by Nathaniel Rogers
of FILM BITCH
... *** the following article Contains spoilers from The Talented Mr Ripley and American Beauty ***
HO-MO-PHO-BIA noun: irritational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th edition 1995
"Those homosexuals and their crazy pathologies!” my friend said to me with sarcastic bite as we stood up at the end of The Talented Mr Ripley. I had to laugh. I'm beyond crying about it. Consider my frustration. I am... A).a homosexual man and B) a movie lover and C)....well, let's just say - not necessarily in that order! When I see good films I get discouraged if they're marred unneccesarily by vulgar and outdated ways of thinking. My politics get in the way of my enjoyment. I've mellowed over the last few years. I use to simply turn off when homophobia reared its ugly head, and just hate the film. Then mid-90s I began to feel vindicated. There were serious discussions about homophobia and then there were a handful of out stars. Toward the end of the 20th century in television and film, gay no longer meant evil or sick. Homosexual characters popped up everywhere, usually neutered but not always riddled with neurosis or pathology. This can be considered a positive first step.
We've begun to backtrack. And that is especially frustrating because it's been happening in good films. I can't embrace great cinema the way I want to if it flaunts the director's and/or screenwriter's irrational prejudices. I want film artists to share their personal vision. I just don't want that vision to include only sociopathic or pathetic homos. This is my unfortunate dilemma and nightmare.
First of all, I want to love American Beauty and The Talented Mr. Ripley but I can't. They're technically two of the best of '99 but every time I want to rave about them I stop. Listen...in American Beauty, you've got two out homos who most everyone in the film accepts and enjoys in a neighborly sort of way. But they're minor characters and a plot device to showcase the horrible homophobia of the (not so surprisingly) closeted gay neighbor. The only gay character who has a personality is not only a closet case but murderous as well. The Talented Mr. Ripley is more of a novelty act in that the protagonist is the closeted gay murderer. In both of these films the principle murder is set in motion by a gay man being sexually or emotionally rejected by a straight man. This is laughably homophobic. This is not the way things happen in the real world. These sorts of charged violent encounters generally unfold in exactly opposite ways. Think of the statistics. Think of the Jenny Jones debacle or Matthew Shepherd. Or don't - if you want to remain blissfully ignorant of how deep and ugly homophobia runs.
There are people out there who would argue that what these two acclaimed films are illustrating is not crazed homosexuals but the pathology of the closet. But let me say that I myself, like most every gay man or lesbian, was at one point in the closet. The closet is a sad and pathetic way of life, true, but what it generally produces are not psycho killers but loneliness and unrealized potential.
I'm astounded actually, given the coverage of gay issues in the 90s, that no one is talking about the homophobia present in these films. People remain ignorant or blind to it. How else do you explain the non-ritical reaction to the surprise unlikely ending of American Beauty or the way the media is congratulating director Anthony Minghella and Matt Damon for their "bravery" in presenting the character of Ripley to audiences. I'm not arguing that they didn't do their jobs well. I'm asking, what sort of job were they trying to do?
While we're on the topic of homophobia, we have to take one last sad detour. This time we head into the"P.T. Anderson picture." I love him. He's possibly going to be one of the great directors. He's a visionary. But his vision includes only gay men of the sad and pathetic variety. Paul Thomas Anderson is a homophobe! I first suspected this while watching Boogie Nights, a superb piece of entertainment, which takes a very nasty and ugly turn at precisely the moment when the one gay man in the story dares to express his sexuality. From that moment on there's murder, misery, violence, and disaster. I kept hoping it was a fluke but then in Magnolia this past month, P.T. ups the ante and hands us not one but two sad and pathetic fags. I would love to talk about the mesmerizing performances, the audacious and miraculous musical number (my favorite scene of the entire year), or the message of the film, but I can't because I'm so pissed off that Mr.Anderson, who seems so evolved and humane in some ways, is so damn bigoted in another.
I am not arguing that there are no sad and pathetic gays out there. I've met several. I'm not arguing that the closet isn't a sick place to be. Hello, Jodie Foster! I'm not arguing that certain homosexuals don't have pathologies. George Michael & Chastity Bono come immediately to mind. (Because isn't it sad, pathetic, delusional and pathological to trumpet your “pride” only after someone else has to out you!) I'm just saying that I'm so damn sick of talented artistic filmmakers flaunting their prejudices and being congratulated for it. And I'm sick of not being able to love their otherwise grand films.