As a gay male, I’ve had to learn to detach from “critique” and “analysis” in order to fully submerge and enjoy films that do not speak, deny and/or represses my identity. For example, romantic comedies are often elusive of gay characters. Until recent years, gay characters have been included in these and they have often played the role of the best friend or confidant of the main female character – see My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997);Monster in Law (2005); Devil Wears Prada (2006). In the end, the story is not about the gay man, but about the heterosexual couple.
These representations of gay men as an accessory or clown of the woman send the message that the space of the queer is in the margins of film, as comedic relief and whose story is never worthy of occupying the central part of the narrative or having a narrative at all. Pleasure comes from detachment from momentary access to the heterosexual romance or narrative naturally denied by reality. Also, because rom-coms are usually known as “chick flicks,” it is often women and gay men who are stereotypically known as the audiences for these movies. Perhaps it speaks to the gay’s identification with the female central characters in the absence of more appropriate representation? Also, is the freedom to gaze upon the usually handsome male character without the danger of being “caught” or shamed one of the pleasures of gay man spectatorship?
The rise of digital media, as discussed by theorists, is in many ways, breaking away from what is considered “cinema.” However, it is very contradictory to think about it in terms of the ways it also propels “film” forward (or away?) from what we are used to. Surely, there is usually a wish to return to “reality” or “nature” in films such as Strange Days (1995), but for the most part, there is an enjoyment that comes from encountering the digitally enhanced reality that presents us with never-ending choices. At the core, getting lost in a digital world in the premise of most movies involves the pairing or joining of human and machine in some form of way. As the 20th century approached its culmination, more and more of these movies seemed to surface as the Western world grew more and more dependent on computers and machines. In fact, one way to think about this anxiety is to reflect on the Y2K problem that plagued the minds of many companies at the end of the 1990’s.
Another peculiar aspect about films that deal with the merging of human and machine, is their compulsory need to locate themselves in time, mostly, if not always, in the future. For example, Blade Runner (1982), set in 2019, deals with “replicants” or human bioengineered beings that have been designed to live for short spans of time but eventually are overcome with human-like desire to live longer; the Terminator series also deals with an imminent, Armageddon-like future where machines have successfully overpowered humans and threaten the very existence of the race; the rather famous Avatar (2009) locates itself in 2154, once again, as if giving us a timeline. While some of the representations of digital-life/computer-life in these examples differ slightly from one another, there is a double-impetus of fear and desire that haunts the ontology of these themes: do we love these ideas because they teach us about the things we fear and should thus avoid (future)? Or do we love them because we fear that, in many ways, we are already irreversibly headed in that direction (lack of future)?
An interesting way to think about these films and their futuristic timelines is to look at other films and even novels whose “future” is now our “past.” Aside from the very obvious Strange Days, Orwell’s novel 1984 (1934), and later a film the same year of its title, is a gleaming example of a novel set fifty years into its future that is now almost thirty years into our past. The presence of media and what we have come to know as computers, cameras, and screens in 1984 is what is scary about 1984. Our fascination with the possibility of a future hijacked by computer use, surveillance, and embodiment is both attractive and scary and this is a perfect recipe for films released years leading up to and away from the Millennium.
Image from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Sirius Black was introduced to the reader in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanas a mass murderer that had escaped prison and was actively seeking to find and kill the orphan Harry Potter (Rowling 38).Sirius Black was also known to be an “animagus,” this is a wizard with the capabilities of transforming into an animal at will; Sirius could turn into a dog. Upon these news, Hogwarts was locked down and guards were deployed to keep the children safe as it was feared that Sirius would go looking for Harry (Rowling, 85).Eventually, Harry learned that Sirius Black was his godfather and was wrongfully convicted for crimes which caused Harry to fill with hope given that Sirius was the only family he seemed to know (Rowling 355).Sirius, Harry learned, was ostracized by his family while growing up due to his lack of interest in pursuing the Dark Arts or joining the army of Voldemort, the ultimate dark figure and Harry’s archenemy in the series (Rowling 356).Sirius was never exonerated from his crime charges in the eyes of the law, and in the following novels, Sirius went into hiding and often went to visit, disguised in the form of a dog, Harry Potter and his friends. Sirius played an important role in the development of the series and of the hero.
Sirius Black’s state of man/dog could be read through the lens of Kathryn Bond Stockton’s queer theory of the “interval of animal.”Sirius’ queerness comes from his family’s rejection which perhaps plays a part in his seeking to “grow sideways,” in this way magically, into a dog; dogs are often referenced as “children that never grow.” Harry Potter stands in as Lee Edelman’s figure of the Child due to all the ways in which his innocence and well-being must be protected.Not only was information withheld from Harry because of his age, but he was constantly surrounded by adults that were solely dedicated to the purpose of protecting him from evil forces; Harry was often referred to as “the Boy who Lived” or “the Chosen One.” Sirius Black is the “ghostly gay child” that haunts the figure of the Child.Harry had to be protected from Sirius as others believed he sought to kill our hero. Harry, as the Child, cannot coexist with Sirius, the “ghostly gay child” within the narrative.Sirius, never absolved from wrongful accusations, was forced to hide and stay away from the public eye.Although Harry kept in touch with him clandestinely, the outcome of the story is a signifier of the way queerness and the Child cannot coexist.
In our rather boring Muggle world, the “ghostly gay child” and the Child have finally met. I say this in light of the recent teen suicides linked to sexual orientation and bullying. How can we handle children with sexualities? Who can we blame now? #helloqueerchild
The Vow (2012) brings to mind memories of The Notebook (2004).Not only because of Rachel McAdam’s beautiful face, but because both films deal with the concept of memory itself.Actually, these movies are about the absence of memory and the drama (or privilege) of not being able to access the history of one’s personal life and times.
Michael Sucsy’s The Vow, through the voice of Leo (Channing Tatum), wonders about the “moments of impact” that change our lives and our ability to return to those moments in order to access, in the case of Leo and Paige (McAdams), happiness.But what if “one day you couldn’t remember any [of those moments]?”The movie’s trailer opens with the characters’ vows scribbled on a menu from Mnemonic (ha-ha) and Leo’s promise of never forgetting that “this is a once in a lifetime love.” Paige loses her memory due to an accident and is unable to remember her married life causing Leo great affliction.Paige’s memory is, in fact, set back to a time before she met Leo, something that causes –as one can imagine- serious strains on their relationship.But is her memory truly lost? Or is it a repression of her unconscious in order to address other issues?The accident causes a dislocation and reallocation of temporalities, as the couple’s “present” (before the accident) becomes Paige’s future and Leo’s past. Pretty interesting, right?.. so, why does this movie feel so void of emotion?
This movie falls flat because its premise is predictable (not only by its poor narrative development) but also by the trailer.The Vow is exactly what the trailer says it will be and nothing more.McAdam’s superb acting is constantly met with Tatum’s amateurish gimmicks and beautiful torso.The characters are not believable and the story takes a rom-com route that ultimately leads it into the (forgotten) gutter.