Weekend: One Night Stands and Self-Identification

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUU_WzRBHX4

Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011) concentrates on the relationship between two young men after they find their one night stand growing into something more serious over the course of the weekend.  During this two or three day period in Northern England, Glen and Russell form a strong bond and understanding of each other, helping each other to better understand the inner conflicts they face with their self-identification.  While exploring the often confusing and inconsistent paradoxes of gay identity in a ‘post-closet era’, Haigh presents this subject in more of a universal and unambiguous way that could be understood by any audience rather than one simply restricted to a gay audience.  As Haigh focuses more on natural aspects of sexual desires and its emotional significance for the people involved, he does not exclude anyone, but instead invites his audience to see how an initial sexual desire between two people can quickly lead to a complex connection regardless of the societal constructs that would otherwise limit these two men by their sexual orientation. 

This dialogue-driven film is unique in that it avoids many of the archaic Hollywood cinematic stereotypes and caricatures of gay men that still dominant mainstream media portrayals.  Instead of making the two lead characters unique in their sexual desires, emphasis is placed on their individual characteristics and the lack of any concretely formed self-identification.  The fleeting, yet intense infatuation that these two young men feel toward each other allows for new and honest discussions regarding many of the political and social concerns left unaddressed by many other media portrayals of both relationships in general, but same sex relationships in particular that become more complicated after considering societal constraints that call for conformity from minority groups. 

The one and a half hour long representation of two young men that fall hard for each other juxtaposes two completely contrasting personalities to provide a commentary on the conflicting opinions and views that exist within gay self-identification itself.  Since this form of identification does not have such a concretely formed foundation in societal understanding of relationships like heteronormative ones, there are still many different individual qualities that require examination to further extend a rather limited mainstream view of what it means to self-identify as gay.  Haigh’s representation of two men who do not so narrowly fit into the political and social systems of learnt identification becomes clear through the psychological exploration of maintaining one’s identity.  Russell, who grew up in a foster home, has a strong relationship with his foster brother.  He sees him as happily married with a small child and thinks this is something worth having, yet something that he is incapable of attaining unless he assimilates to a heteronormative system of homosexual normalcy.  In contrast, Glen, an art student who is about to leave to study in America for two years, thinks that marriage provides an artificial happiness, finding little worth in the institution.  Russell is out to his brother, but not his coworkers.  Glen is out to everyone, completely unashamed of his sexuality and even willing to talk to strangers in bars about this heterosexual normalization of homosexuality.  The two young men affectionately argue their differing opinions throughout the film, allow the audience to understand, or at least witness, many of the different perspectives of self-identification as gay.  The film delivers contrasting personalities and political beliefs, mirroring the multiple ways a person self-identifies.  There is not single way of portraying gay identities because different people want different things, even if both people are categorized by society in terms of their genital activity. 

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In her book The Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick places emphasis on this idea that ‘People are different from each other’ and therefor place different meanings on different acts, and sometimes this is lost amidst all of the categorization that social constructs require in order to keep binaries in place.  The idea that even the same sexual acts may have different meanings to different people is brought up the morning after Russell brings Glen back to his apartment and has sex with him.  As part of an art project, Glen asks Russell to talk into a recorder about the previous night in order to understand what Russell was thinking and why he was thinking it.  As Russell is quite shy and reserved when it comes to his sexuality, he becomes embarrassed, perhaps suggesting that his sexual desires are more easily acted out rather than discussed with another person.  The reason for the embarrassment or shy behavior when it comes to discussing his sexuality stems from a societal construct that tells him that it should not be something so easily talked about.  Glen, in contrast, is unabashed by his sexual desires and has no difficulties making known what he wants or how he feels.  Later in the film when the two men discuss their coming out experiences, Glen says that he told his parents, “Nature or nurture, either way it’s you’re fault.”  He breaks out of a traditional cultural desire to explain why he is the way he is.  He lacks any desire to agree with a “biological based explanation for deviant behavior that are absolutely invariably couched in…the fetal endocrine environment” (Sedgwick, 43).  Haigh provides insight into what it means to be a gay man and the struggle one faces with mainstream culture asking them to explain why they are gay.  Haigh creates a character and a voice that refuses to explain why he is different and instead tells other people to deal with their unwarranted discomfort if they have any. 

Hollywood has no doubt produced many one night stand films over the past decade.  Though sex and sexual desires are making more appearances in film, these usually follow an artificial structure that often end in a committed and loving relationship that closely follows heteronormative values.  The chart for ‘Media Images’ that Larry Gross borrows from sociologist Elihu Katz in his book Up From Inivisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America, shows the sequence of representations of minority groups in popular media.  Most frequently, the formula calls for minorities to conform to idealized majority conventions in order to assimilate to mainstream society and only then can happiness be achieved.  Unlike the heteronormative fantasy of happiness that Hollywood repeatedly sells to audiences, Weekend ignores Hollywood conventions with its truthful portrayal of the difficult nature of developing intimate feelings for another person.  One scene in particular that breaks Hollywood conventions occurs toward the end of the film when Russell goes to his niece’s birthday party.  His brother notices that Russell seems preoccupied and for the first time, Russell open up to his brother about his relationship with another man.  Though his brother knows he is gay, they never discussed in detail his past relationships.  His brother points out that Russell never opens up about his relationships and expresses a desire to know more about his relationships and to make sure he finds happiness.  Glen is about to leave for America and Russell wants to give him a proper goodbye.  His brother insists that he should drive Russell to the train station so that he can bring a meaningful close to his time with Glen.  Instead of scolding Russell for leaving his daughter’s birthday, he encourages him to finally stop doing what he thinks society wants him to do and to instead give into his desires. 

Visibility of sexual minorities has increased in the last twenty years, placing more emphasis now on the difficulties of self-identification within a dominate heteronormative system of categorization.  Weekend, though an LGBT film,serves as a reminder to all audiences that this heteronormative system of identification and representation is no longer the only valuable way of living.    

 

Works Cited 

Gross, Larry. “The Mediated Society.” Up From Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Introduction; Axiomatic.” Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California, 1990. 1-63. Print.

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