Yesterday, I watched J. Edgar at a downtown multiplex. The performances were incredible, the casting superb, the direction Clint Eastwood, which in itself should tell you how amazing the movie was. It was the story of one of the most powerful characters in the American arena, told through one of the most powerful actors of our time.
And yet, it left a bad taste in my mouth, thanks to an audience which seemed to have the collective emotional maturity of an eleven-year-old.
When Hoover and Tolson get into a fist-fight that ends in a kiss, there were titters in the audience. When an anguished Tolson leaves the room, leaving behind an emotionally charged Hoover who professes his love too late, there were giggles. What was one of the most touching scenes I’ve seen in a movie, these imbeciles turned into a farce.
No, I get it, there are people out there whose sense of propriety is so fragile that it crumbles at the sight of two grown men kissing. I personally have felt uneasy at a similar scene – the first time I saw a gay kiss on TV was in the remarkably dark comedy Six Feet Under. I remember being distinctly uncomfortable and reaching for the remote. In hindsight though, it might have been the nature of the kiss, the way it was shot, rather than the sexual orientation of the participants that put me off. But then, the same can be said of scores of terribly orchestrated kisses in Hindi movies of recent times or indeed, Hollywood movies down the ages.
It takes getting used to, I’ll grant you that. But on what basis does it warrant giggles for chrissake? And let’s not pretend it’s a conservative-ness issue. There is a disturbing number of Indians out there who watch Emotional Atyachar, so don’t tell me that after a hard day of moral policing, we go home and treat ourselves to an ethical debate.
And I’m certainly not open to flimsy excuses when it comes to J. Edgar. The way the whole homosexuality issue is handled in the movie is exemplary. There is so much tenderness, such a deft portrayal of love and desire and the raging frustration of being unable to express either in a society that would simply not allow it – if this wasn’t a movie about the bigger picture, it had all the elements of being a truly well-told love story. So much so that towards the end, when Hoover and Tolson share a tender moment, I found myself putting my head on Rook’s shoulder. That, if anything, is a sign that some of us have come of age, when it comes to watching romances both homo- and heterosexual.
Now if only the rest of that damn audience would catch up.