Before I saw Sense8, I thought the sequence at the end of Cloud Atlas to be amongst the most romantic representations of gay romance I’d ever seen. Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), composer/prostitute/petty-thief, is enjoying his last day of life amidst the rooftops of Cambridge when he sees Rufus Sixmith (James D’Arcy) — the love of his life — and finds meaning in the beauty of the sunset, the rake of a hat, the sight of his love. It so moved me then and moves me still. In order to try to make sense of why this is so, I re-edited all the Frobisher sequences in the movie together in chronological order, an interesting and illuminating process.
The Frobisher sequences strung together in chronological order are almost like a mini-movie. Certain elements are drawn out more clearly by extracting them in this fashion: the melodrama, the clichéd tropes of art and its creation, the formal questions raised by making the scene that ends the Frobisher episode the scene that precedes the title sequence of the film, the connection in gay culture between art/sex/love/death, the idea of true love that crosses time and even re-incarnation; it’s what culture, particularly in its Barbara Cartland variant, tells us love should be; it’s what we want it to be but know it’s not; it’s what female audiences wanted it to be when they saw Bette Davis films in the Forties; it might be a false want but one which gay men have historically been denied. It’s a want I wanted to be presented with, one which gay men of my generation have to now been deprived one and one which Cloud Atlas so beautifully provides.
Very few of you will want to spend the 22 minutes necessary to see the rough re-cut presented above so I have provided merely the rooftop sequence and its aftermath below for those of you with less time or inclination though there is one edit I made to remove material not related to Frobisher and Sixpence . The reason for doing the re-cut was sparked by my understanding that what I felt when watching the roof-top sequence was the result of accumulating plot, characterisation, incident, mise-en-scène, a series of ideas; when I was trying to show friends the sequence I realised that the sequence itself, on its own, pretty as it is, did not quite incur the desired effect…but it hints at it and is better than nothing.
I think Cloud Atlas a flawed or even hackneyed masterpiece. It’s too melodramatic,some of the performances are really dreadful (Tom Hanks’ stands out), it feels unwieldly; and yet, few films are as ambitious and few films offer as much. It’s not only that one could do a re-cut of each of the characters such as the one above, but that the cross-cutting between one character to another, past and present, and so on, in itself create connections and meanings (which I have lost in doing the re-cut). This is just one little example, a brief one, and in my view completely great.