Drown (Francis), a film by Australian, gay identified director Dean Francis depicts the brutal reality of immense and outward heteronormativity within the competitive sports world. It shows us what often happens when people step out of line of the naturalized state of hegemonic masculinity. This film sheds light on the physical and psychological bullying and homophobia that individuals who do not fit with in the sexual binary face.
The Australian film immediate grips the viewer with its raw, beautiful and powerful imagery. The aural experience is enchanting, ranging from intense sounds of violence and emotion to the electric and euphoric build-up of pumping dance music that heightens the viewer’s excitement, awe and anxiety. It gives the spectator mixed emotions through captivating scenes of excitement and eroticism, parallel to this is a sense of uneasiness, an under lying feeling that something big and bad is just around the corner.
The film is based around two main characters, Len, played by Matt Levett, who is a mentally unstable hetrocentric hyper masculinized lifeguard, who is plagued by fear of not impressing his father and Phil, played by Jack Mathews a new life guard who steals Lens glory in the competitive championships, butchering Lens ego on top of this Len discovers that Phil is gay after he sees him kissing a man. This spirals Len into a series of self-doubt and confusion about his masculinity and his sexuality as he finds himself attracted to Phil.
Being a life guard is part of Lens familial and national identity, his father and grandfather both preceding him were also champion lifeguards. He has grown up in a fiercely hetropatriarchal family with an abusive father. Lens has the perception that there is a strict gender and sexual binary coming from a homophobic background. Thus when he starts to have feelings for Phil he internalizes his homophobic gender and sexual ideology upon himself.
He deals with his confusion and anger with violence. Len takes his feelings out on Phil, beating him in the shower rooms. Phil’s face is badly bruised and beaten, it obvious to their boss that something has happened between them and tries to kick Len off the team, However Phil backs Len up with a sense of brotherly solidarity or Australian mateship (Davies). This confuses Len even more and his feelings run out of control ending up with a drug and alcohol crazed night out ending in extreme physical and sexual abuse toward Phil.
This is a very engrossing movie with a good depiction of the bullying, alienation and homophobia that goes on in western society and many competitive sports. However the film plays upon a stereotypical cliché of homoeroticism and from critical perspective the film demonstrates the unconscious racist undertones within the western film industry. The actors in the film are all white, accept in one club scene, where there is a representation of a typical racialized and sexualized stereotype of a gay Asian male. He was portrayed as being very femme gay man, thus seen to be not a true male. This could be seen as a form of Edward Said’s theory on orientalism (Said), where by people from the orient are ‘othered’ additionally he was feminized because of his sexuality thus he could be seen to have been characteristically fetishized, sexualized and racialized by the ever watching western ‘gaze’ (Foucault).
In addition to the lack of racial diversity this the film shows only one type of man, albeit there was slight sexuality heterogeneity as it was the main theme of the film, however every other male was picture perfect of Audre Lorde’s ‘mythical norm’ (Lorde), including having very toned and muscular bodies which is an unrealistic ideal.
It is hard to focus on one key scene of the film because of the way the film was laid out, to add to the suspense of the film it jumped from and between scenes and time frames, which added to the emotional tension. The film screening took place in the screening room, surprisingly it was not a full house. Reel out were running a little late thus the screening time of Drown was late also. They were supposed to screen a short film before the screening of Drown, but it was broken. There was a small talk from an alumni of Queens speaking about his experiences of homosexuality and internalizing his own form homophobia within high level volleyball. His story was interesting and heart-warming. Of what I remember before the film there was an acknowledgement that we were sitting on the traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples, helping us to understand out positionality within settler context however this could have been before ‘In the turn’. Sitting at the back of the theater was a bad idea, as people were running up and down the stairs behind our seats in addition the sound seemed a little echoed at the back of the theater. However since this was my third film out of the six that I had seen in the festival it was enjoyable to see some familiar faces from within the queer community
Davies, Glen. Australian Mateship. 7 May 2012. Webpage. 3 Febuary 2014. <https://independentaustralia.net/australia/australia-display/on-australian-mateship,4109>.
Drown. Dir. Dean Francis. Perf. Jack Mathews Matt levett. 2014. Cinema.
Foucault, Michel. Disapline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979. electronic resourse.
Lorde, Audre. Age, race, class and sex : women Redifining differance in Sister Outsider. Freedom: Crossing Press, 1984.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994.