Tag Archives: Cloud Atlas

A Thought on Ben Whishaw

wishaw cloud atlas
Frobisher in Cloud Atlas

 

I’d put off seeing In The Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard, USA, 2015) because the trailer looked dull, because I’ve never seen a fully satisfying film about man versus whales, because another attempt to demonstrate American ideals of human courage under fire, or under water or even against aliens from another dimension, all seem the same and all make one just want to curl up and die.

I’d loved Rush (Ron Howard, USA, 2013), the previous Howard/Hemsworth collaboration, but I suspected, rightly, that the undoubted excitement it incited might be a one-off: Howard is too nice — and perhaps has been too lucky — to draw out complexities and contradictions and dramatise them compellingly, e.g., In the Heart of the Sea tells us that the greed, barbarity and cost to people and the environment that drove the American whaling industry in the 19th Century is not that different than that which would later drive a different type of oil industry: oh, okey dokey.

W as Bond
Q

What got me to the theatre on a cold winter’s day was seeing that Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy and Ben Whishaw were also in the cast; and, really, it was the tantalising thought of Whishaw as Herman Melville that was the clincher. In the end, he was disappointing. The part is a thankless one; a mere narrative device through which to get Gleeson to narrate the story that would then form the basis of Moby Dick. Whishaw isn’t on for very long; he doesn’t have much to do; it’s a part that could have been played by many others and just as well. But what Whishaw offers that others might not is the potential for surprise. It could have been different, exciting, unexpected, delightful; it has been so many times in the past

wishaw lilting
Lilting

 

 

Since 2011 and his marvellous introductory scene (see clip above) in The Hour (Abbi Morgan, UK, 2011) , where he looks straight at the camera and prophetically announces, ‘You haven’t seen my best yet’,  I’ve adored him as Frobisher – composer/prostitute/petty thief and unabashedly in love — in Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer/Andy Wachoski/ Lana Wachowski, USA et al, 2012) arguably the most romantic gay hero in all of contemporary cinema; as the too-geeky-to-be-a-hipster Q in the Bond films; as the loving gay man in Lilting (Hong Khaou, UK, 2014), who tries to maintain a relationship with the Chinese mother of his deceased partner despite cross-cultural barriers preventing the son from coming out to the mother; as the voice of Paddington (Hugh Bonneville/ Sally Hawkins, UK, 2014) — no one else could have brought the purity, the optimistic and loveable innocence he brought to his voicing of the iconic teddy bear; as the abusive husband in Suffragette Abi Morgan, UK, 2015); as the singleton who does manage to find a wife whilst not quite escaping the horror in The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, UK et al, 2015); as the understanding homosexual supporting Eddie Redmayne through his transformation from Einar to Lili in The Danish Girl (Tom Hooper, UK, 2015); and of course there’s his work in London Spy (written by Tom Rob Smith, UK, 2015) as Danny, a sub-prole variant of his role in Cloud Atlas, this one with Jim Broadbent hopelessly in love with him rather than laughing in his face at his advances, as in Cloud Atlas.

 

wishaw lond spy
London Spy

 

Ben Whishaw may be the first out young star who, whilst playing a great variety of roles, nonetheless is building quite a repertoire of homosexual characters. It’s instructive to compare what he offers to, say, someone like Stanley Tucci, who in the last few years has also played a whole variety of roles, gay and straight, but seemingly specialising, at least since The Devil Wears Prada, in ones clearly coded as homosexual (The Hunger Games films, Burlesque, Gambit), and playing them all in one smug note as the sort of fey cultural deviant that raises a superior eyebrow at what everyone else is saying whilst criticising their dress sense for their own good. That’s the limit of how Tucci can imagine ‘gay’.

 

What Whishaw brings at this point, as his star personae unfolds and changes, is the imbuing of humanity to a category; his ‘gays’ could be a widower trying to connect over his loss with his ‘mother-in-law’, or sub-proles trying to fight the system over that which is just, or marginalised people trying to find a connection, or romantic heroes who cannot see life beyond art and love. ‘Gay’ is not what defines these characters when Wishaw plays them, as is so often the case when Tucci does (and ‘gay’ always means ‘camp’ and ‘supercilious’ for Tucci). Another interesting point about Whishaw is that other than when I saw him in Mojo onstage, he never seems to depict characters with any sexual threat (and his Baby in Mojo was a psychotic so…); they might be sexy but passively so, their minds are on love and sex always seems to be connected to some higher plane of feeling, even when the narratives hint that this was not always so in the past.

Anyway, a thought.

 

The Frobisher Sequences in Cloud Atlas

 

 

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.

 

José Arroyo