Holding the Man

Holding the Man ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Movies are meant to prod us in our sensitive areas. It's a part of what makes cinema a worthy medium. I'm certain that Holding the Man will come as a gut-punch to many gay men, as it did me. Based on Timothy Conigrave's 1995 autobiographical novel, it traces the relationship of two university students who fall in love amidst the socially turbulent seventies and through to the AIDS crisis that erupted in the eighties. It's a romantic drama punctuated by terrific performances and a lucid screenplay. Trendy politics notwithstanding, the film uses flash backs/forwards to remain subjective and personal. There are no montages to capture the social climate, no sobering statistics and no emphasis on anything too forensic or analytical. It never asks you to see Tim or John as 'one of a million men', but by the time both start to get sick, the thought might occur to you.

It would be easy to say that this movie could've been about a man and a woman, one of whom has cancer, and argue that it would've been just as effective, that it just so happens the two characters are men. Certainly it's better than the influx of odiously sentimental slush Hollywood has been releasing that fit this mould. Holding the Man does occasionally turn gooey, but most of the time the emotion comes out of the appealing performances. But the gay subtext can't be as easily dismissed as that. The prejudices and cruel nature of HIV transmission are intrinsically linked to the story. The muddy waters complicate each character's view of the other and influences their behaviour. The first conflict, which involves the school and then John's family, is about liberation. The second conflict, which involves the virus, is about acceptance and, ultimately, loss. It isn't just a gay-themed movie. It is particular to a community. But it's also a human story about how we (as in all of us) react to prejudice, guilt and grief.

Ryan Corr is green-eyed and sure-footed as the young Tim, but after a few years and some curveballs he grows more introspective and alert to life's fundamental sadness. Corr himself has the sharp, clear features of an athletic face and a lean physique. He plays the character as gay, but there are no tacked-on mannerisms or 'actory' tricks employed to convince us. Perhaps this movie will pave his way to Hollywood - he's easily as charismatic an actor as Ryan Gosling.

Craig Stott as John is a gentler, less assuming presence. His upbringing in a painfully conservative home has a lasting effect on his perspective. Of the two men John loses out more often than Tim. Because the film is from Tim's perspective, and because Tim loves John permanently and at once, John becomes the film's muse. What strikes us about John is the absence of a cruel streak. Stott has handsome, sharp features offset by warm eyes which peer out unobtrusively behind dark lashes. He becomes the film's anchor, the constant upon which Tim clutches and rails against, and (having only just walked out of the cinema) he is the one that haunts us after the movie has finished.

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