When the subject of Queer Cinema and Australia is brought up in conversation, I can guarantee you one title comes to the mind of many, and that is of course the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and rightfully so. It is a brilliantly iconic Australian film that introduced many to the world of drag and gave a small glimpse into the world of gay men at the time. Though a comedic film, it also tackles some dark subject matters such as homophobia and drug abuse within the gay community. It was even my introduction to queer media as a child growing up and is a movie I still love today.
However, I want to write about a movie that is more than a movie, more than just a book put to film because it is based on the autobiography of the same name by Timothy Conigrave and the high school sweetheart he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, John Caleo, and the world that wanted to tear their love apart, this is my review of the 2015 film Holding the Man. A movie that is currently available to stream on Netflix in Australia and is a must-watch for any lover of queer cinema.
This review will be going into spoiler territory for this movie so please if you are looking for an amazing movie about the gay experience for a young man growing up in the’70s and 80s Australia go watch this movie before this review and make sure you have the tissues close by because by the end of this movie if you have any empathy, you will be a crying mess by the end of it!
Though a beautiful movie and a definite must-watch when it comes to queer cinema, Holding the Man is a movie that will grab you from the beginning with its story of blossoming love between a theatre kid and football player set in an all-boys catholic school in Australia in the 1970s, so from the get-go you can expect that this will be a love that not all those around them will support. From historical homophobia for the time and shame from their own families, this is a very realistic look at what it meant to be gay at the time. One particular eye-opening scene is when the parent of one of the boys threatens legal action against the family of the other boy because of laws against acts of sodomy at the time that made certain sexual acts illegal at the time. In fact, it would not be until 1994 in Australia that these laws would begin to be lifted.
To be together the boys have to leave their families behind and move forward with a life of love and freedom, during the era of free love, but anyone who knows the history of the gay community worldwide within the ’70s and ’80s knows that there is a tragedy on the horizon for these boys now men that you will fall in love with as you watch the first half of the movie.
I was first made aware of what AIDS was as a teenager when I first watched Philadelphia with my mother as a teenager, and I did not do this because I knew this was a queer movie, but because it had two actors I adored in it, those being Antonio Banderas and Tom Hanks. I would also later learn more about AIDS through watching the show Queer as Folk, which had a side character in the series who suffered from the disease and throughout the first few seasons of the show we the audience were slowly shown just how cruel this disease can be.
Timothy and John’s love is cruelly cut way too short by this cruel disease, and this movie shows one of the most personal and emotionally depictions of not only what this disease can do to a person, but also a look at the bigotry behind how those suffering were treated as well as their loved ones. The third act of this movie will rip your heart out and you will be a crying mess.
There is also a beautiful follow-up documentary to this film called ‘Remembering the Man‘ which is based around once thought lost recordings from Timothy remembering the tale of how he met and fell in love with John as well as interviews with those who knew them both. It is an inspiring tale of how true love is never truly forgotten.