The Bubble

10.22.2007

By Dale Peck

For a gay movie, the most crucial aspect of Chekovian 'correct formulation' remains the depiction of homosexual affection and desire, which still rarely makes it on-screen in its actual form; what we get instead is hard-core pornography on the one hand, chaste -- chastened -- embraces on the other. Just before I saw The Bubble, in fact, I was arguing with a friend that the idyllic sex scene in Brokeback Mountain put the lie to that film's claim of authenticity. Blood and shit are an undeniable aspect of anal intercourse, and the stigmatization (or erasure) of the messy reality remains a primary component of both straight and gay culture's ingrained homophobia. The first of Noam and Ashraf's two sex scenes is similarly sugary, with Noam handing Ashraf a condom and turning onto his stomach with a look of casual, practiced eagerness. When Ashraf lets Noam fuck him for the first time, however, the film acknowledges the physical and psychological delicacy of the moment: fear tempered by desire, pain overcome by pleasure. Virtually everyone who's had sex has asked 'Are you sure?' yet when Noam says these words to Ashraf, he invokes a host of specters -- physical, political, religious -- that would wilt the erections of all but the most compartmentalized of lovers. It seems odd to think of sex as triumphant act, yet here it is precisely that. That it is also an isolated triumph -- a battle won, but not the war'imbues it with pathos as well.

If, as viewers, we amplify this single moment of lovemaking into an entire relationship, our projection must be seen at least in part as a reflection of the lack of narratives about long-term gay relationships in our fiction -- and an even greater void in our cinema. Despite our anger over Hillary's cynical distinction between 'civil union' and 'marriage,' the truth is that we don't know what a gay marriage looks like. It's not that these relationships don't exist; we just haven't learned how to incorporate them into our art. So many stories that gay men tell each other concern the yearning for a lifelong lover, and so many end with a rapturous communion that is presumed to lead to that desired relationship. But the very fact that we break off this particular story at the same point every time suggests that these relationships don't actually work out. It's as if gay men have translated the unrestrained promiscuity of the '60s and '70s into a truncated form of serial monogamy, entirely composed of beginnings that are simultaneously endings, triumphs that are in fact failures.
In The Bubble that ending is more explicit than in most movies, yet it is an ending presaged from the film's beginning, however much we might have hoped otherwise. For all its many triumphs, Fox's film points out that gay cinema is still in its infancy, that our range and complexity in showing gay life has barely been hinted at. In fairness, we can't hold filmmakers entirely to blame for this situation: Gay people remain reluctant to examine the conflict between the feeling of specialness that attaches to coming out and the desire to be seen as normal -- do I read Out, or do I read Details, or Vanity Fair? Yet, as The Bubble shows us, the secret of homosexual universality lies in homosexual particularity, not the other way around. Until gay cinema can show us gay life in all its banality as well as beauty, it will exist as do most gay people, in Israel as well as America: separate and unequal.

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