowing the reactions and voice-overs to allow us to understand how the lovers misunderstand one another. The film is about being apart yet somehow in love, yet not understanding the realities and the subtler inflections of these emotions, nor what to do with them. The pace of the film is careful to be tied to the emotions, the pain of the situation, of what is desired but not very well understood. All that is left is confusion. Despite their marriage in the film, the lovers do not truly become a couple until the ending. Even then this is tenuous, has issues that affect a relationship.
The film is about the inexpressible pressures on a soul yet is not expressionistic. It has a relaxed, naturalistic style, which informs the viewer through a scenes pacing, the framing of shots and people in expansive or domestic landscapes, and through the acting, which is superb and pared to the emotional essence of a character. This is a masterpiece, inspired by Murnau and Bresson, but has its own voice and sense of obsession.
Cloud Atlas isn’t on the same scale on achievement. It is an anthology story that is inter-cut rather than played sequentially. Most of its flaws are results of keeping clarity within stories that are being inter-cut, so the film does not become obscure. Therefore its storytelling and themes hit slightly obvious areas at times, there are dialogue issues, and there are segments of the film that stretch beyond the interest point. Yet it’s still a worthy film.