Cloud Atlas (2012): Co-Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer.

“Cloud Atlas,” the new existential and spiritual epos, displays all the strengths and weaknesses of its three directors, the American Wachowski brothers (Andy and Lana Wachowski) and the German Tom Tykwer.

The joint effort is a match made in heaven, as the filmmakers have shared similar concerns in their previous movies (“The Matrix” trilogy by the Wachowski and “Run Lola Run” and “Heaven” by Twyker).

Prepare yourself for a long—almost three hours—trip, in more senses than one; the whole movie is a bit trippy.  The tale is by turns existential and mental, spiritual and inspirational, resulting in a sharply uneven work, which is technically lavish but also bloated, stimulating as well as ponderous and pretentious.

The film’s unevenness and contradictions are also manifest in the source material upon which it is based, the best-selling novel by David Mitchell.  I have just reading the book, which is occasional uplifting and always powerful, but when you read a book, you can pause and continue the reading hours later, or the next day, letting the ideas sink in.  This, of course, cannot be done when you watch a 164-minute feature as uninterrupted experience.  Which explains my mixed reaction to the movie, which I first saw at the Toronto Film Fest, where it world premiered and is now released by Warner on October 26.

Like “The Matrix” trilogy,“Cloud Atlas” plays with the notion of time, movement, and space in telling stories that generically represent a hybrid of mystery thriller, melodrama, actioner, and romantic love.  There is sort of a single story, but it unfolds in multiple timelines over the span of 500 years.

The tale of “Cloud Atlas” begins in 1849 in the South Pacific, then moves to (and begins in) 1936 Scotland, 1973 San Francisco, 2012 England, 2144 Neo Seou, and 2346 Hawaii.

During this lengthy narrative (and historical) times, we experience parallel ideas and twin themes as they define the existence of characters that meet, separate, and reunite from one life to the next, as they are born and reborn—but never really die.

The filmmakers’ goal is to show that there are really no (or very few) degrees of separation, that, ultimately, everything is connected in our world, because of the inevitable consequences of the actions that we take and the choice that we make.  Philosophically, “Cloud Atalas” (a good, fitting title) depicts a world that is continuous and infinite, one in which it’s really impossible to clearly distinguish the past, the present and the distant future.

It’s a mad, mad world (to paraphrase from the famous 1963 adventure movie), in which the soul of a killer can transform in a different life into the soul of an hero, a universe in which a single act of kindness or cruelty can ripples across centuries to inspire another major act, even a human revolution.

Thematically, “Cloud Atlas” transcends boundaries of race and gender, location and time, and tells a story that implies the nature of humanity is beyond all those boundaries.

Encompassing a range of genres and set simultaneously in the past, present and future, “Cloud Atlas” illustrates how events and decisions made by the people in one period can reverberate in unforeseeable ways across the timeline to touch the lives of others.

Among other stories, we encounter a San Francisco attorney, who harbors a fleeing slave on a fateful voyage home from the Pacific Islands in 1849.  Then there’s a poor but gifted composer in pre-World War II Britain, who struggles to complete his magnum opus before the cost of a reckless act catches up with him. Cut to a journalist in 1973, who works to avert an industrial disaster, .a present-day publisher, on the eve of his greatest success, faces unjust imprisonment, and a genetically engineered worker in the year 2144 feels the forbidden awakening of human consciousness, and in the far-off future of the 2300s, a goat herder battles his conscience over what he has done to stay alive.

Each scenario is introduced, then unfolds alongside the others, while fluid transitions from one to another reveal the ways in which they are all linked.  They are not separate stories, but moments in time, captured from a single flow.

The film benefits immensely from the charisma of its two co-stars, Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, who has not had a good role since her 2001 Oscar winning “Monster’s Ball.”   The international secondary cast is glorious, composed of Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw.

The stars, like members of the supporting cast, appear in multiple roles as the story moves through time.

To enjoy the film, you need to succumb to its philosophical premises, otherwise it would appear as one very long mental and physical trip, which goes up and down and up again, slapped with a disappointing coda, considering what comes before, and ultimnately is not entirely rewarding.