Why the gay love story is the defining film genre of the 21st Century
From Call Me By Your Name to Mulholland Dr. the gay love story reigns supreme on the big screen right now. These erotic tales are redefining romance
When the BBC took a critical poll in 2016, the resulting list was topped by David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.: a film that is first and foremost a love story about two women. Tender and thrilling then bitter and obsessive, their relationship is chaotic, lopsided, and sometimes so radioactively erotic it makes the screen glow. Their romance feels real even when the film itself is dreamlike.
The first film that comes to mind, of course, is 2017’s Best Picture Oscar winner. But Moonlight is only the most high-profile example. This year alone has produced Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country, two absolute stunners. Then there was the unanimous knockout of Todd Haynes’ Carol and the more controversial but equally intense Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Not many people saw Theo and Hugo when it came out in 2016, but that’s their loss: it’s an overlooked triumph that, like 2011’s excellent Weekend, tells the story of a brief but beautiful encounter. Next month 120 Beats per Minute comes to UK cinemas, garlanded with a well-deserved Grand Prix from last year’s Cannes Film Festival. It’s a riotous account of ’90s political activism that evolves into a tale of one complex gay relationship.
You can argue that not all of these are ‘love stories’ in the simplistic Hollywood sense, but they are all definitely films about love, and they all capture what love feels like. They show what love can do, how it opens people up to the world, and they show what can happen when it’s thwarted or missed. Importantly, all of these films fizz with chemistry; all of them are at least a little bit sexy. And – most intriguingly – they all depict love with a sense of insight and power that none of their hetero contemporaries can manage.
120 Beats per Minute
What recent films about straight romances have even come close? Certainly not Terrance Malick’s rotten Song to Song, or rom-com The Big Sick. Is anyone really going to suggest that something like The Fault in Our Stars can compete with Moonlight for tenderness? Are we going to pretend that Me Before You and God’s Own Country are equivalent depictions of a man brought back to life by love?
Hey, it’s not a competition. But it is a phenomenon. There might be many reasons for it, and it has any number of implications (for queer cinema, for culture in general, etc.), but the supremacy of the gay love story is undeniable and, for the moment at least, shows no sign of abating.