Review: “Elena Undone”

I am a queer person, and I use the word queer as an umbrella term for for non-heterosexual/non-cisgender people. If you dislike the term "queer", you may not want to read this post.

Finding movies with LGBT+ characters is difficult. Finding movies that focus on LGBT+ people is even harder. Finding movies on LGBT+ people that isn't about AIDS or social condemnation or being rejected by family or any of the other depressing tropes that seem to come with queer narratives is damn near impossible. Most queer stories end unhappily, like Blue Is The Warmest Color, and most of the time in horrible tragedy, like Brokeback Mountain.

But as I was perusing the gay side of Netflix one day, I chanced upon a movie called Elena Undone, a lesbian romance between a pastor's wife and a free-spirited writer. It sounded like a cookie cutter lesbian romance (shy, innocent straight woman falls for mysterious, seductive lesbian and cheats on her neglectful husband with her), but I was bored, so I thought "what the hell" and hit play…and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, as I predicted, it pretty much follows the standard formula for lesbian romance films, but I still enjoyed the movie. In this instance, the plot felt less like a tired old tread and more like a cozy blanket to wrap myself up in. Warm, soft, and familiar.

It's an indie film, and its format is unusual. Tyler, a mutual friend of Elena (the pastor's wife) and Peyton (the writer) narrates the film through his sparse cut scenes. Tyler is a "love guru" and believes in the idea of soulmates. Elena and Peyton's actual story is interwoven with clips from Tyler's informative video about finding one's soulmate, and therefore serves as a narrator of sorts for the evolving romance between the two women. It's an interesting idea, and works surprisingly well.

And then of course there's the electric chemistry between the two female leads. Both actresses exude affection, intimacy, and desire when they're onscreen together. Their making out/love-making scenes are luxurious and pulsing with heat. I haven't seen two lead characters with such a magnetic attraction since…well, since I watched the third season of Hannibal.

But the best part is, the women get a happy ending. They have their issues, as real people in real relationships do, but in the end, they find each other again and realize that they were meant to be together. It's a poignant yet simple ending.

The movie isn't perfect (the pastor character and the homophobic church member are a little flat), but it's a movie I'd gladly watch again. I'm a romantic at heart, and I've always loved the idea of soulmates, so I was glad to have found a real movie about two women were perfectly made for each other. If you can get past the dumb title, I recommend this film as an effective feel good story for when you're blue.

Oh, and for all you Supernatural fans out there, Peyton is played by Traci Dinwiddie, who was Pamela Barnes, the psychic who had her eyes burned out from trying to see Castiel. ~TRL

On fair Vulcan where we lay our scene…

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One of Star Trek’s most famous episodes is “Amok Time”, in which seemingly unemotional science officer Spock undergoes pon farr, a biological mating ritual that Vulcans go through every 7 years. But while the plot focuses on Spock’s marriage to fellow Vulcan T’Pring, I say that “Amok Time” is actually a retelling of Romeo And Juliet. But the love story isn’t between Spock and T’Pring. It’s between Spock and Captain Kirk.

First, let’s establish some roles. You may think that, since Spock is the one engaged to a person he’s not in love with, he’s the Juliet of this scenario. But I think, actually, Jim is Juliet and Spock is Romeo in this case.

So, the story. R+J begins with Romeo pining for a girl named Rosalind. Similarly, Spock is longing for T’Pring so he can mate with her. Rosalind has spurned Romeo, just as T’Pring ends up spurning Spock for Stonn. It’s important to note that in R+J, Romeo’s feelings for Rosalind are presented more as lust than love. Spock barely knows T’Pring; their bond is solely physiological, not mental or emotional. But Juliet makes Romeo forget all about Rosalind…

…and this time, it really is true love.

(Spock is so overjoyed when he sees Jim alive in this scene, he literally twirls him around.)

(And I know that R and J’s romance is emblematic of adolescent idiotic love, but make no mistake, they are soulmates. “Star-crossed” means doomed – doomed to fall in love, and doomed to be destroyed. The forces of the universe literally pushed them together. And according to Gene Roddenberry’s novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Jim is Spock’s t’hy’la, a Vulcan word for “friend, brother, and/or lover” –  it’s basically the Vulcan equivalent of soulmate. So, yes, Jim is Spock’s soulmate.)

Meanwhile, Jim is forced to choose between his orders, or saving Spock’s life, much like Juliet’s loyalties are torn between her duty to her family and her true love. There’s even mentioned that T’Pau turned down a seat on the Federation Council, so while it’s not exactly like Spock’s clan and Starfleet are feuding, they are, respectively, the Montagues and Capulets of the story. And like Juliet, Jim ultimately choses love over duty.

Spock, like Romeo, is forced into a fight that he doesn’t want to be in (except it’s with “Juliet” and not Tybalt). And Jim, like Juliet, ends up faking his own suicide by taking a drug given to him by a trusted friend to solve the problem. Romeo and Spock are both despondent at their beloveds’ deaths. Romeo kills himself and Spock is prepared to hand himself over to authorities for murder (killing a commanding officer is a court martial worthy offense in Starfleet, so Spock is therefore committing suicide by cop). Luckily, in this version of the story, Juliet awakens and gets to stay with Romeo.

Let’s talk about the fight scene. Spock is literally in a “fuck or die” scenario. In Shakespeare’s time, people commonly associated death with sex. The French term for sexual climax was even called le petit mort, or “the little death”. The Italian madrigal, “Baci, soavi e cari” by Claudio Monteverdi, is basically about a person saying the kisses of the person they love make them feel like they’re going to die (read: have an orgasm). This pops up in Shakespeare’s works frequently as well. In R+J, the two young lovers perish after consummating their marriage. Jim “dies” during his fight with Spock. Remember, Spock had to have sex to survive pon farr, but he never actually got laid…or did he? Some moments in that fight scene sure look homoerotic… x

Maybe he got laid after all. 😉 -TRL

Why All The Villains Are Gay

More than likely, you’ve watched a TV show or movie where the protagonist and their same sex opponent have…weird sexual chemistry. Maybe the villain gets up in the main guy’s personal space; maybe they make lewd innuendoes; maybe they tell the hero they were meant to be together or something. Sounds romantic, almost, in a really twisted way.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, about why a lot of villains are Ambiguously Gay, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a matter of homophobia (necessarily). Let me explain. On my blog post about Hannigram, I talked a bit about enemyslash, and why I thought Bryan Fuller chose to inject his series with an overdose of homoerotic subtext (if it can even be called subtext anymore). I mentioned that it was Hannibal’s intention to seduce Will to the dark side. Emphasis on the word seduce. In a similar fashion, Passion Of The Nerd covered the lesbian subtext between Buffy Summers and Faith Lehane in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Faith represents Buffy’s shadow self, Slayer power left unchecked. If Faith is symbolic of temptation to act out of selfish wants instead of duty and the desire to do good, it would make sense, then, that Faith would be…tempting.

Often times in film and television, the main character’s archnemesis reflects them, is their dark half, like Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello. A classic archetype for this equation is Professor Moriarty from Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures. Both Holmes and Moriarty are geniuses, but whereas Holmes uses his wits to defeat crime and do good, Moriarty employs his in committing the crimes. Which is why BBC Sherlock, a slow burn gay romance between the famous consulting detective and his army doctor life mate, has produced one of the most overtly homosexual Moriartys in Holmes canon history (thank you, Moffat and Gatiss).

Usually, the dark mirror half can recognize themself in the light mirror half, and wants to combine their forces to be even stronger. Thus, the villain must seduce the protagonist to the dark side. To better mirror the two characters, they’re often made the same gender (since, you know, men and women can’t be equals, right?), so when you produce Doctor Evilman trying to coax Goodguy Heromale to the dark side, ho yay is bound to follow.

Course, I could be completely wrong and it could all be a plot for the viewing public to associate queerness with being evil, but I like to think positively, you know? ~TRL

Problematic Pairings – Hannigram

UGH! I deleted my entire Tumblr account by mistake! I’m such an ass. Well…*sigh* anyway…

Hey, guys. So I just finished the first season of NBC Hannibal. And it got me thinking. So today, we’re going to be discussing problematic ships. And no, I don’t mean like the Titanic. I mean romantic fictional pairings (canon or not) that could be considered controversial. Now, as you probably drew from the title, the topic of focus will the “flag”ship of the Hannibal fandom, that’s right, you guessed it, Hannigram (Hannibal Lecter/Will Graham).

Nothing is completely black and white. Every ship has its issues. From the fairly vanilla pairings like Destiel, to the highly problematic like Harley Quinn/Joker, every ship has room for discussion about serious issues like whether or not the relationship is healthy. Hannibal centers around the relationship between the infamous cannibalistic psychopath, Hannibal Lecter, and the forensic scientist destined to bring him down, Will Graham. Unlike most m/m pairings, this one is actually canon, according to series creator Bryan Fuller. While they never kiss onscreen, their relationship is quite plain. The cinematography is set up to make the viewer subconsciously pick up on romantic/sexual undertones to their scenes together. Hannibal and Will even canonically have a “daughter” together. They’re good friends (in the beginning, at least), and Hannibal, despite being a psychopath, seems to legitimately care about Will.

However, that doesn’t stop Hannibal from framing Will for the murders he commits in season 1, which result in Will being incarcerated in a mental hospital for the criminally insane, or taking advantage of Will’s fragile sanity to make him a killer like himself. So is this relationship healthy? Obviously not. Not even taking into consideration that Hannibal is a serial murderer who eats people.

These kinds of problems arise when shipping the protagonist with the villain and they need to be addressed. Just how problematic is Hannigram?

Well, let’s compare it to two other popular enemyslash pairings. Take for example, Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarty from BBC Sherlock. I’ve talked about Sherlock at length before, but in brief, Sherlock is a show about the famous British detective, set in the 21st century. In this adaptation, James Moriarty, Holmes’ classic arch nemesis and hacky gay stereotype, is in love with Sherlock Holmes and wants him all for himself. He’s been stalking Sherlock since they were tweens, and his long game is to “burn the heart out of Sherlock”, or in other words, to make him insane and evil like himself. Apart from the intellectual challenges Moriarty presents in “The Great Game” and wanting to bring him to justice for his crimes, Sherlock is not interested in Moriarty in the slightest, is afraid of him, and just wants to be left alone by him. This is not a pairing I support. Moriarty is a stalker and an abuser (and possibly a sex offender?), and Sherlock wants nothing to do with him. There’s no question here that this pairing is toxic.

But on the flip side of the scale, let’s talk about a pair of friendly enemies. Two individuals who have known each other since they were kids, who enjoy their battles with each other, who have actually saved each other’s lives on multiple occasions and had proper freak-outs at the prospect of the other’s death, and despite being mortal enemies, consider themselves best friends: the Doctor and the Master from Doctor Who. There are of course problematic aspects to this relationship, such as the Master’s possessiveness of the Doctor and gleeful willingness to murder any and all of the Doctor’s friends to have him all to his/her/themself. This relationship is so bipolar; you can have the Master slapping a tied down, defenseless Doctor, and the two of them sacrificing their lives for each other with tearful, loving, shared gazes, in the same episode (I could write a novel on “The End Of Time”). At the end of the day, while their relationship obviously generates issues, and certainly isn’t the healthiest, the two are on an equal level, enjoy each other’s company (to a point), and are usually hungry for more interaction. There’s a reason this pairing is nicknamed “Best Enemies”.

So that’s an example of a very negative and a (mostly) positive relationship between two enemies. But where does Hannigram fit in? Well, there’s pros and cons to Hannibal and Will’s relationship to be sure. I can’t call myself an authority because I haven’t seen the whole series, but even in the first season, the homoeroticism is present. From Hannibal sniffing Will to “we will be her fathers now” to the weirdly romantic swell of music in the last scene of season 1 when Hannibal visits Will in the sanitarium (coupled with the strangely pissed-off-yet-sexual way Will says “Doctor Lecter”). Contextually speaking, Hannibal is trying to seduce Will to the dark side, so it makes sense that he should be, well…seductive. Whether or not Hannibal really has feelings for Will or if it’s all a part of the game he’s playing also should be taken into consideration: can a psychopath love? And if so, can they love selflessly? There’s a strange balance between the two men: Hannibal, being a psychopath, by definition, cannot feel empathy, and Will feels pure empathy, which fascinates Hannibal. They’re a yin and a yang, light and dark, although Will definitely grows darker thanks to Hannibal’s influence. But could the opposite happen? Could Will influence Hannibal to draw closer to the side of good?

Well, we could sit here and debate all day. I’m eager to watch the rest of the series and see how their relationship evolves, especially if the tentative season 4 comes to fruition. Thanks for reading. ~TRL

The Greenhouse Scene: A Dissection

Even here, Mind Palace!John (as always, a metaphor for Sherlock’s heart) is self aware and is breaking the scene to have a real heart to with heart with Sherlock…even if he’s only in Sherlock’s mind.

Holmes: “Get down for heavens’ sakes!” = Sherlock telling his feelings/heart to stay hidden/protected

Watson: “Sorry. Cramp.” = Heartache

“Is the lamp still burning?” “Yes…there goes Sir Eustace, and Lady Carmichael. The house sleeps.” = The lamp is the possibly the ‘torch’ Sherlock carries for John, the significance of John waiting till the clients (which here represent people who have the potential to judge Sherlock and his feelings – there’s significance that the Ricoletti case takes place in a historically homophobic time) are out of the scene so John can confront Sherlock about his feelings

Watson: “Good God, this is the longest night of my life.” = Why are you waiting to be honest about your feelings, to love John openly?

Watson: “It’s rare for us to sit together like this.” = You’re always avoiding thinking about your feelings.

Holmes: “I should hope so. Murder on the knees.” Because it’s painful, that why. (Freudian subtext aside)

“Man to man” = more homosexual subtext (notably, Sherlock has nothing to say to this, just shifts uncomfortably)

W: “A remarkable woman, Lady Carmichael…You liked her. ‘A woman of rare perception’.” = The Carmichaels, believe or not, are actually a parallel of Sherlock and John themselves. Sherlock identifies with Eustace, or rather, sees him as a mirror showing all his bad qualities (a misanthropic character, hiding secrets, weak), and all the things he finds admirable in Lady Carmichael are the same traits he loves about John. “Your wife sees worlds where no one else sees anything of value whatsoever.”=”John loves and sees worth in me whereas the rest of the world thinks I’m a cold heartless freak.”

“She’s far too good for him.” “You think so?” “No. You think so.” = Sherlock doesn’t see himself as worthy of John’s affection.

“Marriage is not a subject on which I dwell.” “Why not?” = Sherlock’s unspoken response is that he doesn’t perceive himself as worthy of anyone’s love, least of all, John. Besides, John is supposedly straight (even though this is never stated explicitly-John pointedly never claims to be heterosexual, just “not gay”), and married and expecting a child now, so what’s the point of dwelling on it?

Watson having waited till Holmes was “asleep” to look at the photo of Irene Adler = “A Scandal In Belgravia” was the first time Sherlock was forced to face his own romantic tendencies in his dalliance with Irene Adler. While Sherlock isn’t in love with her, she does represent his repressed desire for companionship and intimacy. Sherlock’s “heart” (John) hasn’t stopped thinking of this since, but because Sherlock insists on burying his head in the intellectual sandbox, those parts of him have never had the opportunity to come to light…until now. Sherlock is now trapped in his own psyche, with a physical manifestation of his feelings to question if he is as emotionally cold as he claims to be. Irene’s photo also serves as a reminder that emotion is trait found on the losing side (Sherlock’s words, roughly), as Irene lost to Sherlock in ASiB because she ended up falling for him.

W: “From absolutely no opposition whatsoever, I am your closest friend.” = YOU CARE ABOUT JOHN.

H: “I concede it.” = Yes, of course I care about John, because he’s my friend. Not because I’m in love with him.

W: “I am currently attempting to have a perfectly normal conversation with you.” = I think we both know there’s more to it than that.

“Why you need to be alone?” “If you are referring to romantic entanglement, Watson, which I rather fear you are, as I have often explained before, all emotion is abhorrent to me.”  = This is where ACD!Holmes differs from BBC!Sherlock. Doyle’s Holmes was not emotionless. He could be jovial, witty, pleasant, even sweet at times. He just didn’t experience romantic love. BBC!Sherlock, on the other hand, tries his damnedest to not care about anything; to be the cold, hard, calculating machine that his older brother (or some figure from his past-possibly Redbeard? Not the dog, I mean.) has conditioned him to be. It’s almost as if he’s overcompensating for the immense emotions he actually does feel. Methinks the detective protests too much.

“It is the grit in the sensitive instrument. The crack in the-” “The crack in the lens. Yes.” “Well there you are. You see, I’ve said it all before.” “No, I wrote all that. You’re quoting yourself from The Strand magazine.” “Well, exactly.” “No, those are my words, not yours! That is the version of you that I present to the public: the brain without a heart, the calculating machine. I write all of that, Holmes, and the readers lap it up, but I do not believe it.” = You’ve spent so much time convincing everyone that you’re heartless you’ve gone and convinced yourself as well.

Then comes the whole “you must have…impulses” speech, which I don’t think I need to decode for you. But notice, Watson (a projection of Sherlock’s mind) never uses specific gender pronouns. If Watson was referring to ladyfolk, he would have said so. He can’t just come out and say “men”, because dropping a bombshell like that to the audience would be senseless. And maybe Holmes isn’t monosexual. Maybe he’s pan, or bi. But he ain’t straight, that’s for damn sure.

(An argument could be made for asexual, as Sherlock Holmes is usually portrayed as, but there’s so much evidence that Cumberbatch!Sherlock experiences sexual attraction that it’s hard for me to imagine that he is so, in this portrayal. Refer back to my overcompensation theory above. My personal opinion is panromantic demisexual with a preference for men, but never mind.)

Then Sherlock says the whole, “No one made me, I made me” line, then hallucinates the sound of Redbeard (this time I do mean the dog). And frankly, I have no idea what to make of that. The only thing I can think of that maybe, something tragic happened to Sherlock’s dog (presumably his only friend) that made young William decide to just stop loving. But he can’t. And it’s tragic.

Then the ghost shows up, and it’s back to the case. Keep in mind that this has all happened in Sherlock’s head while he’s trying to figure out how Moriarty could’ve survived TRF. Why the hell is Sherlock, in the middle of this, suddenly having this conversation about love and sex with himself? Does it serve any purpose in solving the riddle? No. No, it does not. It’s purely Sherlock, talking to himself about his repressed feelings for John.

The conversation may be over, but John/Sherlock’s heart does get its final say. “You’re human, I know that! You must be.” Accompanied by John striking a match and lighting a candle (again, fire is a metaphor for Sherlock’s feelings for John). In context, Watson is speaking to the ghost of Emilia Ricoletti, but remember, everything that’s happening in this Victorian reality directly relates back to either the Moriarty dilemma, or Sherlock himself. In this case, it’s probably both. But definitely leaning more toward Sherlock. ~TRL

Sherlock Holmes Is Queercoded

I just had to share this post about Code Words For “Gay” In Classic Films. Don’t several of them sound like the famous detective we all know and love? “Eccentric”? “Limber”? “Wears a hat of someone else’s choosing”?

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“Avowed bachelor”?

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“Has a silk bathrobe”?

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And I know I’m using BBC Sherlock as the specific example, but even in the original ACD fiction, the signs are there. Go, read it. You’ll see.

But yeah. Confirmed queer.

Willow Rosenberg and Bisexual Erasure

This has been a topic that’s come up over and over again in discussion, but it was this video that inspired me, a bisexual woman, to give my own input on the matter.

Buffy was a ground breaking show for its time period. I absolutely love Joss Whedon, regardless of how he likes to emotionally abuse me by killing characters I dearly love. Buffy ran from ’97 to ’03, a time before explicitly queer characters, and more than that, same-sex relationships, were deemed acceptable to show on basic cable. Nowadays, it’s a bit more tolerated, though we do have some kinks to yet work out, but in Buffy‘s time, attitudes toward queerness weren’t the most positive.

The secondary female lead of the series, Willow Rosenberg, played by the amazingly talented Allison Hannigan, is a character that starts off exclusively liking men, namely Oz and Xander (Willow even admits to having had a crush on Giles at one point). Then, after Willow and Oz break up due to Seth Green wanting to leave the show, Willow enters a relationship with another witch from her Wicca group at UC Sunnydale, Tara. Their relationship wasn’t explicitly announced as romantic at first, until Willow finally says out loud that Tara is her girlfriend. But even before that, Wil and Tara have moments of tenderness, like Tara claiming that she is “yours [Willow’s]”. Faith is the first character to pick up on their relationship, as Willow has trouble coming out to her friends at first, and states, in mild surprise, “Willow’s not driving stick anymore”. But, I’m off track here.

The main debate about Willow is, is she a lesbian, or bisexual?

Willow herself claims that she’s gay. A lot of people get pissed about that terminology and complain that Willow isn’t a lesbian, but bisexual, because she has been attracted to men in the past. But many lesbians have had romantic or sexual encounters with men in the past before they discover their true nature. Cynthia Nixon, star of Sex and the City, for example, had been married to a man for years and had had three children with him before realizing she was a lesbian. To be human is to change with time.

Also the term “gay”, while the literal definition is homosexual, has become an umbrella term for anyone who isn’t straight-this includes homosexuals, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals…etc. Maybe bisexuality just wasn’t as much of a recognized identity back then for Whedon to decide to label her as such. I’m not saying that being bi wasn’t a thing back then; Roman emperors Nero and Calculus were historically bisexual, for God’s sake. Maybe Whedon thought that the idea was just too confusing for an audience of the late 20th century to handle. Human nature tends to want to categorize things neatly. Many people have issues with the concept of being attracted to both genders, and tend to believe that bisexuals are either homosexual and won’t come completely out of the closet, or actually straight, but using the label for attention.

But I tend to go by what an individual labels themself as. For example, my last relationship was with a non-binary person. I consider myself open to anyone of any gender – male, female, non-binary, transgender, or none of the above. Some people have tried to tell me that I should call myself pansexual instead of bisexual, but the fact is, the decision of what to deem myself is up to me and me alone. I choose to consider myself bisexual, simply because I feel most relatable to that word.

But Willow Rosenberg is a fictional character, therefore, she belongs to anyone who enjoys Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So how you interpret her sexuality is up to you, the viewer. Is she homosexual? Is she bisexual? It depends a lot on your personal definition of those words. It’s one of Buffy‘s most important reoccurring themes: choice. You make the choice to assume your destiny, to leave a loved one for their own well being, to sacrifice your own happiness, or sometimes even your own life, for the greater good. You didn’t expect that element to actually affect you as an audience member, did you. ~TRL