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Sebastiane

July 20, 2017

Sebastiane ws a 1976 British film written and directed by Derek Jarman and Paul Humfress. It portrays the events of the life of Saint Sebastian, including his iconic martyrdom by arrows. The film, which was aimed at a gay audience, was controversial for the homoeroticism portrayed between the soldiers and for being dialogued entirely (and pretentiously) in Latin.

Having been to the catacombs and church of S. Sebastian, I can see how this film might have been inspired but think that it is light on story.

In the fourth century CE, Sebastiane is a member of the Emperor Diocletian’s personal guard. When he tries to intervene to stop one of the Emperor’s catamites from being strangled by one of his bodyguards, Sebastiane is exiled to a remote coastal garrison and reduced in rank to private. Although thought to be an early Christian, Sebastiane is a worshipper of the Roman sun god Phoebus Apollo and sublimates his desire for his male companions into worship of his deity and pacifism. Both incense Severus, the commanding officer of the garrison, who becomes increasingly obsessed with Sebastiane, tries to assault him, and ultimately presides over his summary execution for refusing to take up arms in defence of the Roman Empire. Justin, one of his comrades in arms, is also in love with Sebastiane, albeit necessarily unrequited, but he forms a friendship with the stubborn celibate pacifist. Adrian and Anthony, two of Sebastian’s fellow soldiers, are gay and in obvious love with one another.

When asked about the film’s nudity, director Derek Jarman replied “We couldn’t afford costumes.”

This has the distinction of being the first non-porn film to show a male erection, which was cut from the cinema but in the TV version).

The soldiers play with a modern Frisbee in one scene. When one soldier catches it, the logo appears.

The film deviates from the established canon. In the traditional story, St. Sebastian was sentenced to death by archers at the Emperor’s order (again, for displaying Christian sympathies) but he survived the ordeal and is said to have performed several miracles before Diocletian had him executed a second time, this time being beaten to death and his body thrown into a sewer.

 

Severus: So you’re still a Christian?

Sebastian: Yes.

Severus: Then remove my armour.

 

Justin: You are marvelous and dance like a god.

Sebastian: Not like a god, Justin, but for God.

Justin: Severus understands your dance?

Sebastian: Yes, he understands.

 

Sebastian: His beauty is enhanced by his anger. It is his anger which is divine. His punishments are like Christ’s promise. He takes me in his arm and caresses my bleeding body. I want to be with him. I love him.

“Christians don’t fight,”

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