Films that changed my life: ‘Cloud Atlas’ and why I got it tattooed on my arm

By Ryan Keating-Lambert

You knew this was coming. It’s long overdue. Every hardcore movie nerd has a tattoo of their favourite film, and they wear it with pride. Unlike most white opinionated male movie nerds between the ages of 30 to 40 however, my tattoos are not Star Wars related. No, my tattoo is one of those ones that people see and think ‘wow, that’s so detailed and interesting, and pretentious…’, and they are absolutely right. I do have a pretentious movie tattoo, and I absolutely love it. Sorry.

Directed by the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Doona Bae and many more, Cloud Atlas is an artsy, ambitious and polarising film based on the equally artsy, ambitious and polarising novel by David Mitchell. It’s a dizzying anthology of stories connected by echoes of characters and ideologies throughout history, from the days of colonial explorers right through to the Orwellian shit-storm that’s yet to come. It’s an epic that seamlessly blends multiple genre films into one.

To this day, it’s the only film I’ve seen that accurately captures that feeling of life. The six stories, unlike the book (which I also love), happen simultaneously and are blended together seamlessly. Even though I pretend to be a good writer, I actually find it really hard to describe ‘profound’ feelings and experiences and never feel that comfortable with my grasp of vocabulary – I’m actually consulting Google as I write this. To me, Cloud Atlas effortlessly blends the entire spectrum of human emotion and experience into a single moment. No, I am not high. I am though, as you may have already guessed, on my third glass of red.

The film influenced me in many ways, the Neo-Seoul story of fabricants Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae) and Yoona-939 (Xun Zhou) fuelled my naive will to change the world and start a revolution of sorts – I started studying journalism about six months later, something I’d always thought about doing but needed a push. Nothing compares to that scene with Sonmi’s emotional revelation speech, delivered as the battle for her freedom wages on below.

Like V for Vendetta, which I wrote about on my last late night wine adventure, Cloud Atlas also ignited the rebellious little gay guy within. The combination of intimacy, violence and the will to transform that I took out of the love story between Frobisher (Whishaw) and Sixsmith (D’Arcy) again motivated me to push myself further out of my comfort zone and ’embrace the gay’, so to speak. It’s no doubt that the Wachowskis also felt that change, as they have both now transitioned.

‘Everything is connected’ is the film’s tagline. To some, this film is an atrocity. Maybe they find it too ambitious and pretentious, or maybe they simply despise the fact that actors portrayed different nationalities to their own, which I think is a shallow and bullshit approach to have – let the trolling begin! Look closer. Cloud Atlas is poetic and gorgeous – an unforgettable experience. It’s a story that was said to be ‘impossible’ to translate to film, and ironically, people said the same when I wanted to get it inked into my arm.

Years ago when I was working as a very amateur journalist (probably still not THAT great but my stubbornness keeps me going), I was scouting interesting Prague expats to interview and found the Canadian Kurt van der Basch who was also a movie concept and storyboard artist. After looking at his work, I realised that not only did Kurt do some art for the film, he’d also done the breathtaking mural which I had been obsessing over like a kid in a candy store since I’d first seen the film. What are the chances? Again, everything is connected.

001 Cloud Atlas Mural.jpg

Kurt was thrilled that I wanted it as a tattoo so I saved some money (I was a poor English teacher at the time… OK, I still am) and then booked an appointment with a local tattoo artist that seemed keen enough. It was a long and arduous process, much like the film. While the artist was trying desperately to complete the minor details, which he said were almost impossible to reproduce (thanks Kurt), I was trying desperately not to have an epileptic fit from the pain, which I had had during my previous tattoo.

The work was obviously more difficult than the guy had imagined, because I never heard from him again after the third session. So I was left with a half finished tattoo, approximately three stories out of six if you think about it in terms of the film. Cue tattoo artist number 2, who honestly did a great job in completing it, but after some time, I came to the realisation that it’s still not done. Ironically, like the film, I need a third director to bring this thing to life… or maybe I’m just picky, but let’s stick with the other explanation because that’s a much better ending to this story. Thanks for reading. More to come in this series so stay tuned!

Photos: Kurt van der Basch



  1. Great review! Great tattoo too. Honestly for me this film is one of the best book adaptations I’ve ever seen – it’s staggering how well they put it together and to reuse the actors for each timeline was genius! Another fave book adaptation of mine is funnily enough by Tom Twyker – perfume. Have you seen? One of the best books and the best films I’ve ever read/seen!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s