My Beautiful Laundrette

My Beautiful Laundrette

Nothing has changed.

The white supremacist power structures of the West still exclude immigrants, and the patriarchal structures still seek to make servants of women and pariahs of queer people. They intertwine (interchangeably) with capitalism to economically reinforce marginalization, and the consequences of this playout, over and over, costing people's lives, costing people's livelihoods, costing people's souls. Finding peace within that comes in small doses but at great sacrifice.

It feels as if the film focuses too much on Johnny toward the end, but that might be a balancing problem in that there are five other stories playing out around him. Everyone in this is struggling for their own freedom, from Omar to Rachel. Probably even Moose, though his part in this is as a voice of the Boogeyman, the cultural evil that pervades beneath the shiny surface. What the film shows is that their paths to freedom are related to power, and power is defined in narrow ways, all relating back to the white supremacist patriarchal capitalist structures of Thatcher's Britain (or modern Britain, or industrial Britain, or Obama's America, or...). It's only by giving up that power that anyone ever breaks free, that anyone is ever able to be themselves, be happy, be content. It's not merely anti-materialist; it goes beyond that.

It's all there on the surface in this film. Hussein speaks truths that few listen to. Tania's struggle, Johnny's struggle, Omar's struggle, these are all plainly depicted. It's not that the film lacks subtlety; it's that the film is made with a clarity of purpose. What it has is sublimity; how can urban grime and cheezy mom-and-pop shop aesthetics translate into such beauty? It's the lighting, the cold greys, the lingering eye on the bodies engaged in affection not lust, the flickering lights from the nearby trains (a traditional sign of poor quarters), the cocaine chic of the rich, the heroin grunge of the poor, the signs of impotence in the infirm and shackles around the powerful. It's just that none of this is obscured; none of this is subtext. (Best shot in the movie is the first of the big neon "powders" sign, and how Frears and his crew make sure to wait til all the letters are lit up before cutting to the next scene.)

Perhaps the most telling moment is when Nasser laments to Hussein that their homeland has been "sodomized by religion" (an offensive depiction in and of itself). The equation in the West of Islam with patriarchy is belied here by Nasser's behavior as a (godless? or just slightly less god?) capitalist. Away from the religion-dominated Pakistan in the world of Thatcher's Britain, he still carries the sexist attitudes that make Tania into his servant and Rachel into his mistress. It's not Islam that fuels his behavior, he makes clear. Patriarchy infects religions of all kinds, cultures of all kinds, not the other way around. Nasser's lament has nothing to do with the Western idea of Islam's flaws. The film leaves this... not subtextual, but not as bluntly spoken. Hussein's longing to be home is rooted in the same need we all have, and in his socialist heart, which longs to bring change wherever her is. Moments like these pervade the film, ideas encompassed by characters.

Oh, and the film is funny, too.

Pride month: 28/20

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