Friday, 16 April 2010

Light 2x08 - (Legend of the Seeker)

This week on Legend of the Seeker; Queen Melosa shows up and tells Richard about his powerful magic before whisking him away to Hogwarts. Meanwhile Zedd's dead baby, Zedd's dead. And Cara and Kahlan spend forty minutes setting the celluloid ablaze even though they don't actually have time to make a fire.

Lets begin by stating the obvious, Kahlan is wearing Cara’s colours. Perhaps the wardrobe people just wanted to give Kahlan a new hot outfit so she could stand toe-to-toe with the more revealing and sexualized uniform of Cara. Doesn’t really matter how or why it came to be, what it does is work as a signifier of Kahlan and Cara’s "union". Kahlan’s new dress imitates the dark crimson of Cara’s Mord’Sith leathers while at the same time being laced with the dark forest green that has become a trademark of Kahlan herself. Wearing someone’s colour is a simple yet extremely symbolic way of pledging your allegiance and showing your support and love. This would be Kahlan's subtle way of showing her complete acceptance, and dare I say devotion to Cara.

[Cara rubbing off on Kahlan]

But back to the actual plot. In short, Zedd is kidnapped by Denna, and Richard’s got magical migraines, which can only be cured by Amazon Ninja Nuns and their Texas sized throwing stars (sometimes I really do love this show). One thing leads to another and Richard is forced to leave Kahlan to explore his wizardy skills (leaving Kahlan time to explore her sexuality). Cara who’s sworn to protect Richard, and who clearly does not trust herself to be alone with the Confessor, insists she go with him. Kahlan however assures Richard that she and Cara will find Zedd on their own. Richard takes Kahlan’s side and tells Cara to protect Kahlan as if she was him. Cara pauses for a beat before adding; “I think it’s good you’re leaving. You’ll only slow us down”. At which a brief, but wide smile spreads across Kahlan’s lips, once again looking a whole lot like true affection. Perhaps Cara's line is meant and does play as a joke, but there is an undeniable and subtextual truth to it. Richard does slow down the subtext, not by much, but three is after all a crowd.

We are then dealt one of those hitting-you-over-the head-with-symbolism kinda scenes where Kahlan is shown standing between two roads.

[Not much of a choice is it?!]

On the one side we have Richard walking away alongside the Ninja Nuns and on the other side we see Cara standing between two horses, one light as day, one dark as night (I am such a sucker for any yin/yang imagery). And while Cara gently strokes Kahlan’s horse, Kahlan gives one final look at Richard before joining the Mord’Sith. Symbolism doesn’t get much more explicit than that. Though I liked the nice touch of having Cara care for Kahlan’s animal in there.

Then there’s the fighting.

Every time I watch the scene I seem to zone out and all that is left once it is over is; “oh so pretty”. Which obviously is the honest truth, but not very descriptive. So here’s me doing my best to move beyond the pretty; The fight in itself is beautifully choreographed and played out. It is smooth and it is powerful. But what makes it so brilliant and much more than just a fight scene is the complete awareness these two characters show each other. Wordlessly they stay in-sync and cover each other's backs. Watching them you don’t see two different individuals fight, you see one unit fight. And that is for obvious reason incredibly satisfying from a subtextual point of view.

Ah, the subporn. What can I say, it happens. There is moaning. There is phallic objects. There is ambiguous dialogue. It is love in disguise. You need to watch it.

And on a slight sidenote, but I recently read a painfully tragic story called Denial, and the dialogue going along with the subporn reminded me a lot of that story. Denial is a story about a love that shouldn't be, about cheating and about passion. Without spoiling too much, the two main characters of that story tries to burn out the passion they have for each other. They give in and let it "burn" in the hopes that it will finally lose its power that way. Like I mentioned the dialogue to this scene is very similar to that reasoning, granted in this they are (supposed to be) talking about the wound on Kahlan's thigh, but it is ridiculously easy to read between and behind the current context. Lets just look at some of the things they say.

CARA: I’ve made a promise to Richard..."It’s" infected. We need to burn the "wound" closed.
KAHLAN: We don’t have time to "make a fire".
CARA: We don’t need "fire".
KAHLAN: I’ve been struck by an "Agiel" before.
CARA: Not like this.
KAHLAN: Do it!

It really isn't much of a stretch (or well a little bit of one, but stretching life is what makes it so interesting) reading this scene as an attempt to ease and vent some of the frustration and attraction that's been building since Marked. When the faun cat's away, the mice will pain-play - old jungle saying.

The meaning aside, the truly beautiful aspect of this scene is the eye-contact, it’s what pushes it over the edge of just being a scene of plot-furthering to being exclusively subtextual porn. Even if the writers didn’t know what they were doing when putting it on page, the director and actresses sure as hell knew exactly what they were doing putting it on screen. The look on Cara’s face shows as much pleasure, if not more, than during Broken when she boinked random tavern dude. And even though the scene is centred around pain, when you see the kind of look they share and how they almost appear to be urging each other on through their eyes…

Okay, I should stop. But before we continue lets clear our mental palates of the lingering arousal. Turn your thoughts to Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day and watch this video. Once again captain of your own bodily responses?

Then lets move on.

Now we've come to what might actually be my favourite scene of the episode. After a morning of travelling the blonde tells Kahlan, who's still clearly in pain, to rest. The Confessor refuses to admit to exactly how much pain she is in and in turn Cara quickly flexes and tries a different approach. She tells Kahlan that she herself needs to rest. With an amused look on her face Kahlan calls the bluff.

The scene continues as Kahlan is distracted by a peculiar cloud that raises her suspicions. She shares her hope with Cara and tells the blonde that she believes Zedd to be alive and what they are seeing is a tracer-cloud. Cara disagrees and the bantering turns into a small argument. An argument that I can't really describe why or how, but does indeed remind me of a lover's quarrel. I think it might be the slight disappointment in their interactions though. They feel almost disappointed in having such differing views, a disappointment in not being able to share a world view. A disappointment in the gap between them. They're not arguing because they are angry at each other, they're arguing because they want to protect each other, in their own ways (i.e. Cara wanting to teach Kahlan emotional strength and Kahlan needing Cara to believe in hope).

The entire scene is one smörgåsbord of deliciously familiar banter between the two. They argue and you can see frustration in both their eyes and body language, yet there is something else there. It is frustration tempered with affection. Even though they drive each other to the brink and have problems communicating there is no ill-will or anger in their interactions. Merely a frustration born out of a need to understand and care for each other. The way Cara also turned the tables in the beginning of the scene and claimed she was the one in need of a rest was another one of those moments that show how much they do care. Also interesting to see Cara, the ultimate badass with an extremely warped sense of emotions and fear of weaknesses, fake vulnerability just to save Kahlan from more pain.

Plus the dialogue from their argument should also be noted, because it's things like this that are the fundamental building blocks of subtext; i.e. "you're not seeing what's right in front of you" and "you need to be strong enough to accept the truth".

The reason I love the scene so much is because of their relaxed yet vibrant and vibrating chemistry. They feel more like old lovers than new friends. And that there makes very little sense in relation to the story, but is damn beautiful nevertheless.

Damn beautiful.

ps. What's with the surplus of sisterhoods in this verse? And when will we get to see the Brotherhood of the Almighty Billy Goat?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Desecrated 2x16 - (Legend of the Seeker)

The 2010 Femslash Award for excellence in Sapphic Subtextual Storytelling goes to Legend of the Seeker episode 2.16 Desecrated. For their advancement in the art of having their cake while eating it.

I’m a little speechless after having watched Desecrated. The reason for the speechlessness is rooted in gratuitous exploitation (is there any other kind of exploitation?) of homoeroticism. Because instead of using a plot that could have further established the two female leads as friends, given them a solid ground to stand on in their newfound friendship, we are treated to straight up graphic subtext.

As I watched the promos for the episode I thought that the writers would finally sit these two down and have them deal with their problems and thereby defuse some of the extreme tension that’s been building between them, while possibly handing us a few cute and subtexty scenes. That was not the case. Instead we were treated to a series of short scenes that all continued to fuel the sexual tension between them, and continued to build on the existing pain is pleasure and fighting is sex principle. But I’m jumping the gun, lets go back to the start and have a look at it step by step.

It all began with a celebration of Richard’s birthday. We are handed some cutesy scenes between Richard and Kahlan where they smooch and dance and play out the happy couple role rather adorably. Meanwhile Cara intently watches from the sidelines and refuses to take part of the festivities.

As a local Conjurer performs his tricks our four main characters all take a front row seat and look on with various levels of excitement. Take a close look at their body language, Kahlan is turned towards and has her attention on Richard, but at the same time her arm is glued to Cara’s side (“any time you see two women standing very close to each other you immediately assume…lesbian” – Leslie Knope & her entourage are <3. But I’m digressing.). And the “it’s crowded” excuse just won’t work when you see how much room there is between Zedd and Cara. Sure you can call it cinematic prophecy, or foreshadowing of what to come plotwise, but you can also call it subconscious affection or Sapphic subtext.

Cara is then picked by the Conjurer to take part of his trick. Her immediate response is a look of dissent followed by a short and precise, “I don’t think so”. But after a pointed look and a few choice words from Kahlan, Cara agrees and makes her way onto the stage (it's called pussy-whipped and it exists even in magical worlds of fantasy.).

And what a trick it is. Kahlan and Cara are transferred to the Tomb of All-Consuming Sexual Frustration where they learn that they have 24 hours of air left and unless Richard finds a way to save them, they will be drawing their final breathes inside those four walls.


While Richard gets to fight corruption and a mummy, the Tensionable Twosome gets to spend some quality time together. But instead of opening up to each other or having a conversation dealing with their problematic past (Cara killing Dennee for example) we are treated to scene upon scene of upped sexual tension.

To begin with Kahlan realizes the torches lining the upper walls of the tomb are eating away their oxygen. So the two tries to extinguish the flames. Naturally Kahlan takes off her jacket, stands on Cara’s shoulders and waves the cloth around till she is glistening with sweat and has Cara grunting from the strain. Kahlan’s flayling about finally has her falling to the ground.

Cara has her back to the wall, watching Kahlan trying to get her breath back, with a look on her face that can best be described as the lovechild of fear and flushed. In an almost staccato rhythm she then goes about telling Kahlan that the flames are using less air than they are when trying to snuff them out.

My jaw literally dropped the first time I watch this scene, I mean are we allowed to be this exploitative on television? Kahlan on the ground, sweating, showing off a fair section of thigh and breathing heavily as Cara looms over her with desperate self-restraint etched into both her face and tone. Remember that thing I said about subporn, well so does TPTB, as a matter of fact they appear to be working towards the perfectioning of it. Anyhow the scene cuts off as Kahlan does some more heavy breathing while staring intently into Cara’s eyes (!).

Next time we return to the tomb the two are standing side by side looking up, commenting on how the air is growing thinner. Kahlan then turns to Cara and tells her to kill her. The Confessor continues arguing her point, telling Cara that she can bring her back with the Breath of Life (second time she’s asked for the Breath of Life from the Mord’Sith) once Richard finds them. Cara will have none of that and turns the tables offering her life for Kahlan’s. Once again the scene is cut short and we’re not allowed to see Kahlan’s reaction to Cara’s comment, “Better one of us than both of us”.

As we then are allowed to return they are now sitting down, seemingly relaxing. Tentatively Cara then begins to tell Kahlan how much she means to her. And even though she’s been trained to hate all Confessors, but for some reason she doesn't hate Kahlan.

CARA: I don’t want to die without you knowing….that I consider you to be…my friend.
KAHLAN: I think of you as a friend too.

And this exchange reminded me so much of the ending of the Xena: Warrior Princess episode Deja Vu All Over Again. Somehow I've got a feeling that was exactly what I was supposed to be reminded of as well.

Kahlan then wraps Cara up in an awkward hug. At first Cara is limp in Kahlan’s arms, but slowly pulls the brunette closer and closes her eyes (and allows herself to dream?) for a moment. It should also be noted that there is probably good reason behind Cara's awkwardness when it comes to hugging. It is quite possible this is one of the few hugs she's ever been involved with during her adult years. The Mord'Siths were not famous for the huggability or their touchy-feelyness. It really wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that the number of hugs (born out of affection) Cara has received could be counted on one hand. Something that even further adds to the importance of this scene and what's to come.

As they pull apart Cara tells Kahlan she will make sure Richard has enough time to find them and dives for Kahlan’s dagger in an attempt to take her own life. Kahlan desperately pounces on the blonde intent on not letting her kill herself. What ensues is…well fight!sex really. We are treated to a fight sequence that has the two in a strangely carnal dance and it rather quickly feels like both of them forget the reason they are fighting. It is an extremely difficult scene to describe, because violence is not affection, there are far too many people who suffer because they make that mistake, yet when you watch this scene…these two don’t hate each other, they’re friends. They clearly care for one another; they care to the extent where they both are willing to risk their lives for the well-being of the other. And even though they are physically hurting each other during this fight scene all you can feel is passion. It’s a quickly mounting passion that makes your breathing irregular and quicker, makes your nose tingle and your blood hotter.

Between all the grunting, open handed slapping and grappling you suddenly become sexually frustrated on the behalf of these two characters. Because in a world and verse where these two could never have each other, fight!sex becomes the closest substitute for more conventional forms of intimacy. And as the two then collapse, once again breathing heavily due to the strenuous activities and lack of oxygen, you can’t help feeling like a hardcore voyeur. But as they hold hands while preparing for death you cannot look away no matter how much of a perv it makes you feel like, because this- this is so damn complex, tragic and beautiful it has you completely under its spell and you can’t tear your eyes away for a moment. Instead you rewind and watch it all over again, eyes riveted on what is, but can never be.

As always the hero saves the day and this time also saves the two temporary damsels in distress. And the final scene of the episode has a small exchange between Kahlan and Cara where the Confessor tells the blonde that her life is extremely important. Which is followed by the following exchange;

CARA: About what I said back in the tomb.
KAHLAN: Yeah, it really meant a lot to me.
CARA: Forget I said it. I was delirious from the lack of air.

So here we are, back at square one, only the tension having managed to grow tenfold and suddenly you find yourself wondering what else could have been said in that tomb. What really happened between the few and way too short scenes we got to witness? And what exactly did Cara refer to in her final words?

And now I'm gonna go find a cold shower and hope this vicarious and fictional frustration can be washed away.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Kahlan/Cara Manifesto [Legend of the Seeker]

Disclaimer: The following post will include adult language, fictional lesbians, subtextual porn and LOTS spoilers up to episode 2x08. Proceed at own risk.

Introducing the Madonna & the Whore
Legend of the Seeker is based on a series of books by Terry Goodkind. And without spoiling too much, Kahlan and Richard, the two main characters of the show are a canon couple both on the show and in the books. In theory there is no room for any doubt. There are problems along the couple’s way, big problems and obstacles to be overcome, yet they are the definition of a canon pairing. So how come the femslash is so luminescent that it outshines the canon? Lets move towards an answer to that question by introducing the two main players.

Kahlan the Mother Confessor & Cara the Mord'Sith

On the one hand we have Kahlan, the Mother Confessor. A magical/mystical woman with the powers of extracting the truth out of anyone, or enslaving them through a single touch. It’s not a Rogue kinda deal where all skin contact is a no-go, no this is a touch with intent only kinda deal. In many aspects she is the spiritual, virginal and pristine representation of traditional femininity. Yet beneath the surface of her goodness lures a darkness, a power that threatens to tear down her self-discipline and create a dark, but powerful queen of a tyrant. That’s the beauty of her character, in one scene you feel her calm and can see the goodness in her eyes. The next scene you can see the barely controlled raged in those beautiful eyes of hers. Surprisingly attractive actually.

On the other hand we have Cara, a former Mord'Sith currently working as the Seeker’s protector. She comes from a leather-clad sisterhood specializing in homoeroticism and pain. The Whore next to Kahlan’s Madonna. She is portrayed as the carnal woman who lacks inhibitors when it comes to both sexuality and the infliction of pain and death. The blonde femme fatale who will lure you to her bed and strangle you with her thighs after having spent numerous hours giving you an extensive BDSM lesson with her magical dildo Agiel. Yet there is a caring nature to her, a loyalty and goodness slowly peaking through and gradually growing.

They are part of two sisterhoods that are mortal and historical enemies. And to make matters worse Cara was the one who executed Kahlan’s blood sister. However the mystery that is life has these two women join ranks and battle for the safety of the Seeker. Yeah, I know from a feminist perspective it is a very ugly picture where these two stereotypes of overt and fierce femininity are “tamed” by the patriarch in the form of Richard Cypher, the hero who wields his Sword of Truth (this show is big with the phallic symbolism, more on that later). But if we disregard the problematic aspects of the show and simply watch it out of queer perspective it becomes extremely entertaining.

As I mentioned Cara comes onto the show as an enemy of the main characters. There is great mistrust on Kahlan’s part and she even falls into a vengeful rage where she is forced to be restrained in order to not kill Cara with her own two hands. This intense hatred in itself is more electric and tense than the interactions of the canon-couple that has had a full season to develop. And even during the early times of their relationship they do not appear to be able to keep their hands or eyes off of each other.

Then something happens to Kahlan and Cara's relationship. The two grown closer, they are forced to become allies and slowly the hatred is stripped away, yet somehow the passion never leaves. The passion shrouds them and stays with them like a guardian angel making you wonder whether or not it was ever truly born out of hatred. No, because when you start looking at the cracks (and no that’s not a metaphor for boobgling) you see the story, the true story that is hidden behind the, still rather oppressive, heteronorm.

Impossible Love
From the very first meeting Cara shows a great interest in Kahlan and her reactions. And it doesn't take long for her to needle her way under Kahlan's skin, and the way she repeatedly looks at the Confessor can best be described as hungry. Kahlan on the other hand keeps her distance, or tries to, yet there seems to be this invisible attraction that draws her to the blonde's side. Cara represents everything Kahlan is not, and everything Kahlan can never have. There are a lot of hungry looks of unadultured passion passing between them.

Cara and Kahlan’s story is one of forbidden love, on so many levels. Both in the sense that it can and will never happen, because it would be destroying the original material the show is based on. But if you remove reality and look at it from the inside of the verse, it is just as forbidden and impossible. Not only does Kahlan desperately need to take a mate (as in copulating and breeding) in order to make sure her magical powers and the line of Confessors doesn’t die with her. To make matters even more complex, the Confessing (the act of intently touching that I mentioned in the introduction) of a Mord'Sith automatically leads to their death. An extremely painful and anguishing death. Ah-ah, it doesn’t stop there, but if a Confessor is to be intimate with someone they love their self-restraint would be removed and their intimate touch would automatically lead to a Confession of their partner. So you see, these two are fucked. Not just a little fucked, but extremely fucked. The kind of fucked where Romeo and Juliet had nothing on them. In short, so fucked they'll never fuck.

"For someone to look into our eyes and see something worth dying for."

These two star-crossed lovers are forever denied romance and intimacy, both by convention and by the physics of their universe. Sharing an intimate touch would literally mean the death of Cara. But that will in no way diminish the entertainment value or depth of the subtext, rather the opposite. Like how there is a thin line between love and hatred, there is an equally frail thread separating pain from pleasure. And when love is denied and when intimacy and pleasure cannot be found in the more conventional ways, well there’s always an alternative. The administring and enduring of pain become their only way of exchaging intimacies and to let their repressed love climax. Something that can be seen on numerous occasions throughout the show in scenes that can best be described as subtextual porn (with dildos, moaning and climax/release included).

This is definitely not the most obvious case of lesbian subtext I’ve come across and it does exist alongside overt heterosexual canon, but I’ve never seen such passion make its way into the subtext before. And I have definitely never seen subtextual porn before.

So close yet never together.

I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far, how about you? What are your favourite moments of subtext between the two?

Sunday, 9 August 2009

The Balance 1x18 - (Justice League Unlimited)


Part of me doesn’t want to do this, because to me Wonder Woman has always been an almost asexual superhero. She doesn’t fit into the standards of human behaviour and is almost more of a representation of Mother Nature than humanity. However as the new and deliciously gay Batwoman is being published I decided to queer up some existing DC characters. This review will take a closer look at Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl in the Justice League Unlimited episode The Balance.


Wonder Woman/Diana

The episode starts off with Wally (Flash) and Diana enjoying a canteen dinner only to be interrupted by Shayera who also was supposed to be having dinner with Wally. As soon as the two women see each other the sparks starts flying and Shayera immediate turns to leave, only to be intercepted by Wally and persuaded to stay. Wally is clearly playing the matchmaker under the disguise of being an incorrigible flirt. He pushes them together, wanting them to get over their past disagreements in order to become friends again. Sparks keep flying between the two women throughout the dinner, but they do stay.

Then we’re introduced to the danger of this week and due to an evil evil man (Felix Faust) having upset the natural order of things and opened up the gates to Tartarus all those with magical powers are currently suffering great torment. The Martian Manhunter acknowledges that, “The gates of Tartarus swings both ways” as he gives Diana a most penetrating gaze. It is now up to Wonder Woman to restore balance into the verse.

Taking the mission upon herself (after the encouragement of the Olympians) Diana sneaks into Shayera’s apartment intent on “borrowing” her mace which has the power to disrupt magic. Shayera catches her in the act and we get another sparkling encounter. The two bicker and their conversation ends on a gorgeously subtextual note as Hawkgirl states, “You want the mace, you get me too”. At which we are offered a most intense zoom in of Diana’s conflicted (as much as any character on this show can manage to look conflicted or show any kind of subtleties on their) face.

The two (metaphorically) suit up and get going. First stop is the Amazons and Hippolyta who are at the gate of Tartarus trying to keep the evil forces at bay. As Hippolyta sees Diana she verbally attacks her daughter for having broken her banishment from the land of the Amazons. Shayera can’t just stand by and take it, but automatically stands up to the queen of the Amazons speaking in Diana’s favour. Hippolyta changes her mind and finally gives Diana her blessing and help by endowing Wonder Woman’s armour and weaponry with their full powers. As Wonder Woman flies away Hippolyta holds Shira back and asks her to, “bring my daughter back to me”. Hawkgirl promises to do just that as she takes off after Diana.

Once in the fire pits of Tartarus the two once again starts bickering and disagree as to what the plan should be, and it’s not just the pits that are on fire as this little interlude takes place:

Wonder Woman: I don’t need you!
Hawkgirl: Yes you do…I can’t make this decision for you Diana, but however you want to play it I’ll back you up.

Showing that no matter the tension or the disagreements, Hawkgirl is fiercely loyal to Wonder Woman. And the matter of needing one another is in reference to their mission, but could also indicate a much larger picture. These two do need each other, even when there are sparks and bickering there is also an undeniable need.

After a minor encounter with Felix Faust the two are thrown out of Hades’ library which he has occupied. Wonder Woman lands heavily on the ground, but Hawkgirl is viciously thrown into it. Diana is the first one to get to her feet and rushes to Shayera’s side offering up some comfort and support through and outstretched hand, a hand that Shayera refuses to take. This scene is also followed by a gorgeous little subtext display.

Hawkgirl: The Princess doesn’t even sweat in the fire pits of Tartarus.
Wonder Woman: I do too sweat!
Hawkgirl: Please! You glow…I wouldn’t be surprised if you never had to-

Not only does Shayera study Diana enough to know she doesn’t sweat, but the fact that she describes her as glowing when she is engaged in physical activities is pure and unsaturated subtext. In short, Hawkgirl was totally checking out Wonder Woman.

As the final battle against evil has been won Wonder Woman approaches the unconscious Hawkgirl who slowly opens her eyes to an outstretched hand. This time Shayera accepts the offer and is pulled to her feet by Diana. Shayera keeps her eyes on their linked hands for a few seconds before pulling away and the following take place;

Hawkgirl: You’re all sweaty.
Wonder Woman: I told you.
Followed by intense eye-contact which is only interrupted as Hades makes himself known.

When Hades torments Diana by trying to make her question her paternity Shayera is there offering her support. Both physically and mentally. There is also some of that compulsory hand holding going on.

The episode then ends on potent potential as the following dialogue takes place;

Wonder Woman: What about us?
Hawkgirl: Like oil and vinegar. We go together, but we don’t mix.
They both fly off together into the horizon.

They might not be ready to put all their differences and past aside, but they do go together. And judging by Hawkgirl’s insecure body language (her arms across her chest, protecting her heart while enhancing the appearance of her bossom) there are issues to work on and miles to go, but there is no denying the compatibility.

The Balance.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs


I’m taking a break from the subtext of romantic love and this time will take a look at a far more destructive kind of subtext. The following review contains major spoilers for the entire movie that I am discussing, so don’t read if it bothers you.

This is a short little note on an otherwise funny movie, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. At first glance it is a harmless movie aimed at families, at second glance it is a somewhat disheartening look at where the queer fits into today’s society.

Sid the sloth was a most tragic metaphor/symbol for adoption and/or any couple/individual who cannot conceive the old fashioned way. The generally odd and socially frowned upon sloth takes it upon himself to care for three lost eggs after the male Mammoth makes him feel unwelcome as the Mammoths are having a baby. Wanting to find his own family the eggs represent a brilliant solution to his problems. Once he brings the unattended unborn babies with him to his friends he is immediately told off by the Mammoth male who makes a speech on how Sid does not have the right to those children or eggs. As the eggs hatch into dinosaurs they immediate form a bond with their new mother, Sid. However the Mammoth does not like the nature of the dinosaurs and once again forces Sid to “get rid” of them. At which point the birth-mother appears and takes both dinosaur babies and Sid with her to her own “land”. Despite the somewhat problematic start to their relationship Sid and the dinosaur mother actually end up showing affection towards each other as they continue to raise their children together. However his friends take it upon themselves to “save” him and bring him back to their own land. At the end of the movie Sid really does not appear to have a choice in the matter and teary-eyed has to say goodbye to his children, who clearly mirror his love and reluctance to leave, and join the rest of his friends back in their “own world”.

Sid is the most obvious example, but the rest of the gang are also representations of various “deviating” lifestyles that all come together in a pack governed by the Mammoth couple who work as the emotional and moral core of both their created family as well as the movie. It ends on a message that families are created, but they always centre around the heterosexual family. It is they who have to take the active decision to incorporate others into their “natural” family.

As the movie ended tears of laughter shimmered in my eyes and as they dried I couldn’t help wondering if the tears weren’t there for another reason than merriment. I was entertained by the movie, but at times I also am a victim of self-loathing.

The gays, dykes and random queers are allowed, they are even embraced, but only as long as they gravitate around the heterosexual couple and their moral compass. The Mammoths represent the norm, they represent the dominating powers. They absorb the various other individuals into their new family, but on their own terms. We are allowed, tolerate, but we must submit to and follow the standards of the heteronorm. We will get full rights and acceptance, but only when the Mammoths grants us them, or the day when the Mammoths are extinct.

I know I am being overly critical, but I am also tired of being so close, yet being so incredibly far.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Phantom (1996)


The Phantom – The Metaphor That Walks

Before we begin let’s have a look at The Phantom himself. A man who dresses entirely in purple spandex, is incredibly particulate about his jewelry, wears heavy eye make-up and is very good with both children and animals. Suffice to say he is not your stereotypical representation of XY. Then to up the gay-ante he lives alone in a skull shaped caved together with his close confidante and manservant (I’m thinking that’s a synonym for glamorous gay loverboy), Guran. So turning this story on its gay edge really will not be a chore or a pain, in fact it basically jumps at you.

The Phantom – a lover and a metaphor
This is the story of The Phantom (Billy Zane; Titanic, Orlando) and his lover/partner Guran who for many years have enjoyed a beautiful relationship together in the relaxed Bengallan jungle. However the legacy of the Phantom is becoming more and more of an issue as this loving same-sex relationship is unable to produce the heir Kit Walker (aka the Phantom) is in dire need of to perpetuate the legend of the Ghost Who Walks. Kit’s subconscious is actually haunting him to such an degree that he has begun to see his late father berating him for his mistakes as well as urging him to reproduce. Harsh really, sometimes not even the death of our parents will stop them from nagging and condemning our lifestyles. At this point Diana Palmer, an old College friend of Kit’s shows up and a solution to appears to take form to Kit’s problem, but more on that later.

[Two men - One cave]

Kit and Guran really is a sweet couple that gives us several scenes of gorgeous subtext. It begins in their first scene together which is of the hurt/comfort variety. The Phantom has been stabbed and Guran is cleaning the wound, unaffected by the purple-clad man’s whining, but meanwhile showing tenderness and affection in his care. Their relationship continues on this tender note as Guran also shows concern as Kit is talking to himself (or the manifestation of his dead father).

[Every-day intimacy and affection]

Early on in the movie there is also a scene in which the Phantom has just rescued Diana from her kidnappers and is bringing the Captain of the Jungle Patrol up to speed. The Captain is about to lit a match and start smoking his pipe, but is quickly interrupted by Guran who with a strained smile informs him that smoking is not allowed in the Skull Cave. After which the Phantom and Guran share a moment of lingering eye-contact and Guran gives a slightly apologetic smile that is return with an affectionate one from Kit. Clearly Guran have no problems setting the rules of the cave and neither does Kit. You are allowed to go awww.

[Guran sets the rules]

In addition to his relationship with Guran, the Phantom also works as a metaphor for the US military policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. The Captain of the Jungle Patrol is very much aware of the Phantom and his contribution to upholding the laws of the district, yet will not acknowledge the man’s presence officially. Something that is embodied in a scene where the Phantom gets into the Captain’s house through one of the windows and the two have a small business chat. Once it is time for the Phantom to leave he first moves towards the door only to be stopped by the Captain who tells him he better leave the same way he came, “he was having enough troubles pretending he didn’t exist as it were”. So it is okay for the purple hero to risk his life, but the military will not officially acknowledge him or his “lifestyle”. Incredibly topical (though just as hidden) in a movie premiering in 1996.

Diana Palmer
However it is not only Kit and Guran who likes to engage in some homosexual activities, Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 3way) sets the subtle gaydar a-pinging right from the start by showing us a sharp contrast to the accepted XX norm (by 1930s standards at least). She makes an entrance by returning from an adventure in the Yukon, with a brash attitude she jumps out of her own car and breezes into her uncle’s party, dressed in a cocky khaki suit (trousers and tie included) and a stylish beret. The first thing she is met by is her mother who insists Jimmy Wells will be thrilled to see Diana again, at which Diana gives her uncle a look of defeat only to turn her back and walk away. Jimmy is indeed pleased to see her and plants a kiss on her lips, a kiss she frowns off and shows more interest in her baloney sandwich (I think she must be a meat-er)). As the evening then progresses she is invited to her uncle’s little smoke/drink gathering in his library, where she alongside her uncle and two other big wigs (obviously older white men) discuss the problem of Xander Drax. This says a lot about her, but also her relationship to her uncle, a man who clearly accepts her for who she is and has no problem assimilating her into the “boys club”.

[Will she ever understand it's not a phase?]

Sala – and dealing with repressed emotions
As Diana takes a trip to the Bengalla jungle to research the Singh Brotherhood her plane is captured by a gang of all-female pilots lead by Sala (Catherine Zeta-Jones; Ocean's Twelve, The Mask of Zorro) who was deployed to kidnap her. The first meeting of the two women sends sparks flying. Sala is by nature an overtly sexual being and oozes sexuality all over the place. Diana shows a clear interest in the female pilot and curiosity makes her bold enough to pull off Sala’s helmet/goggles to get a better look at the brunette. Sala end up knocking Diana out and the scene that follows might not be subtext in its more traditional form, but it is nevertheless much entertainment to be had in watching Diana draped over Sala’s shoulders like a sack of potatoes as the villain dumps her at their “headquarter”.

[Love at first sight?]

The tension between the two continues and Sala goes on to comment, “Pretty, in a spoiled rich kid kinda way” and once Diana gives them lip adds with a content smile, “Feisty too”. Yet at this point it appears as if Diana is having more of an interest in Sala (judging by the interested looks of longing she keeps sending her way) than the other way around. Despite being the leader of an all female gang of pilot-criminals Sala doesn’t appear to quite “get” the same-sex attraction. Clearly she is feeling some of it towards Diana, but instead of acknowledging and accepting her feelings she takes out her insecurities and self-loathing through her promiscuous image and criminal behaviour. She’s angry at the world and herself for not accepting and is trying to get back at both.

[Tension - wii haz it]

It is first as Sala meets Diana that she begins to realize there are other possibilities. The one scene that stands out is during the latter half of the movie Sala taunts Diana by telling her Kit is probably long dead. At which Diana snaps and asks her;

Diana: Why are you so mean? Don’t you care about anything?
Sala: Like what?
Diana: You figure it out.
Diana gives her an intense look before looking away. Sala’s smile of insolence quickly fades and she looks almost haunted by Diana’s words.

Once in the Singh Brotherhood’s nest Diana is attacked by one of the pirates who first give Sala a warning/taunting look before touching Diana’s face and proclaiming, “This one’s mine”. Sala loses it and attacks him with a well-placed knee to the groin. The scene then continues and ends on Sala and Diana sharing a private moment where Sala appears to give her a butt slap and tells her, “I think us girls should stay together”. Diana looks a little shocked, but gladly agrees. It appears as if Diana truly got to her, reminded her of the possibilities available once you stop running away from your own feelings. For the rest of the film Sala is incredibly protective of Diana and tries to defend her whenever possible. Also as the twosome are about to get launched out of the Singh nest in a torpedo tube Sala protectively takes a firm hold of Diana’s hips as the enter the cramped area of the tube. Incredibly cute.

Kit and Diana – BFFs sharing more than memories?
Right from the first scene the two have together we are made aware that the Phantom aka Kit and Diana have a past. However it is not until the plot of the movie is transferred back to New York City that the extent of the relation is discovered, Kit and Diana were apparently very close friends during College, before Kit had to return to Bengalla to take up his father’s spandex. Kit is thrilled to see her again, but Diana is still feeling betrayed by his sudden unexplained disappearance and is reluctant to let him back into her life. We are never fully made aware of the true nature of their College friendship, but it does appear as if the two were BFFs who quite possibly experimented in heterosexual behaviour with one another.

From the moment Kit saw Diana again it appeared as if his thought process was kicked into gear, part of him genuinely happy to see an old friend, the other part seeing a solution to his and Guran’s child problem. What better way than to create a child together with your lesbian BFF.

However there is a small amount of jealousy involved and every time that Diana and Kit get a little too close Guran is there to make sure no one steps over the line as old memories flare. Fortunately they are both too secure in their own current sexualities for that to ever happen, the only affection they share is a chaste kiss at the end of the movie as Diana is about to leave Kit and the jungle behind and go off with Sala. Previous to this scene Kit had also explained to her about the intricacies of the Phantomic legacy and how he needed a son to continue on his work. Diana clearly understood his hidden meaning and does show an interest in Kit’s subtle suggestion of starting a rainbow family. However she is not nearly ready to take such a huge step, especially not as she has just entered a new relationship with the provocative and somewhat unpredictable Sala.

[A cautious Guran]

The Plot
On a larger scale this is a story of the Singh Brotherhood and Xander Drax (Treat Williams; Hair) who are representing the uglier sides of heteronormativity, while preaching hatred and intolerance. The three skulls of Tuganda (that the movie is all about) representing the power of information and indirectly media. It’s not a coincidence that Drax wants to buy the leading New York newspaper from Diana’s uncle, neither is the torture of the “tattling” librarian. The librarian in this case being a metaphor for gays in media, as Drax pokes his eyes out what he does is a subtle reference to crippling queer visibility through “passive” censorship. It also shows that he is threatened by this alternative way of life, by the “erotic minorities”.

To further go with this oppression angle we have the scene at the Museum of History where as two of the skulls come together radiate one blue and one red ray that together show the location of the third skull. The colours in this case, red and blue are accepted indicators of female and male and the coming together of the two is one big metaphor for heterosexuality. As Xander is wielding the power of the skulls he worships their potential and proclaims that this is a dawn of a new era aka the destruction of “abnormalities”. It’s no wonder Diana and Kit look at each other in horror, this man represents a most deadly threat towards their identities and the lives they are leading.

The climax off the movie then takes place in the Singh Brotherhood’s secret nest which is blown to smithereens as the Phantom successfully vanquishes Drax by turning the tables on him and using the power of the skulls for his own benefit - it’s a fun message from the subtexter’s point of view. It’s also a gay crusade where tolerance and love wins out. Hatred and the brotherhood of intolerance is dead, long live liberty and love.

The Summary
The movie tells the story of same-sex love and relationships. It touches on the intolerance of heteronormativity as well as dealing with some of the problems faced by homosexuals such as creating a family and dealing with your own family’s reaction to your way of life. At the same time it is a beautiful saga where love does win out and where the grotesque aspects of normality is destroyed by using “their” own tools against “them” (and yes I am biased cause I love doing it). Meanwhile it briefly touches upon the matter of visibility and uses the Phantom as a metaphor for “don’t ask, don’t tell”. But ultimately it sends a message that fighting for what you believe in is worth it, and the only way for the GLBT community to be strong is to take a stand side by side.

If for no other reason the movie is recommended for its final scene where we see Diana and Sala take off together and fly into the horizon. How many movies have you watched where the heroine leaves the hero for the bad girl at the end?! It’s worth a watch, and I’m not just saying that because the Phantom is one of my favourite comic-book heroes.

[Two women - One plane]

[In The Sun - but actually in a gay gay way]

To sum it up; “this is so gay” – old jungle saying.