I wanted to blog about one of my favourite Queer Romance films, Latter Days. It was written and directed by C. Jay Cox, and released in 2003.
As you might suspect from the title, one of the main characters is a young Morman man. Aaron is from Idaho, sent to Los Angeles as a missionary. He and his three fellow missionaries move into a small house next door to Christian, an openly gay party boy and aspiring actor.
Writer-director Cox was raised as a Mormon and completed a mission, and he has said that Aaron and Christian represent two aspects of his own history, separated by years and experience. He wondered what these two instances of himself would say to each other if ever they met.
While the film isn’t perfectly crafted, there are some story points that really resonate with me. With a QRM theme this year of us all needing stories, I thought I’d examine three of those story points in a little detail.
Caution: Here be spoilers!
Christian is cynical enough to make a bet that he can seduce one of the Mormons. He is soon very focused on Aaron, the most vulnerable of the four. Christian’s first real chance at seduction comes after a moment in which he himself is vulnerable: he accidentally cuts himself while in the garden, and faints, and Aaron helps him inside and tends the wound (which happens to be on his tanned and shapely derriere).
A partially dressed Christian ends up lying back on his bed, and there is no denying that Aaron is tempted to follow him down there. In fact, even calling it ‘temptation’ is wrong: in his pure-hearted innocence, Aaron is willing to place his faith in his own instincts, which guide him towards what feels to be a wholesome and honest encounter.
Thinking only to encourage him, Christian murmurs the reassurance that sex doesn’t have to mean anything. And that’s when Aaron pulls back, stung and annoyed. Of course it means something! He walks out, and begins building a protective barrier or two.
I love that the innocent Aaron was in tune enough with his instincts to choose sex and the chance for love despite having been taught this was wrong. I also love that Christian – who isn’t emotionally ready to deal honestly with Aaron – is the one to aptly if unwittingly undermine the encounter.
Aaron’s rejection is the first prompt for Christian to start mending his ways, and to learn to properly value life and love. Just think of Darcy brooding over Elizabeth’s retort that he hadn’t behaved as a gentleman would… and then starting to do something about it. I love stories in which love is the prompt and reason for the protagonists to learn and grow – and love is their reward, too.
OK, major spoilers here!
Later, when Aaron and Christian are caught kissing, Aaron is sent home and is excommunicated from the church. His father rejects him, and his mother is unsympathetic. Aaron attempts suicide. And, for a long while, Christian believes this attempt to have been successful.
In shock and in deep mourning, Christian finally grows into humility and wisdom. He becomes quiet to the point where we wonder if he’s been broken by the experience.
Finally, however, a newly independent and healthy Aaron walks into the restaurant where Christian works, and after a stunned moment Christian embraces him wholeheartedly. Nothing needs to be said to know that these two people are now united by a shared love and an honest acceptance.
And, frankly, I love that the film manages to have its cake and eat it, too, by being a tragedy with a happy ending.
Over the course of the film, the restaurant – presided over by a woman named Lila – becomes the emotional home of all the characters we care about. The final scene shows this family-by-choice celebrating Thanksgiving together. The focus isn’t on Aaron and Christian as a couple, but on them being part of a loving family. And the mood is sincere to the point of solemnity, rather than happy or joyful. Which is certainly an interesting way to end a romantic story!
I have to admit that at first I felt cheated by not having a more light-hearted scene to finish with, showing Christian and Aaron simply starting to enjoy life together. However, what we are given is certainly more profound, and will provide the couple with the solid bedrock they need in order to flourish as individuals and as a couple.
I find it very interesting, too, that we finish with a Thanksgiving celebration. Of course, even twelve years ago, the story couldn’t have concluded with a wedding, or even a proposal accepted, as it might have done if it were a straight romance. And so Cox chose a different kind of ceremony. This significantly changes the focus and feel of the story’s denouement.
To me, Thanksgiving is all about being grateful for what we have today, and for what we have harvested (in all senses, literal and otherwise) from the past year. That does seem very apt to the story Cox has told.
Again in my view, a wedding is fundamentally a statement of faith in the future. The focus is on a couple joining together, not only for today but for all their lives thereafter. Family and friends are there to witness these promises, but the couple is at the heart of it all.
And I missed those ‘wedding’ aspects in the final scene of the film. I missed the sense of a shared future, and I missed a focus on Aaron and Christian. However, I wonder whether Cox didn’t make the best choice after all. For Christian and Aaron to be thankful for their own growth, for finding each other again, and for their new family – that’s pretty profound. Perhaps it is entirely right that we leave them to explore the rest of their lives without us looking on.
I hope you’ve found this interesting, and that (if you haven’t already seen it yet) you’ll give this film a try. Steve Sandvoss and Wes Ramsey as Aaron and Christian are perfect for the roles. They are wonderfully supported by Jacqueline Bisset as Lila, as well as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Amber Benson and others.
Here’s to more Queer Romance – across the whole spectrum – that like Latter Days attempts to address the larger questions in life!
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Julie’s Queer Romance Recommendations
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