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Latter Days

September 17, 2015

LDsElder Aaron Davis (Steve Sandvoss), a young Mormon missionary from Pocatello, Idaho, is sent to Los Angeles with three other missionaries to spread the Mormon faith. They move into a bungalow apartment next to the apartment of openly gay party boy Christian Markelli (Wes Ramsey), an aspiring actor who works as a waiter at Lila’s, a trendy restaurant owned by retired actress Lila Montagne (Jacqueline Bisset). Intrigued by his new, sober Mormon neighbours, Christian makes a $50 bet with his cynical co-workers that he can seduce one of them. Christian soon realizes that Aaron, the most inexperienced missionary, is a closeted homosexual.

Aaron and Christian become acquainted after several encounters in the apartment complex. When Christian accidentally cuts himself on a piece of metal and faints, Aaron helps him indoors and cleans his wound. Christian seizes the opportunity to seduce Aaron and nearly succeeds. However, the hesitant Mormon becomes upset by Christian’s standard patter that sex “doesn’t have to mean anything.” Aaron angrily replies that Christian “equates sex with a handshake”, and after accusing him of being superficial and shallow, walks out. Worried that Aaron is right, Christian joins Project Angel Food to deliver meals to people with AIDS, through which he befriends a man named Keith (Erik Palladino).

Later, Aaron’s fellow missionary, Paul Ryder (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), has a cycling accident. On returning to his apartment, a distraught Aaron encounters Christian, who tries to comfort him with a hug. Both men are overwhelmed by their feelings and end up kissing. Lost in the moment, they fail to notice the return of Aaron’s roommates. Christian is ordered to leave. He returns to the missionaries’ apartment the next day to explain himself, but is told that Aaron has been sent home in disgrace. This leads to a confrontation with Elder Ryder, who is angry that Christian has corrupted a decent young man for no apparent purpose. Christian admits that he initially just wanted to win a bet, but says “it’s not about that” anymore.

Recognizing Christian’s genuine distress, Ryder softens enough to tell him that Aaron has a five-hour layover in Salt Lake City. Christian catches the next flight there and eventually finds Aaron standing in the snow outside the terminal. Christian confesses his love, and despite his profound misgivings, Aaron admits his own feelings of love. With all flights cancelled due to a snowstorm, Christian and Aaron are able to spend a loving and intimate night together in a nearby motel. However, when Christian awakes in the morning, he finds Aaron has gone. He returns sadly to Los Angeles.

On arriving home in Idaho, Aaron is excommunicated by the church elders, led by his own father (Jim Ortlieb), who is the Stake President (regional leader). Aaron is rejected by his father and scolded by his mother (Mary Kay Place), who informs him of the $50 bet she is told about by the Mission President. Overwhelmed by despair, he tries to commit suicide. Aaron is sent by his parents to a treatment facility to undergo aversion therapy to “cure” him of his homosexuality. Christian is desperate to find Aaron and eventually locates his home address and phone number. On phoning, he is devastated to be told by Aaron’s mother that “Thanks to you, my son took a razor to his wrists; thanks to you I have lost my son.” Believing that Aaron is dead, Christian seeks out the family home in Idaho, where he tearfully returns Aaron’s family heirloom watch to his mother. She recognizes that she may have been too harsh in her judgment, but is too late to stop Christian before he drives off.

Late one night in the treatment facility, Aaron hears a female voice singing and goes to investigate. He discovers a music video playing on television with a song performed by Julie, Christian’s roommate. Julie took the lyrics from a diary entry that Christian had written describing his anguish at losing Aaron. As the video plays, Aaron sees an on-screen message stating that the song describes a friend of the performer. The video prompts Aaron to return to Los Angeles in search of Christian. Believing that Christian has given up his apartment, and having nowhere else to go, Aaron makes his way to Lila’s restaurant. By chance, he had befriended Lila while on missionary work after her life partner died, though he did not realize that she owned the restaurant where Christian worked. Christian is shocked but overjoyed at seeing Aaron alive, and their reconciliation ends the movie on a happy note. Together with Christian’s co-workers, they celebrate Thanksgiving and look forward to a happy future together.

Director C. Jay Cox discloses on the DVD documentary that the idea for the film was birthed when he ran across an old photo of himself, back when he was indeed a Mormon missionary. He wondered what it would be like if his then-self met his later-self, and the first conversation in the laundry room was the launch pad for the story. Knowing the film is semi-autobiographical allows for forgiveness vis-a-vis some of the film’s flaws.

“Latter Days” offers a bit of hope in its message that family doesn’t necessarily mean biology. It’s easy to see why the cast and crew took this film to heart, and the PSA for The Trevor Project — a gay-teen-suicide-prevention group– may be a life-saving blessing for some young kid who finds himself in this seemingly impossible situation.

In the biblical parable, it’s the father that tries to reconcile these two. However, in this story, the parents are all rejecting homophobes. We meet Aaron’s parents. His mother cannot even begin to fathom that another man might love her son, she cannot begin to see her son’s pain. His father presides at his excommunication from the Mormon church. We hear of Christian’s father. Not about to have a sissy boy for a son, Christian tells the tale of his father taking him on a hunting trip. But the trip goes awry, and later discovered nearly frozen to death, Christian tells of being held in the arms of his unnamed rescuer, tells of being warmed in those arms, of feeling safe – he doesn’t say, but I dare add, feeling loved by a man for the first time – and Christian reports powerfully that at that moment, at the age of 13, he knew, “if this is what it feels like to be gay, bring it on.”

No, there is no loving father apparent in this parable to reconcile these two. It is the power of love itself, pulsing underneath the skin, which pulls these two together. In this parable, both sons have somehow learned how to love despite the homophobia of their past.

But first, to reveal that love, the veneer, that thick skin with which they have both covered themselves, which protects them from the love in their souls, must be torn off. Aaron fears what Christian offers. For him it means losing everything he has ever known: his family, his church, his anchors and guideposts in life. Christian too is cut deeply by Aaron. “Am I shallow?” he asks his friends. They can’t even answer the question, the answer being so obvious. He too has a life to leave behind, and learns to hurt deeply even as he learns to love truly for the first time.

The movie ends with a meal, a party, as does the parable. This meal is not hosted by a loving father, but by another lost soul who has found meaning in what both Christian and Aaron have brought to her life. As the woman hosting the meal says to the gathered crowd, “you are always welcome at my table,” I know I am witnessing a eucharistic feast.

Elder Aaron Davis: I didn’t come to unload on you.
Lila: You gave me the opportunity once. Let me return the favor.
Elder Aaron Davis: All right after we met, I was sent home and excommunicated from my church… for being gay.
Lila: Your church doesn’t like alcohol or homosexuals. Hmm… Well, I definitely won’t be joining. Can’t imagine heaven without both.

Ryder: God hates homos.
Christian Markelli: You’re gonna come into my home and tell me God hates homosexuals?
Elder Aaron Davis: And the French.
Ryder: [puzzled] God hates the French?
Elder Aaron Davis: Everyone hates the French.

[after having sex with Christian] Elder Aaron Davis: Well, I’m already going to Hell for kissing you, so I may as well take the scenic route.

Lila: I don’t believe in coincidence. These days, I believe in miracles.

Lila Montagne: A toast, an affirmation, a prayer of thanks. I want you to know that, wherever we find ourselves in this world, whatever our successes or failures, come this time of year, you will always have a place at my table. And a place in my heart.

Christian: God I hate the snow.
Elder Aaron Davis: What are you doing here?
Christian: I came after you. How could you just leave without saying anything.
Elder Aaron Davis: It’s not my choice, I am being sent home in shame. And I’m probably going to be excommunicated.
Christian: For a kiss? I mean it was a very nice kiss, but come on. We didn’t even get to use our tongues.
Elder Aaron Davis: You wouldn’t understand.
Christian: I’m sorry, I’m not very good at this. See, I’ve never made a fool out of myself in front of anyone before. But I’ve never felt this way before about anyone in my entire life.
Elder Aaron Davis: What for just some guy you can’t have. And next week you’ll be on to your next conquest?
Christian: But what if you’re not? Huh? What if everything in my entire pathetic life, which I happen to love, has led to this point? Right here, right now. What if you’re the blinding light in the middle of the road that strikes me like that guy, the guy in…
Elder Aaron Davis: The Bible?
Christian: Yeah.
Elder Aaron Davis: Paul.
Christian: Yeah. And what if everything has changed like that… and lions lay down with lambs and colors mix with whites. What if you’re the one that I’ve been waiting for my whole life and I let you go?
Elder Aaron Davis: You have no idea what I’d be giving up.
Christian: Damn it! What is wrong with you? You want revelations engraved in gold and angels trumpting down from heaven? But what if this is it instead? Me, telling you I love you, right here, in the snow? I think that is pretty miraculous. But if you don’t… I’ll go. I’ll walk and you can pretend that this was just some coincidence. You can pretend there wasn’t some reason that we met, and that you’re sorry I ever walked into you life.
[Christian walk to the door, but it won’t open]
Christian: God, I hate the snow.
[Aaron grabs him and gives him a passionate kiss]

 

Elder Farron Davis: In the light of your abnormal and abominable state, and your refusal to see that you’ve been duped into a hogwash alternative lifestyle – I wish my shame was enough for the both of us, not to mention the shame you’ve brought to our church, our family, our ancestors…
Elder Aaron Davis: Wait a minute, our ancestors? Dad, your grandfather had a half a dozen wives. The same goes for every single person in this room. I’ve say we were the original definition of ‘alternative lifestyle.’
Elder Farron Davis: Are you calling us hypocrites?
Elder Aaron Davis: No, we’ve gone way beyond hypocrisy, Dad; now we’re just being mean.

 
Christian: Oh, God, this is hell. I’ve done something… I’m guilty. And I’ll burn for it.
Lila: Funny thing about guilt: There’s nothing so bad that you can’t add a little guilt to it and make it worse; and there’s nothing so good you can’t add guilt to it and make it better. Guilt distracts us from a greater truth: we have an inherent ability to heal. We seem intent on living through even the worst heartbreak.
Christian: How?
Lila: Hm. Practice.

 

Elder Aaron Davis: Do you ever read the Sunday comics?
Lila: [confused] I beg your pardon?
[changes her mind]
Lila: Yes, of course the Sunday comics.
Elder Aaron Davis: Well, when I was a little kid, I use to put my nose right up to them. And I was just amazed because it looked like this mass of dots, and none of it made sense until I pulled back. Life looks like that mass of dots to me sometimes. None of it makes any sense, but I like to think that, from God’s perspective, life, everything – even this – make sense. It’s not just dots. Instead we’re all connected, and it’s beautiful and funny and good. This close we can’t expect it to make sense, not right now.

Elder Harmon: [explaining the hardships of missionary life to Aaron] They set this thing up to be difficult. Okay? We can’t listen to music, we can’t watch movies. We’re never supposed to be alone? I mean, come on, we’re 19, 20 years old and we’re not even allowed to beat off. Some nights I wake up and I find teeth marks on my headboard. Look, I put my time in here, so that I can go home, so that I can marry Jennifer, so that I can finally nail her. See? It’s amazing what we’ll do for sex.

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From → Film, Sexuality

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