Under the Corsican Stars

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Ben Whishaw as Robert Frobisher in Cloud Atlas (2012).

Have you ever been inexplicably moved by a phrase that doesn’t really have that much meaning on its own? A set of words that, without their context, lacks any significance? If so, you are not alone. I too have been affected this way. The culprit lies in the very title of this post. Ah, yes. Those Corsican stars.

My life-changing quote comes from David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, a story that intertwines the lives of six people across the span of centuries, reinforcing the concept of reincarnation, the eternity of the human soul and the tenacity of individuals to fight for their convictions, time and time again, defying all odds, either succeeding or failing. Living and dying.

It’s not short of an understatement to say this story changed my life, or at least the manner in which I perceive it, though I have to admit I did not fall in love with the book first -I hadn’t read it-, but rather the film (impressive enterprise directed by Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski) that goes by the same name.

Let’s go back in time to the 31st of December, 2012.

It was between 3 and 4 in the afternoon when I locked myself in my room, not particularly gloomy or annoyed, although adolescence was definitely taking its toll on me. I needed to find some solace to forget another year had gone by. As usual I turned to movies, they easily do the trick for me.

Ben Whishaw was my main reason to click on the film that lousy evening. Enthralled by his acting on previous works I’d seen, but discouraged by the running time listed, I mentally prepared myself for almost three hours of nonsensical boredom. However, I was met with a major plot twist, and it wasn’t related to Ben, not directly. His performance was delivered superbly from start to finish, and all the bits in-between. Anyone who has seen Cloud Atlas, and remembers the bathtub scene, will back me up on this one, hopefully.

As a consequence of Ben’s brilliance, and of the extraordinarily convoluted beauty of the story, I was left a crying mess on the floor, quite literally. I cried, oh god, I cried. Needless to say,  I fell in love with Cloud Atlas.

Eyes open if only slightly wider, I began to think more, think deeper.

Months passed and my desire to read the novel bordered on pathetic, but alas! My local stores knew nothing of its existence (there aren’t that many bookstores near me to begin with). So, when on a holiday in the US, and after frantically searching for it in several bookshops and airport booths, I finally got hold of a copy in Chicago O’Hare. I couldn’t thank the clerk enough, the man must’ve thought I was loonier than Daffy Duck.

I did not intend for this to be a praise to Cloud Atlas, but I see my emotions have drastically overflown. Nonetheless, my purpose for this post wasn’t for it to be a critical and clinical review either, there are enough of those, written by more professional, qualified people . Instead, this is the tale of a quote that has stayed with me throughout the years, and always echoes in my head each New Year’s Eve (I have made a tradition of watching Cloud Atlas every Dec 31st to remind myself of that first time, to remember what it felt like to be graced with a contemporary epiphany via independent, and vastly underappreciated, film.)

In the movie, Robert Frobisher says to Sixsmith, “I believe we do not stay dead long. Find me beneath the Corsican stars where we first kissed.”

For me, the Corsican Stars have become a symbol of true love, even if I’ve never gazed up at them in the middle of the night. They are every kilometer as far away from me as they can be, yet I hold them deep inside my heart. Am I making any sense? When I think of the sky, so blue it’s almost black and dotted with small twinkling silver suns, when I think of Corsica, I believe love is real; that it is not an invention of solitary souls, and that it can surpass boundaries of time and space.

I see love as walking hand in hand along the ocean shore  with someone who sees and accepts me, and whom I love back madly. And no matter where on this Earth we are, I’ll envision us beneath the night skies of Corsica. Like Frobisher and Sixsmith, we too shall transcend our bodies and overcome all apparent impossibilities life throws our way, for life would not be a deterrent, and neither would the absence of it.

An endless string unfolds since the dawn of time, if there ever was a dawn. The cycle goes on, unstoppable, continuous, it repeats itself and rearranges the pieces that conform us, human beings.

Will I be born again? That’s not a question I can doubtlessly answer ‘yes’ to, but I do believe we all go through a metamorphosis the moment we cease breathing. Every cell that I was, every atom that I will be, will love that person. We ourselves will become the stars of Corsica, and each time the sun sets, after we are long gone, new lovers will stare up at us before they kiss. And we will stare back, and somehow, we will be them too.

To forgo the original quote would be the utmost sacrilege, especially since Mr. Mitchell could not have been more eloquent or graceful to describe the neverending pattern of time and the resilience required to love another person,

“Luger here. Thirteen minutes to go. Feel trepidation, naturally, but my love for this coda is stronger. An electrical thrill that, like Adrian, I know I am to die. Pride, that I shall see it through. Certainties. Strip back the beliefs pasted on by governesses, schools, and states, you find indelible truths at one’s core. Rome’ll decline and fall again, Cortés’ll lay Tenochtitlán to waste again, and later, Ewing will sail again, Adrian’ll be blown to pieces again, you and I’ll sleep under Corsican stars again, I’ll come to Bruges again, fall in and out of love with Eva again, you’ll read this letter again, the sun’ll grow cold again. Nietzsche’s gramophone record. When it ends, the Old One plays it again, for an eternity of eternities.”

So there you have it. A simple combination of words that greatly impacted my younger, impressionable self, and altered the way I think, even the way I feel.

It is a bizarre occurrence, but I couldn’t be more grateful. The longer-lasting prints aren’t physical. Once you stumble upon a connection with a quote, a poem, a song, a film, or whatever it may be, you are irrefutably changed, in spite of your awareness, or lack thereof.

Words have the power to mold our reality as single individuals, for better or worse. And sometimes they don’t mean anything to anyone besides ourselves, and that’s okay. What immediate bond links the stars of Corsica with finding the love of you life for the rest of eternity? Now that’s an interesting question to ask strangers on the streets, they might even be nice to you about it.

There lies the beauty of life and words, doesn’t it? They’re ours, to live and experience, and reflect upon.

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