Cloud Atlas is one of the more divisive wide releases in recent memory, a befuddling canvas of six intertwined and still separate tales. The movie is a love/hate affair, but the point of this article is not to pick sides. Here, I'll compile some of the numerous connections between stories and characters to give a fuller view of the worlds inhabited in the film, yet first the nature of this particular book-to-film adaptation must be pointed out.
For clarity, the six stories begin as follows in the film:
The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing: Pacific Islands, 1849; Lawyer Adam must battle a parasitic worm while also aiding escaped slave Autua. Adam's goal is to be reunited with his wife Tilda in San Francisco. (approx. 20 minutes of screen time)
Letters from Zedelghem (changed to Edinburgh in the movie): Cambridge, 1936; Wayward composer Robert Frobisher leaves lover Rufus Sixsmith to work with once-famous composer Vyvyan Ayrs. (approx. 20 minutes of screen time)
Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery: San Francisco, 1973; Rufus Sixsmith enlists Luisa to help uncover bad dealings with the Swanneke nuclear reactor. Luisa meets Isaac Sachs and he immediately feels that he could love her. (approx. 27 minutes of screen time)
The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish: London, 2012; Timothy publishes a book by a criminal that becomes unexpectedly popular after an awards dinner gone awry. Facing the threat of his author's violent brothers, Timothy is tricked into signing himself into a rest home by his brother Denholme as revenge for sleeping with Denholme's wife Georgette. He also laments his lost love Ursula. (approx. 25 minutes of screen time)
An Orison of Sonmi~451: Neo-Seoul, 2144; Sonmi~451 is a fabricant Papa Song's dinery server influenced by free-thinking Yoona~939 and later taken away from her slavery by anti-Union revolutionary Hae-Joo, who she falls deeply in love with before becoming a symbol of free thought and rebellion. (approx. 37 minutes of screen time)
Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After: Big Isle, 106 winters after The Fall; Farmer Zachry's family takes in the more advanced Meronym. He must escort her to the ominous Mauna Sol while fighting his personal demons in the form of Old Georgie and avoiding raiding cannibals. (approx. 32 minutes of screen time)
As a book, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is structured idiosyncratically. Readers go through the first half of five stories, the entire sixth story, and the endings of the preceding five in reverse order. The movie ditches the approach and shows each narrative in no particular order and in differing chunks of time for maximum emotional impact. However, the biggest changes from the novel come in the alterations of stories five and six. The first four stories are in essence love stories in both mediums, though it is only in the film that five and six have been heavily rewritten to shape romantic love stories. The fifth story, that of Sonmi~451 and Hae-Joo Chang, pulls this off handily and becomes the most effective fable of the movie. Also notably, the sixth story's main "soul" - denoted by a comet birthmark - is Prescient Meronym in the book and Valleysman Zachry in the movie because each version has a completely singular conception of the traveling and rebirth of souls. Book-Meronym and Zachry have a large age gap between them and are together in the end facing uncertain fates and much death. Movie-Meronym and Zachry are close in age, and end up married and living on a foreign planet together.
Actors in the film play multiple characters each, but there is a lot of inconsistency as to what this practice actually intends to convey. For instance, in three of the stories Jim Broadbent and Ben Whishaw are intimately involved (Journal, Letters, Ghastly Ordeal), yet they do not interact at all in the other three. Jim Sturgess is present in all six accounts, while Doona Bae only appears as his intended and destined love in three of them (Journal, Half-Lives, Orison). Perhaps the most careless issue arises when each actor is implied to have reincarnated between each tale, though Bae appears as two separate entities in Luisa Rey's segment. However, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving are villainous in all six pieces.
Though there are some disparities between the narratives, the most impressive part of the movie is the way things are connected across the eras. The most obvious links are in the use of the one actor for one-six characters. Aside from that, many locations, props, visual motifs, and dialogue tie everything together.
In spite of Luisa's efforts, Swanneke Nuclear Power is still around in Neo-Seoul.
The logo for Aurora House resembles the tattoo on Rose's forehead.
Frobisher's "Cloud Atlas Sextet" was released on the Meronym record label.
The books proclaiming Sonmi~451's teachings were copied from the Orison recorded by Archivist Park. Also, the covers are formed by interwoven fabricant collars, with the pages made from their sleeping clothes and the words sewn from their colored strips of hair.
Old Georgie seems to be Zachry's centuries-old guilt of poisoning/fear of death by Adam Ewing. Note that Georgie and Adam are the only two characters to wear top hats and Georgie echoes poisoner Dr. Goose's line of "The weak are meat, the strong do eat".