You know that David Bowie song, “Changes”? It’s the one where he develops a stutter in a very specific portion of the chorus. (Ch-ch-ch-changes/Turn and face the stranger/Ch-ch-ch-changes…) Yeah, you know the song. My own life has changed fairly drastically as I recently traveled down a few highways, back alleys, and pot-hole filled roads until I arrived at my new apartment in the middle of the Bronx. And as much as I would like to spend my next 900 or so words talking about the aesthetics of Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx and how I futilely searched for the movie’s pivotal supermarket before realizing Rumble was actually filmed in Vancouver, I won’t because that would be silly and this is a serious film editorial for serious film editorial readers in a serious film editorial kind of world. (And, no, I don’t actually understand what that means either.)
Change is good – is it not? We can’t remain in stasis for day after day after week after month after year. So, we move on, we mend our broken bones and hearts, and we attempt to carve out a piece of the Earth so we can construct our white picket fences. Maybe we’ll even get a little Jack Russell terrier or Labrador to jump up and slobber on us when we unlock the gate.
At the recommendation of my favorite Singaporean pen pal, I watched Beginners, a 2010 romantic dramedy about a man named Oliver (played by Ewan McGregor) coming to terms with a whole heap of changes – namely his father Hal’s (played in flashbacks by Christopher Plummer) new romantic relationship and, later, his death just a few years after Hal came out as gay.
Can you imagine being trapped within your body for 75 years? Can you imagine being forced to silence the screams of desire that threaten to explode from your mouth in every conversation? Can you imagine living alone, moored perpetually upon an island in your mind, and doomed to a life of lies and misdirections?
I am grateful for much in my life, not the least of which the opportunity to be honest and open about my sexuality without fearing violent (or even legal) repercussions. And while I am not gay (well, probably not anyway), I greatly empathize with the LGBT community and their struggle for equal rights. To me, the only acceptable path is complete equality for every single person on Earth regardless of sexual orientation, skin color, creed, nationality, age, or any other quality that we are born into without a choice in the matter.
There are plenty of people who may think I am an asshole due to the things I write. (Myself included.) Maybe one or two of them would even be inspired to douse my head with drink should we both be standing at the same bar. And that’s fine. They are making a judgment based on some words they think comprise a proportion of my personality. I welcome such judgments because they have absolutely nothing to do with my sexual orientation or ethnicity or faith (or lack thereof) or any other quality that is completely separate from my personality.
If you don’t like Ellen DeGeneres because you think she is boring or unfunny, that’s completely fine. We all have our preferences for comedy and perhaps you just don’t like her propensity to dance across the stage. But if you come to me and say that you don’t like her because she is a lesbian, well, I’m going to call you an ignorant piece of shit. And that’s just the way it goes.
In Beginners, Oliver’s flashbacks and selected memories grant us a picture of his mother and father over the course of their nearly fifty year marriage. The father knew he was gay the entire time, but he silenced his longings in order to have the white picket fence, the son, and the typical suburban community life that always seemed so desirable. He made the excruciating choice between having a “normal” family life or being completely ostracized and demeaned and segregated by his society. For this reason, it boggles my mind how a great proportion of the world still labors under the delusion that homosexuality is somehow a decision that can be made, that being gay is something like a light switch to be turned off and on.
Really? Does that make any sense? Why would anyone want to be gay? Life is hard enough as it is, and now you are throwing something onto yourself that is shunned and feared and hated and misunderstood by billions of people around the world. No one would willingly invite that kind of backlash unless it was as essential as blood in the veins and air in the lungs.
So, I have a lot of respect for the gay community and for other minorities that have been downtrodden over the eons. I have tremendous respect for someone who can wake up one day, swallow the lump in their throat, and step out into the world as something that will (probably) still carry a stigma for the entirety of their lives.
Christopher Plummer’s character in Beginners grew up in a world full of prejudice. While his may be known as the “Greatest Generation,” we can be grateful that some of the past’s injustices have remained just where they should – in a bygone time and stuck to the pages of novels and history textbooks. While there is still an ocean of progress yet to be made, America (and much of the rest of the globe) has come far in a short period of time. It wasn’t that long ago that being gay or black or a woman (or one of a thousand other quantifiers) was reason enough to be labeled as an inferior member of society.
Cultural values change over time, and it’s okay. The world need not be fearful of change; we should only shrink back from a desire to preserve the status quo as a means to continue a culture of repression.
And also accept the message of hope from Beginners. Accept that change will come, permanence is an impossibility, and there will be time to make things better – we hope so anyway. Oliver’s dad waited until he was a 75-year-old widower to cast off his shackles and reveal himself to the world. In the film, he is able to experience a few years of pure honesty before death catches hold and carries his soul to whatever comes next.
For those who bang their heads against the gates enclosing their dreams, it’s a message to wait and gather strength and fear nothing except surrender. It’s a message to embrace the change and to smile even when life keeps knocking teeth out of your bloody mouth. It’s a message to keep fighting because, well, you know, it really does get better.
More from Dominick at dominickjgrillo.com or holla at him on Twitter @dominickjgrillo