Even the Fantasy is Heartbreaking

05 Oct 2009 (Mon) at 1:04 am 12 comments

A field of purple dreams.

A field of purple dreams.

Were the World Mine
Director: Tom Gustafson
Cast: Tanner Cohen, Wendy Robie, Judy McLane, Nathaniel David Becker
2008

In a queer world, the happiest spectacles can be the saddest things.

Tom Gustafson’s Were the World Mine is a creative adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The story is familiar, clichéd even. Timothy (Tanner Cohen) is a student in a small-town exclusive school, ostracized by his male peers because he is gay. He has a crush on a jock, Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker). Beginnning as a largely passive character, Timothy keeps mum about his crush, even to his best friends. He puts up with the crap his chauvinist classmates throw at him. He is patient with his mother despite her qualms about his sexuality. Timothy lives with his queerness as best as he can, enduring each day, waiting for the time he will graduate and leave that backward backwater of a town. His life begins to change when his English teacher Mrs Tebbit (Wendy Robie) announces auditions for the senior school play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Timothy clinches the role of Puck, and Jonathon, Lysander.

The film begins a little roughly. Though it is established from the start that the film is a musical, the visuals are initially rendered in drab colors of suburbia. Were the World Mine makes a turnaround when, in a splash of magical realism, Timothy follows the Shakespearean recipe for Cupid’s Love-juice—and it works. Like a Pandora’s box, the film explodes with action, colors bloom, light becomes beautiful. All the world becomes a stage.

That the film is a musical is no coincidence. The stage is an obvious reference to how singing and dancing is looked down upon as “queer.” (Perhaps this is why in the film, bigoted jocks are made to sing, dance, kiss and cross-dress—as a gesture of retribution for all the pain boneheaded jocks have inflicted upon generations of gay kids.)

The sadness of Were the World Mine, moreover, lies precisely in its being a spectacle. It is a fantasy within a fantasy: the play is the physical manifestation of Timothy’s desire for love and acceptance, while the film itself is the director’s—and to extend it, the queer audience’s. The film’s title itself implies this aspiration, as if saying, Were the world mine, I would make it a beautiful place where anyone can love anyone else without fear of judgment or discrimination. Unfortunately, as all queers would know, the world is painfully not ours. And we would have to make do, for now, in our small communities, in plays and films, in our fantasies.

Timothy goes on to spray the whole town with the love-juice—first to the jocks and school administrators as revenge, then to the rest of the town as a lesson. Almost everyone becomes queer overnight. Jocks fall for each other, wives chase after other wives, and the newly-queer town becomes a conservative Christian parent’s nightmare. In a rather pointed sequence, Gustafson parallels the small town’s anti-queer hysteria with the American social landscape’s homophobia in general. A TV reporter tells of how the town mayor “unconstitutionally” approves gay marriage (which leads to the town being swamped with three states’ worth of gay couples all wishing to be married), reminiscent of the controversial Proposition 8 battle in California.

Timothy’s gesture, however subversive, fails. And though he and Jonathon flee to the depths of the forest to revel in their love, they are found and shaken back to reality by the rest of the characters. It is here that the film reaches its climax.

“The will of man is by your reason sway’d with such force and blessed power,” the characters sing in chorus. Timothy learns that one cannot impose a queer perspective on anyone that easily. Genuine acceptance is achieved not with any potion, but with a tireless persuasion to extend and deepen our collective ideological horizons until, as the chorus says, “with all goodwill, with all my heart, all things shall be peace.”

This lesson is coupled with an even tougher realization: that for Timothy and many other homosexuals, personal happiness will be repeatedly sidetracked—not because it is wrong, but because their social contexts are unripe for this kind of happiness. In the meantime, love and joy will be as elusive as a field of purple flowers in a midsummer evening.

The tragedy of the happy spectacle is that even in Timothy’s queer fantasy, loves are condemned, hearts are broken, and he still has to let go of his beloved. “The course of true love never runs smooth,” says all the queer-dazed townspeople. And it is true. The love that Timothy finds in his fantasy is the difficult and real kind, not the happily-ever-after of the more commonplace heterocentric fairy tale. We fairies that do run/ From the presence of the sun/ We follow darkness like a dream…

In the end, Timothy is lauded for his excellent performance as Puck (why is it that a gay man has to make up for his sexuality with talent?), and backstage, we see that Jonathon’s feelings for him remain unchanged. The spectacle ends with happiness.

Likewise, the happiness ends with the spectacle. Unlike the filmic Timothy, the truth is that not all homosexuals will get their share of Jonathon, love and acceptance.

John Berger, writing about mass demonstrations, describes them as “rehearsals for revolution,” a show of premature political power which, with persistence, will hopefully grow into a commanding movement. Were the World Mine, then, is a cinematic mass demonstration of sorts. Timothy succeeds in changing his townspeople’s backward gender politics. “Who’s next?” Mrs Tebbit asks the viewer at the end of the film, an unequivocal challenge to the audience to do the same. Perhaps with our solidarity and perseverance, the musical dream would, someday, come true. #

Are queers welcome in "America the Beautiful"?

Are queers welcome in "America the Beautiful"?

Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Foreign films, Full length films. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

A Subjective Unfairness Mum’s the Word

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. the bakla review  |  13 Oct 2009 (Tue) at 10:32 pm

    a must-see, then.

  • 2. Edgar Allan Paule  |  14 Oct 2009 (Wed) at 6:36 pm

    yes, indeed!

  • 3. AD  |  08 Nov 2009 (Sun) at 2:48 am

    your view of the film seems to blend with your insightful criticism, impressionistic indeed. i am closing a research for my last sem’s sexuality subject on queer film theory, is this film helpful?

  • 4. AD  |  08 Nov 2009 (Sun) at 2:52 am

    in addition to my previous comment, your idea of the use of purple color to elicit homosexual tones/moods reminds me of Bill Condon in his two film Gods and Monsters and Kinsey because he uses color in the same fashion, same also with Todd Haynes Far from Heaven. Is my observation correct or in line to your idea? I am referring to your caption of the picture on top of your post.

  • 5. Edgar Allan Paule  |  08 Nov 2009 (Sun) at 11:39 pm

    Thanks, AD. Well, purple is widely recognized as a gay color, so it’s not really something unique and/or groundbreaking or subtle.

    Re queer theory, I’m not sure. What about queer theory are you researching on exactly?

  • 6. AD  |  09 Nov 2009 (Mon) at 7:52 am

    Well, I am constructing a stylistic study on the relationship between film techniques and homosexual identification in relation to the narratives of films. I have to analyze some ten foreign films and some ten local films, though i think these numbers are not representative of the whole population of new queer cinema (1990 – onwards). You might google some facts about the NEW QUEER CINEMA, if you are interested.

  • 7. Edgar Allan Paule  |  09 Nov 2009 (Mon) at 10:49 am

    In criticism (and in life in general) quality outweighs quantity. No article can be ‘representative’ of new queer cinema anyway. Perhaps it would do you better to analyze in detail just a few films, rather than attempting to gloss over a lot, which may come out superficial.

    If you’re into discussing homosexual identification, you need not limit yourself to “queer cinema.” You might also be interested in Jennie Livingston’s “Paris is Burning” (1990), as well as Laura Mulvey’s seminal essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975).

    If you would peruse the films I’ve reviewed so far, you can probably deduce that I’m very interested in recent queer cinema. I’m not sure if 1990s films still qualify for “new.”

    Perhaps, if you’re researching on new queer cinema, it would be more helpful to look at The Bakla Review‘s updates on geniuinely new, undeniably queer cinema.

  • 8. AD  |  11 Nov 2009 (Wed) at 5:53 am

    Haha the ‘newness’ of the NEW Queer cinema is not the big issue, but hey, we can argue it that way. Historically, they started it all. They seem to have brought everything ‘out’ in mainstream society. The Gay and Lesbian Movement (early 1980s to 1990s) on film started when Vito Russo published his ‘magnum opus’, the Celluloid Closet, an intense analysis on repressed homosexuality on the history of Hollywood cinema in 1981. Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” (1975) is an article that leans more to the identification of women than in homosexuals, but is also integral to the shaping of the succeeding studies on gender in cinema.

    The Bakla Review provides my ultimate watchlist for current local titles for gay films.

    and finally, my reason for analyzing a lot of films is that I am using an approach developed by david bordwell in analyzing ‘periods’ in cinema. It is called HISTORICAL POETICS approach. it’s like sampling in statistics. Of course, i can’t watch every gay film that came out from 1990s to today, it would be a very tedious process. What bordwell recommended is a random sampling method, which requires from a population of 1000 or so films, you randomly choose (using computer program or whatsoever) a bunch let us say 50 to 100 titles of films. from there you start your analysis. David Bordwell applied it in his research on Classical Hollywood cinema which i totally admire because he made such a comprehensive view of Classical Hollywood cinema (1910s to 1960), he identified it all. The aesthetics, the film production system, the governing narratives, so cool! (feeling geeky!)

    I am willing to undergo the same ‘methodology’ as what Bordwell did, because I admire his works, his theory, his vision of cinema (haha!). he is online, you can add to your links (http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/) his blog.

    For the love of cinema! hehe

  • 9. AD  |  11 Nov 2009 (Wed) at 5:55 am

    F*ck! I hate that UP lib doesn’t have a copy of Vito Russo’s Celluloid Closet, I have been book hunting since last sem for this one.

  • 10. Edgar Allan Paule  |  11 Nov 2009 (Wed) at 11:53 am

    Hahaha, I’m aware of David Bordwell and his blog. I just want my blogroll to focus on Filipino blogs. After all, I think Bordwell gets tons of traffic on his own, and I doubt that my blog would really give him new traffic.

    About newness, well, that was exactly my point. The “new queer cinema” was very influential indeed, so I’d personally be more interested to see how that reflects in our contemporary works. History, after all, is a continuous process.

    I have a copy of the Celluloid Closet book :) I found mine at a booksale somewhere, and I’ve seen copies of it again in other booksales–Just keep your eyes peeled! I think UPFI has a copy of the documentary. It’s very good. You can also find it on, um, torrent. Hahaha!

    About Mulvey, yes of course it’s about women, but if you’re going to discuss identification and gender, I’m sure you can glean much from her article (and her afterthoughts on it) and apply it from a homosexual point of view.

    I’m not that big a fan of the quantitative approach, but it’s your research, so it’s your call. Good luck!

  • 11. AD  |  12 Nov 2009 (Thu) at 12:17 am

    Celluloid closet??? wow! paphotocopy! weee! could i actually do that? not that you don’t mind, or not. ;-)

  • 12. Edgar Allan Paule  |  12 Nov 2009 (Thu) at 12:35 am

    Masisira yung libro! :) Hanap ka sa Booksale!

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