Men who "find themselves" in the arms of other men
Moonlight’s Golden Globe win for Best Picture and its Academy Award nomination announcement inspired us take a look at a few of our favorite films foregrounding men who find themselves in the arms of other men.
Last year, we saw an unlikely critical smash in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. The film, set over the course of two decades in Liberty City, a poor black neighborhood in Miami, Florida, tells the story of an African-American man’s journey to self-discovery in three parts: “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black.” Each chapter reveals different facets of Chiron’s coping mechanisms around poverty and abandonment. He grows from a painfully reticent child to an awkward, bullied teen, and onward to a hyper-masculine facsimile of the drug dealer who filled the role of father figure after Chiron’s mother lost herself to the crack epidemic of the 1990s.
The languid, poetic storytelling, along with a haunting score and arresting cinematography, highlights the actors’ intense performances. Chiron’s yearning for love in the form of intimacy rather than sexual gratification illuminates a profound appreciation of the challenges queer men face in communities that equate emotional vulnerability with weakness.
André Téchiné’s Wild Reeds (Les roseaux sauvages) beautifully captures the thrilling awkwardness of a young man’s sexual awakening. Set in France during the early 1960s – at the end of the Algerian War – the film plays out against the backdrop of an underrepresented political landscape. (American history classes don’t often explore the specifics of French post-war politics.)
But even as the audience struggles to make sense of the class-based interpersonal conflicts, the brutal honesty of François’ boarding school crush on Serge moves them to the core. When the two boys give in to what amounts to little more than a night of harmless experimentation for Serge, but proves a defining moment in François’ acceptance of his own sexual desire, the actors tap into something so impossibly real and human, it’s hard not to get lost in the moment with them.
Adam Salky’s Dare boldly unravels the coming-of-age motif with three prep school students who refuse to be confined by the archetypes assigned to them. The loner/bad boy, the sweet ingenue, and her oddball gay friend break all the rules when they get tangled up in a three-way relationship with no easy way out. The trio find themselves grasping at the slippery concept of identity during their final semester of high school and end up in a nighttime pool scene as sexy as it is emotionally charged.
Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend is the story of a lusty hookup that blossoms into a languorous two-day affair. Semi-closeted Russell sneaks off to a gay club after a house party with his straight friends and meets Glen. The two wake up together and are surprised to discover they share a special and genuine fondness for one another. The film works so well by avoiding all the traps of clichéd gay romances by offering an unapologetic examination of the ways men struggle to connect, even when they really want to. The two leads are equally charming and complicated; it’s heartbreaking to watch them fall for each other, knowing Glen has to leave the country right afterward.
Those People is Joey Kuhn’s subtle nod to Bernie Madoff’s son Mark, who committed suicide on the second anniversary of his infamous father’s arrest. Here, the troubled son of the fictional, notorious Upper East Side fraud is Sebastian – a charismatic shut-in who leans too heavily on his childhood best friend Charlie for emotional support. Of course, Charlie is secretly but obviously in love with Sebastian, but neither of them dare discuss it. Their relationship is suddenly threatened when Charlie falls for classical pianist Tim and, to Sebastian’s dismay, finds himself thriving when his love is actually reciprocated. The sincerity of the actors and the assured direction elevate what could have been a stiff sob story to something elegant and quite touching.
Brother to Brother is Rodney Evans’ ambitious and affecting tale of an elderly gay man sharing his experiences during the Harlem Renaissance with a young man he meets in a homeless shelter. Both men are struggling to find a place where they belong, and in reflecting on Bruce’s legacy (including black-and-white flashbacks to his time with Langston Hughes), young Perry gains a better sense of what New York City and the world have to offer a gay black man.
Stephen Dunn’s Closet Monster is artfully whimsical, deeply engaging, and a little creepy. Young Oscar is so traumatized by his mother’s leaving that he retreats to a fantasy world in which his pet hamster speaks to him (with the voice of Isabella Rossellini) in a treehouse decorated with his own phantasmagoric special effects. Tensions rise between him and his father as Oscar approaches manhood and learns that the only way he’ll ever truly be happy is if he leaves his closed-minded small town. Closet Monster is a haunting film that illuminates how desperately some young men need to escape their surroundings to find themselves.