14 Oct 2008

Gays in Films: with reference to Eternal Summer and The Love of Siam

When films stop hypnotizing their audiences with a colorful gay life filled with camp and stereotypes, we start to realize what we normally consider as abnormal, crazy and inferior is actually no less grotesque than what we really are.

As modern man, we claim to be tolerant of all sorts of things happening in this modern world. We also claim that we have the ability to tolerate and accept different ideas or actions. However, what traditional norms teach us remains the truth, and we never live without being manipulated by these norms. Because norms have such power over our thinking and behaviour, we naturally evaluate everything around us according to the value these norms bring us. This explains why certain ideas or actions are considered different or even unacceptable. When ideas and actions are measured against traditional norms, their value has been inserted with what is socially acceptable and what is traditionally incorrect. Norms become rules. Even though we think we modern man are different and open-minded, old way of thinking and habitual behaviour still haunt us and we live so unconsciously by these rules.

Indeed, homosexuality is the victim resulted from these rules. It cannot be explained and reasoned through traditional norms, and therefore its value is traditionally incorrect and socially unacceptable. Biology teaches us that only the unity of a man and a woman could bring a new life. Rules further this statement by saying this unity creates a family in which father, mother and a child construct a trinity which perfects the God. Perfecting the God perfects the form of human beings, and the structure of this unity becomes the most important foundation for the construction of human society. According to this way of thinking, homosexuality should not be allowed because it breaks the rule and therefore it prevents human beings from perfecting themselves which would further ruin the structure of human society.

Human beings are animals with conscious thought and the ability to express emotions. It is in fact a natural thing for a man to be emotionally attached to another man, or a woman to be deeply in love with another woman. When this happens, it is such a difficult task trying to suppress these natural emotions. Can we really judge that this sort of emotion/love is wrong just because it is against the rules, against what norms teach us? Yes, for those who live by rules can, and they do whatever they can to turn this natural emotions into evil thought and disgusting actions. When they are unable to stop it, they make fun of it which makes them silly and ugly. They try their best to degrade such natural human emotions so as to maintain their rules. In fact, what they are protecting is their dominant power over the world.

Hence, whenever a gay character appears in a film (especially regarding mainstream Hollywood films), his behaviour is always related to the idea of camp. His appearance and character is always stereotyped. This seems to tell the viewers "look, that is a gay man" or "look, that is a lesbian". Are homosexuals different species from the outer space? No, they are just human beings who happen to love the same sex. They are neither abnormal nor crazy. The reason we see crazy characters in films lies in the fear of those who live by rules. Because of their fear they must place homosexuals in an inferior position so as to educate the public that homosexuality is incorrect that should be mocked and punished. This prejudice reinforces the stereotype of homosexuals, and thanks to this prejudice homosexuals become a grotesque group of people lacking flesh and blood in mainstream films.

Under the commercial pressure and the control of the dominant group, mainstream films probably have no other solutions to deal with gay characters. Even worse than that, they probably have to invent one such character so as to elevate the importance of other characters and the rules. The most obvious example is Anthony and Standford in Sex and the City. They are totally useless (of their function) in the film and are clear examples of stereotypes. Of course, there are great gay mainstream films, such as Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain, but still we see the power of norms in these films. We can never live without it intervening in our thought. The struggle of sexual identity, the reluctance of admitting this forbidden love, the problem encountered in public life, and the death that seems like an unavoidable destiny for all gay people. Among these, death is the most harsh punishment for breaking the social rules, and the most extreme condition is to impute AIDS to gay people. In general, Hollywood presets us through its released films a pretty negative attitude towards gay people. We cannot blame them for doing so. After all, those films are made to suit the public taste.

Being placed in an inferior position or being doomed to a difficult life or a terrible destiny seem the only topic that is suitable for gay people in films. Though I personally consider Eternal Summer and The Love of Siam highly beautiful and successful, they still could not escape their destiny, that is, showing the public that gay love just doesn't seem right for our current society. True, at the present moment, it is still such a long way for those following rules to take gay relationships as healthy and normal and to look at this condition without any prejudice. Since we can never be free from the power of social norms, what we could do is to accept it with conditions. By still giving cruel destinies to the gay characters, we take the chance to educate the public that gay people deserves their right to be taken as normal human beings.

Both Eternal Summer and The Love of Siam dealt with coming out issues and both really show us the cruel destiny every gay person will eventually meet. The director could have shown us a happy ending that makes us feel that everything has changed, including the mentality of human beings. However, directors of these films chose to show us what young gay man would face if they decided to step out the closet and face the crowd. At least, the topic chosen gives the public a chance to see that gay people are not just stupid and crazy as those in Hollywood films. Through the acting and the plot, the public gets to know that gay relationship is exactly the same as straight ones, and the emotions expressed are just normal human emotions. There is no stereotyped promiscuous gay relationships anymore, nor is there flamboyant young gay men. What is presented is only a pure but aching love.

Both films have quite a lot of similarities. They are all produced in Asia, they all deal with young gay man, and they all present a relationship that is obscure and depressing. The tone and pace of both films are almost the same and the use of highly sad but beautiful melody reinforces their similarities. Probably the similarities come from the cultural background of directors. What directors try to locate is the psychological development of these young gay men. How they confront themselves when they realized their sexuality. How they approach the possible solution when they try to adapt themselves in the society. Though the outcome is full of pain and sorrow, at least they learn their way to survive all difficulties. The slow pace in both films helps develop the plot and clearly shows the psychological struggle of the characters. The blue tone in Eternal Summer reflects the memory of characters which intensifies the relationship that eventually leads to nowhere. The green and bright tone of The Love of Siam indicates the attitude of characters, their way of dealing with troubles, and the learning they cannot avoid. Both films use music to elaborate emotions. Music is not just a decoration but becomes the soliloquy of these confused and terrified young men.

Though these films cannot avoid giving its gay characters a harsh and difficult life, they at least tell the public a different story which may, in a very slow way, change the public's prejudice towards homosexuality. Though these films follows the old path of Philadelphia and Brokeback Mountain, we must not forget that changing people's idea is never an easy task and it requires a lot of hard work. In fact, such films being produced, released and welcomed in Asian countries is already a success. This means the old and conservative society has opened its door to something new and different. A change is a sign of new hope. This means maybe someday we can see Taiwan pass the law for same sex marriage, giving homosexuals its rights to live as the others. Rules can be changed we should do our best to change those inadequate ones.


  1. I agree that many films do exaggerate the wild life-styles of gay people. Such as in High Art, which has beautiful cinematography, but however ends tragically.

    This movie seduces a such straight person into the inticing gay scene. And the film connects gay people with suicidal tendencies and drug addiction. The characters in the film turn to drugs as a form of escapism from the boring, commercial straight world.

    Like many gay films, it does seem that gay people must be linked with drugs or wild lifestyles. Statistics show however, this is not true.
    There are many gay people with such boring straight- lined lifestyles. Such as thinking of marriage, children and doing mundane things. Some of these people, shock, gasp, actually forget that they are different and forget that who they may love is not by the straight (hetrosexual) rule of thumb.

    So, although many straight people have bendy and wild lifestyles, viewers please remember many gay people have very straight - law-abiding- normal and common-placed lifestyles...? what?

  2. Agree totally with what Mowgo says here. Gays are not any different from straights. We have to be honest with ourselves that certain straight life-style is way decadent and narcotic! Let's stop living in the world of fantasies and please stop fantasize the gay life-styles.