I can’t believe I watched that movie, I really can’t believe it. I can’t believe I went to that movie, and I sat there, and I watched the whole thing. I watched the whole thing. I really can’t believe it. Strangers by the Lake, that’s what it was called. I read about it — a murder in a gay cruising area, please, so I certainly wasn’t thinking about going. But one of my oldest, closest friends told me I must, he said it was the most detailed portrayal of gay cruising that he’d ever seen in a movie — they showed everything, he said — every type, they showed every type. Almost every type. You have to go.
But isn’t there a murder, I asked. Yes, he said, it’s a thriller, but you don’t see anything. It’s not traumatic like a Lars von Trier movie? No, it’s not like that — I saw that first Lars von Trier movie with Jason, and I told her that if she ever brought me to something like that again then we wouldn’t be friends.
I wasn’t convinced, but I guess I was convinced. I mean, I don’t generally go to thrillers — anything with the hint of that horror aesthetic just throws me over the edge. I’ve had enough of that in my life already. I’m still trying to get over it every day, the trauma of childhood and what happened. What still happens, here in my body, but anyway, this was one of my closest friends, who’s known me for 20 years — 20 years, really — I can say things like that now. I mean, I can say something like that, and it’s true.
So anyway, I went to this move. You can tell from the beginning that it’s a thriller because every time he goes swimming in the lake he looks out at all the guys cruising and the camera is shaking, he’s shaking, he’s looking around. Nothing happens, at first. Maybe there’s cruising, maybe there’s sex, I can’t remember. The lake is beautiful — it almost looks like the desert, but it’s in France somewhere. They’re talking about something called a silurus that someone found in the lake, a 15-foot silurus, and can something like that really exist? What the fuck is a silurus — there must be something wrong with the translation. Maybe a jellyfish.
Yes, there is cruising, and there is sex, and it’s graphic, and it’s kind of realistic — I mean you actually see people coming, so that’s a surprise. But this can only happen because there are three murders. There’s a good line, someone accosting the main character in the cruising path through the woods, asking him: have you seen any women, have you seen any women here? I know I’ve seen horny women around here before.
And the main character, he’s pretty self-confident, a young guy, waxed and gym-toned in this small town in France, wherever it is. Anyway, I laugh at that line, you’re supposed to laugh, and some older queen further up in the theater of 500 seats is very upset that I’m laughing, or that I’ve been so loud, chatting quietly about some of the ridiculous things, isn’t this what you do in the theater? Isn’t this why we go someplace together, so we can be together?
But no, the myth of the dead audience. Sit there, be completely still, don’t even breathe, don’t read too much, not if it’s too loud, don’t make noise unless you’re supposed to. I’m beginning to think that the requirement of the dead audience is its own kind of violence, making us silence ourselves in order to experience public engagement with emptiness. Emptying presence in order to be present. Requiring our silence in order to experience the silencing of the screen. I mean every time someone tells me to shut up in a theater, it ruins the whole thing for me. Not to mention that this is clearly an older gay men, and so of course I’m assuming he’s having issues with queens and I live in this town of deadness, watching this deadening movie, and anyway I almost want to get in a fight with this bitch but also I don’t want to get in a fight.
Anyway, some of the shots are gorgeous: it’s very still. The water is incredibly blue, the sky changes dramatically, the framing of the place where people park and the way that shifts and doesn’t shift, this I can appreciate. The sound is pretty dramatic too, but also kind of stupid because when there’s dialogue there’s no background sound, but then suddenly when they’re walking through the woods you hear every bug. So there’s a murder, first it looks like play with this one guy dunking the other in the water, but he’s saying stop, stop, and then there’s no more dunking, and one guy swims back to the shore, puts on his clothes, and walks off. The main character witnesses this — this is the hunky guy he has a crush on, killing off the boyfriend. Actually, it’s not just a crush — he talked to him once, and he already knows he’s falling in love.
So then the next day, the main character has passionate hot sex with the murderer, and I wish this was a critique of gay culture, but it doesn’t feel that way at all, it just feels like another movie about the pathology of gay sex for a straight audience, it won a prize at Cannes. So now they’ve had sex, and it really is love. The only person with any moral compass is the detective, of course, a straight guy who says one of your own just died, and you all act like nothing happened? One of your own: can we sit here with that, and try to imagine people in a gay cruising area thinking us? A collective: I wish it was that. The detective who says I’m not looking for compassion or solidarity, but some sense of concern?
I guess this is the only straight character in the movie, unless you count the guy looking for women in the gay cruising area. I love it when the straight cop is the moral compass of a gay movie. Oh, I guess there’s the fat older guy that our young, healthy hero befriends, he comes to the gay cruising area, but not to cruise. He’s done with sex, he just wants companionship. He’s in love too, or falling in love — whoever wrote this script needs help, serious help, like permanent institutionalization, without any writing materials. I thought I had it all figured out, this day. I was having an energy crash, and about to hang out with my newest close friend — how fun to actually make it to this movie that one of my oldest close friends suggested. How fun to make it to this move, and relax, forget how tired I am.
The worst is yet to come, and I don’t just mean the aftermath, my body in so much pain from sitting in a fucking theater and watching such a pathologized piece of shit, I mean when I see a movie like that I don’t want to see any movie ever again, except the problem is that when I see a movie like that it will stay in my head until I see another movie, the worst movies always stay in my head, the longest. I just want to lie down, and go to sleep, and sleep for the next — oh, never mind.
So anyway, now we have the detective, the older guy, the love interest/murderer, our hero, and lots of sex in the woods, so what could go wrong? Here you go: the older guy approaches the murderer to tell him he knows what’s going on — and, hey, he says, I’m heading out to the woods, see ya. Our hero is swimming in the lake. Since this is a thriller, of course, we assume this is a setup, especially when the older guy looks back in that cruising way, and the murderer follows him, and we figure our saviors the cops will be there to rescue us, or if not the cops then maybe it’s just so our hero can see the murderer fucking this other guy and realize he’s not in love, something like that, it happens all the time, in movies.
Let’s back up. Remember when my friend said that you don’t see anything, right? So, when we do see the first murder, the guy is underwater, so maybe that doesn’t count? But this one, our hero sees true love has run away so he shakes the camera back to the shore and then runs out in his magical cutoff jean shorts to hear some kind of grunting, what is it, probably sex, right? But then true love/murderer runs off, and the hero looks over, and the old guy’s lying there, his throat slashed open and blood dripping everywhere. And our hero tries to save him with his shirt, but he says: It’s okay, I got what I wanted. Can we say that again? It’s okay, I got what I wanted. (Blood dripping from his throat, blood everywhere, this is the end of his life.)
Yes, I laugh here, but how can we ever laugh enough to erase such a disgustingly pathologized narrative for this movie that won a big award at Cannes, and it wasn’t the homophobia award either. You know — the old guy who’s so sad that he just wants some hot murderer to slash his throat. So edgy.
Murder number three happens when the detective shows up and he gets stabbed, bye-bye. Now, our hero is in hiding, but will the murderer find him? It’s getting dark.
Oh — best director, in the Un Certain Regard category at Cannes, that’s what this film won — are you serious? Who is this fucking director? The worst part about seeing this movie is seeing it, but then the second worst part is when I have to go online to look all this shit up. I mean, I don’t have to, but I will, probably. I just learned they used body doubles for the sex scenes because the actors didn’t want to do them, that must be why we always see them in silhouette, great — homophobia here, homophobia there, homophobia, everywhere — must be the next great gay movie.
I can’t believe my friend told me that you don’t see anything, those were his exact words. You don’t see anything, except three murders. I wonder if he was so mesmerized by the allure of gay sex projected in elegant glamour on the big screen, nothing like this since the 1970s when porn briefly merged with high art, and now we have this: come shots and the slashing of the throat, and I don’t even know what to say anymore, I just feel so sad, that’s the truth, this sadness, weighing me down, just what I needed, more sadness.