Gerontophilia has been described by some as the most controversial film ever made by director Bruce La Bruce. That’s quite impressive for a filmmaker whose previous films have mixed Neo Nazis and gay porn, and zombies and gay porn. There’s not any gay porn at all in this one, so why has it courted controversy? Well it’s purely because it’s about one of the last taboos – relationships with a massive age difference.
Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) is a young man with a girlfriend who ends up getting a job in the old folk’s home his mother runs. He soon discovers he has a strange fascination with the home’s inhabitants, which he realises is a fetish about older men. He gets close to an 81-year-old called Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden), which soon goes far beyond the boundaries of Lake’s job description. As his relationship with Mr. Peabody grown deeper and more sexual, Lake decides he and his lover are going to get out of the home and head off across Canada, towards the Pacific Ocean.
I was reading something earlier today that said that the search for purity is an attempt to avoid disgust, and that this is at the centre of many people’s moral reasoning. It doesn’t matter whether the disgust is grounded in logic, for many if their knee-jerk reaction is repulsion they decide it’s wrong (hence why underneath many arguments against gay people/gay sex there’s an assumption that it is innately disgusting, and also why those same anti-gay people tend to view homosexuality as being solely about anal sex (even if they dress it up in other arguments).
It’s an apt idea when discussing Gerontophilia, as if you look at it logically, it is a simple love story about two adult men who find one another and get a new lease on life by challenging their presumptions. However the moment you add in a 60 year age gap it becomes ‘controversial’ and ‘shocking’.
To be honest I was surprised that in the UK the BBFC gave it an 18 certificate along with the advisory that it contains ‘strong sex’ (which was also put on the DVD cover). It doesn’t contain strong sex at all – which for a Bruce La Bruce movie is the prehaps most shocking thing about the film – it just has a guy briefly masturbating under his clothes and the sight of a naked 80-year-old. However because the guy is touching himself because there’s a naked 80-year-old, that apparently equates to strong sex. Normally the BBFC isn’t as prudish about these things as its US certification counterpart is, but I can’t help but feel that a bit of disgust crept in here that didn’t look at the actual content.
If you can put to one side your horror at the idea that people of different ages might fall for one another, Gerontophilia is a good film. Some of La Bruce’s earlier movies have been made so cheaply and in guerrilla style – along with actors who are good at sex but not saying dialogue that makes you believe they’re a living human being – that it was easy to doubt whether he was a good filmmaker, or if he was just good at pushing enough button to ensure his films got noticed in the gay film world whether they were any good or not.
However with Gerontophilia he proves that he is an extremely good filmmaker and that he hasn’t lost the talent that he was undoubtedly developing with the likes of Huster While and Super 8 ½, but which only came in flashes in some of his later films. Gerontophilia is accomplished, filled with great imagery and expertly crafted shot construction, along with a real flair for storytelling. There are two big differences here compared to with the likes of Skin Gang and Raspberry Reich. For a start he’s actually got a budget this time around, and secondly he’s put the story above the ideas, which has been an issue with some of his movies.
It’s an extremely well-told tale which doesn’t go over the top in trying to ‘shock’ us with the age difference. The film does a great job of presenting the central relationship as something unusual and which both Lake and Mr. Peabody are aware exists far outside the norm, but it’s also well aware that it makes both of them happy and that when it’s just them alone, it’s surprisingly normal. That’s not to say they’re a perfect couple, especially when Lake’s jealousy surfaces (Gerontophilia has a nice way of subverting the idea that an older man must necessarily be the dominant one in a relationship).
It is in most respects a simple love story, but it’s turned into something different by the baggage and potential disgust the audience brings with it. And that’s an interesting idea in and of itself.
Overall Verdict: Gerontophilia is undoubtedly a tough sell, simply because the subject matter will turn a lot of people off without them giving it a chance. But that’s their loss as it’s a surprisingly good film.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac