Two buddy flics
The first movie is "Gerry," directed by Gus Van Sant. Two sensitive, but stolid young men (both apparently named Gerry) get lost somewhere in the Southwest while on a hike. (Ostensibly, they are in New Mexico, but in fact the film was shot in Argentina, Utah, and Death Valley.) There are virtually no other human beings, only the two stars Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. There is a third character, though, overwhelming the other two: the landscape. The photography is almost unbelievably gorgeous, resembling a series of Rothko paintings.
"Gerry" is scarcely realistic, as the two guys go out on a hiking trip without (as far as I could see) so much as a plastic bottle of water between them. They wander for days, but (except in one scene) fail to develop much facial hair (no razors are evident). Though somewhat battered, the faces of the dudes remain radiantly beautiful. Not realism, the film is perhaps an allegory of the course of human life, what the medieval French called a "pèlerinage de la vie humaine."
The movie "Dallas 362" is much more conventional. This 2003 film concerns two lower middle-class hunks in their mid-twenties, one a dirt bag, the other not. Their main source of income is collecting small debts for a local crime boss, Bear (played by Heavy D). The movie is about how the decent one, Rusty, escapes from the mentoring of Dallas, the bad apple. The movie is the directorial debut of Scott Caan, son of actor James Caan, who also plays the role of Dallas, one mean dude. Shawn Hatosy impersonates the more sympathetic role of Dusty. The title of the film derives from a sign shown towards the end of the movie. As Rusty is riding the bus to Texas, where he will start a new life in the rodeos, there is a shot of a mile-marker sign reading "Dallas 362."
Full of cliches, this film nonetheless moved me. I'm not sure why. Maybe it is my personal history of growing up in a small town (at least in my earliest years) where there was not enough money in the family.
Both flics offer a window to a type of male bonding I will never experience. As a gay man of course I have male friends, gay and straight. But for all I can tell, I have never experienced relationships such as the ones shown in these two films. And I never will. Setting aside the elements of conventionality and artifice, I think that they are essentially true portrayals of a major cultural phenomenon. One of the major functions of art is precisely this enlargement of horizons.
Well, one might say, you Wayne Dynes have had three stable, long-term relationships with men. What do you mean by saying that the male-bonding phenomenon is alien to you? Well, I must reply, it just is something that lies outside my experience.
For a number of years, a gay friend has been championing the idea of "male love." This concept seems to unite homosocial bonding with homoerotic love. This is an unfortunate and unrealistic conflation. To be sure, the bonding in dyads of two heterosexual men may be very intense. Once, in court, I heard two burly policemen say that they loved one another.
Of course, in human affairs there is no rule so absolute that exceptions never occur. Think of "Brokeback Mountain." However, that film is not about male bonding in the strict sense exemplified by "Gerry" and "Dallas 362." In my reading of "Brokeback" the character played by Jake Gyllenhall is gay; the other not. So we have a sexual relationship between a gay man and a straight man. That phenomenon is all too familiar to me, but it is not what is being examined here.
In relationships such as the ones shown in "Gerry" and "Dallas 362" the door is never open to physical erotic encounters. At one time there was a fashion on the Internet for fantasies in which Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were lovers. Right now, I suppose, some blogger is putting together a variation on "Gerry," one in which the two guys actually do get it on. That is not the story the film tells, though.
"Male love," a notion conflating male bonding with homoerotic relationships, takes us into the realm of wish-fulfilling fantasies of gay men. This fusion is not legitimate.
The mystery remains, and must be regarded as such.