Comfortable and Furious

A Single Man

On the same evening I staggered from a disappointing screening of Tom Ford’s A Single Man, I came across an article in New York magazine concerning Larry Kramer, the notorious AIDS activist and rabble-rouser now reduced to the shadows of American life. It seems that in the absence of any compelling reason to give two shits about a disease that no longer kills anyone in the regions of the world that still matter, Mr. Kramer continues to work on his magnum opus, The American People, a now 4,000+ page doorstop that, above all, posits the farcical notion that American history is but a conspiracy to keep gays closeted good and tight.

More curious, or predictable, if we are to know and understand our gay activists, is that all of our iconic figures, from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, are mincing homosexuals. A satirical look at our past through a subversively queer lens? Perhaps, but Mr. Kramer isn’t taking a fictional approach for granted. In fact, color him inflexible on the matter. The marble gods of our past, up to and including such legendary lotharios as Alexander Hamilton, were pink right down to their pantaloons. He knows it, believes it, and isn’t above misinterpreting and ripping assorted letters from their historical context to prove his point. His point, such as it is, is but a continuation of the age-old agenda of narcissistic over-inflation, with a pit stop at crippling insecurity. For any member of a despised minority, life is only worth living if it can be assumed that one’s hated status is the result of jealousy and, ultimately, the hypocrisy of the majority power. They, whoever they might be, hate said cocksucking because, well, they too would like to join the party. Only they can’t, because they’re too busy hating homosexuals.

Larry’s absurd drive to bring the world entire under his cloak of ass-tickling is, of course, an old gimmick pulled out whenever the self-hatred becomes too depressingly uncomfortable, but it’s appropriate when considering the movie in question, if only because A Single Man, for all of its stellar acting and stunning cinematic tones, is yet another exercise in the tired cliche that no greater sin exists than the man  the Gay Man  not allowed to bloom as the flower of his own choosing. For Ford, a fashion designer and hence, gay at least by implication, to be gay in 1962 (or at any time) is so difficult as to warrant suicidal inclinations.

It is also, thankfully one might assume, an opportunity to be idolized from afar and pursued from the halls of academia to the grocery, a fortunate turn that befalls our gay man in question, George (Colin Firth). Throughout the course of a single day, a day beyond which George does not plan on surviving, our hero, impeccably tailored and mannered as per the era, is sexually desired on at least two separate occasions, that is, if one does not count the flirtations from innumerable females. George, an English professor, is the target of a young student first and foremost, a come-hither glance that quickly develops the legs of a manic pursuit. Kenny, the fresh-faced lad, is, of course, lacking all manner of depth, and his existence seems to hinge on his joining the college ranks to bag an aging professor. The two engage in the only banter left to two oppressed souls, but are soon naked with alarming alacrity.

Oh yes, it does become important to know that George has decided to end it all because he can’t get over the death of his young lover, Jim, the sort of man impossibly handsome and saintly in any film not affiliated with homosexuals. Disallowed a real affair by the strictures of their culture, the two hold court with the only kind of love one could expect from an initial meeting at a sleazy bar. But endure they do, some sixteen years, in fact, even though Jim’s youthful glow means that, at best, he was seduced as a sixth grader. But he’s dressed as a seasoned Navy man, so that’s not entirely believable. But George mourns, as we all do; only he’s not allowed to do so openly, as it would seem odd for a grown man to weep over his gentleman friend unless sexually involved.

Which was unseemly for the time, as the film never tires of pointing out. And sure, it’s sad that a man can’t toss flowers graveside or demand an adjoining plot. But Ford’s film asks that we accept George as a symbol of a numbing, barbaric age, even though he lives far better than any teacher ever has, at least if we are to measure our success by the usual yardsticks of wealth, security, and real estate. You see, George is, like all gay men throughout recorded history, astoundingly well-off, which makes it almost impossible to feel for his plight. That, and the man could get laid standing in line at the bank. With money to burn and blowjobs at the ready, one wonders how being gay is the new black. Who among us wouldn’t deal with daily incontinence if it meant a gorgeous spread in a pre-Watts Los Angeles? Or so much currency that one can leave stuffed thank-you envelopes for the maid? Or maybe, you know, the maid herself?

As if the student weren’t enough, George is also propositioned by a Spanish stud after bumping chests at a liquor store. Needless to say, he’s named Carlos. When most of us finally decide we’ve had enough of the world, we’d be likely to get the finger. George gets opportunities for anal. But see, the world is teeming with such avenues because, well, everyone is gay. Or wanting to be. Here, I was reminded of Before Night Falls, a critically-acclaimed movie about a Cuba that, if even remotely accurate, was the Fire Island of the Caribbean. And I’ll be damned if any writing or poetry took place, as every bathroom stall not nailed down was packed to the gills with gyrating gentlemen and exposed penises. It was as if Castro sought not a Communist utopia, but a haven for the world’s leather set.

And so we have A Single Man, where gay men do not interact with, speak about, or relate to anything that isn’t about sex. They curse oversimplification and stereotype, then do little but reinforce them over the course of a given story. George and Jim are meant to be an enviable couple, but mutual attraction is all we’re given as a selling point. I can’t exactly hope for a world that would embrace their nuptials, then, as that would be the surest way to remove that which defines their coupling. And Jesus, George, sixteen seasons of uninterrupted lovemaking? Where a lover’s flesh never sags, and glows more golden with the years? We should all be so persecuted.

At last, we have George’s neighbors, a heterosexual couple defined by its inauthenticity, which means unhappiness reigns wherever men are not allowed to add the bathhouse to their to-do list. They are silly and repressed people, if only because their love is based on a lie. And George’s best friend Charley, played by an unusually sedate Julianne Moore, is the epitome of heterosexual unhappiness, as her own marriage fizzled inside of an hour. And so she’s longed for George ever since, topped by her tendency to drink away the pain. Charley’s evil is verbalized when she dismisses George’s love affair with Jim as a mere trifle; an experimental dalliance that couldn’t possibly mean as much as the straight world’s interpretation.

Citing longevity as proof that in fact it does mean more, George falls into the trap of thinking endurance itself connotes meaning, when few would trade a weekend of fluid-swapping for decades of cold indifference, between the sheets and otherwise. Moreover, George seems to love Jim for no other reason than his beefy chest, so he’d best avoid the casting of stones. Are his memories and flashbacks not exclusively of Jim’s physical attributes? Eyes, lips, and torso? But that seems to be Ford’s mission, to so fetishize the male form that we’ll leave the theater as foot soldiers in the cause. Or at least a little hard. He weeps aloud for our collective humanity, then pisses it all away with the ultimate in degrading reductionism. How silly, then, to deny us the poor chap’s suicide, felling him instead with a foreshadowed heart attack, as if to preserve his martyrdom for all time. Not by his own hand, but God’s; a homophobic deity presiding over a world that still refuses to learn.