Last night I attended a screening of the film Latter Days, with an open panel discussion following. I'd seen the film before and enjoyed it; unlike a lot of queer films, this one doesn't play coming out with kid gloves: it hurts. It's hard to watch. It's an outrage. And the characters aren't easily likeable, I think, either. The summarize the plot, the film chronicles the interactions of Aaron, a "good" Mormon on his mission and Christian, a shallow gay whore. Romance ensues.
The ensuing discussion was led by a four-member panel: a young gay man who'd been raised Mormon, an actor, another young gay man who'd been raised in the religious deep South, and a "post-Mormon feminist intellectual" raised in a half-Mormon/half-non-Mormon family. The audience participated.
I have a complicated relationship to this film. Without too many spoilers, it's beautiful and disappointing; it struggles with enormous societal issues but sugar coats its ending; it polarizes these star-crossed lovers but creates for them a level playing field.
And you can see, even as I write this, that I can't quite make up my mind about it.
What the film does well is offer a peek into many secretive aspects of the Mormon tradition. And, I suppose, if you're Mormon, it confirms a lot of your fears about the gay tradition. The performance by the actor who plays the gay Mormon really does save this film from mediocrity, and a cameo by Mary Kay Place as he conflicted mother nearly steals the show. And that's is hard to do in a film that has a fully nude man-on-man sex scene.
In the end, though, I think Latter Days is able to transcend a lot of the Hollywood conventions that it relies on. The lovers find love, yes, but the ending isn't quite as easy or neat as most audiences would like it to be. It's a complicated film. It reminds us that when it comes to love, there are never easy answers.