There’s a great exchange in Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy in which Arnold’s mother chastises him for always making an issue of his orientation. He counters with an impassioned diatribe in which he describes the frustration of constantly being bombarded, by newspapers, billboards, magazines, TV shows, movies, plays, radio, with the insistent message of heterosexuality. Perhaps straight people are inured or numbed to it, but it can make a queer man or woman feel awfully lonely.
There have been an encouraging number of breakthroughs in the movie industry lately, but it’s difficult to fight the impression that some studios wave enlightened narratives in our faces, while backing off the material before the final cut. Notable exceptions would be Latter Days and Frida.
Film is a primarily visual medium so, when they make a movie from Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World, without visual explication — without the cajones to show two attractive men, naked and making love — I perceive this as a flaw. Which is not to say A Home at the End of the World isn’t a good movie.
In Home, we do see Jonathan and Bobby naked, but not at the same time. We never see the third principle, Clare, naked at all, which in the language of semiotic encoding, counts for a lot. What I liked best about this film was that it DID have the courage to show us a world where a man can choose another man over a woman, where this doesn’t amount to tragedy, revolution, or kink. What ran a close second was the proliferation of tenderness and protectiveness between Bobby and Jonathan, and earlier in the film, between Bobby and his older brother, Carlton. Ryan Donowho is the big brother all men wish they could have.
To appropriate the language of the film, these men make for each other a home in the world. They nurture, share bliss, care for, and encourage one another. Colin Farrell as Bobby Morrow is astounding as the orphan who creates family wherever he goes. When Bobby tells Clare he’s messed up, he’s probably referring to the fact that he doesn’t care how or why love happens. He just welcomes it. When they are teenagers and Jonathan’s mother catches them smoking pot, we’re amazed when Bobby offers her a hit, asks her to dance to Laura Nyro. And even more amazed when she accepts. But it makes complete sense.
Bobby seems straight, but the movie never identifies him as such, and he truly doesn’t seem to care. And the kicker is, he’s more emotionally available, more demonstrative and unabashedly caring than Jonathan. Even than Clare. Jonathan (Dallas Roberts) is guarded because he doesn’t want to be hurt. He’s afraid the erotic connection that developed between them as kids no longer works for Bobby. And Bobby doesn’t want to push because love doesn’t push.
There’s a lot of tremendous, subtle, and poignant material in Home, much that is wonderfully funny and achingly sad. The two men dance together, arms entwined, and it feels so accurate, so perfect. Their ease and pleasure is evident, accessible. When Bobby insists on inspecting Jonathan’s naked body to check out a lesion, he kneels in front of him and we see, we know there is not a trace of guile or device in Bobby’s character. Bobby looks at Jonathan with undiluted love in his eyes. It’s a powerful, voluptuous moment. Bobby is passive without seeming weak, and while you could say his character is hopelessly lost or too good to be true, Farrell makes him work in a way that is completely credible, in a way that just makes the tears come.
Sissy Spacek was captivating in the role of Jonathan’s mother, Alice Glover. Alice is sweet-natured, game, and often perplexed, but like all the other characters, she is layered and unconventional, and Spacek is careful not to make her a flake. This is her best work in years. Robin Wright Penn, as Clare, the eccentric, irresistible woman who captures both Jonathan and Bobby’s hearts, is a joy to watch. Her comparative worldliness never makes her bitter or vindictive.
Neither Bobby nor Jonathan care for Clare in the way she really wants, but the film never suggests that Jonathan would feel differently if it weren’t for Bobby. As he explains to Clare, “It’s just not that simple.” The director, Michael Mayer, understands that the world is too complicated to go looking for villains. A Home at the End of the World is a phenomenal experience, daring to tell one of OUR stories articulately and credulously, without, ultimately, caving in to the breeder dream factory.