Love, both heterosexual and homosexual, is something which is historically sensationalised in the celluloid world. On the former, a quick cursory glance at the plethora of romantic comedies which – especially at this time of year – flood the marketplace, would demonstrate this point. Falling deeply and unconditionally in love with the man or woman of your dreams would seem to solve all of society’s ills, or at the very least solve all of the protagonist’s problems with little or no real tension or, indeed, much effort on their part.
It is something that certainly brings its own problems concerned with body image and self-esteem, but it is in the mainstream romanticisation of homosexual love where one finds the most regressive and harmful inadequacies. In the majority of cases, one usually finds that the worst offenders in mainstream LGBT+ cinema involve the romanticised vision of a straight film-maker. The very clear male gaze of Abdellatif Kechiche in Blue is the Warmest Colour is an obvious example, as is the no doubt well-meaning but nonetheless highly idealised Brokeback Mountain. The essential problem is that homosexual desire in these cases is treated as something to romantically marvel at in a way that is not the case in the representation of heterosexual desire.
If the problem lies in the romanticising of a historically marginalised group, then the solution, one would think, would be normalising it. Essentially, the fact that so much of the talk about Blue is the Warmest Colour revolved around that sensationalised, overly long sex scene is where the problem can be found.
So then, it is up to films like Love is Strange and Strangers by the Lake to offer that solution. Both normalise homosexual desire in very different but equally beneficial ways. The former shows a love which is not defined by its sexual orientation, with characters who behave like any couple comfortable in each other’s company would. It is a quietly unassuming tale of love and modern day relationships that does not rely on gratuitous sex or sugar-coating in order to be appealing.
The latter tackles the problem from a very different vantage. Admittedly the sex and nudity in the film is extreme and is almost constant throughout, but it is blatantly non-sexual.
The content is not particularly arousing: sex is performed casually, often in bushes, beaches or other outdoor spaces; characters strip in order to swim rather than to add sexual excitement to the film and the central love plot revolves around the universally applicable human tendency of obsession.
In these examples, it does not particularly matter that the characters are gay; it is a part of their characters rather than a defining feature. Just as it would seem strange if Jennifer Aniston’s sexual orientation was constantly referred to in one of her romantic comedies, it should seem equally strange that this exact thing has been the case time and time again in the representation of homosexual love. Love is indeed strange but homosexual love should not be.
Image: Kop-See; Flickr.com