Is Hollywood turning a corner in its depiction of queer romance?

Is Hollywood turning a corner in its depiction of queer romance? | Soho House

With the releases of ‘Knock At The Cabin’ and ‘The Last Of Us’, Hanna Flint believes that change is in the air

Saturday 4 February 2023 By Hanna Flint

This week on the big and small screen, audiences have been given a gorgeous taste of what normalised gay romance can look like through Knock At The Cabin and The Last Of Us. But what I love most about this film and TV show, is that these love stories appear in genres that don’t usually make room for them. And they are backed by major studios for mainstream consumption to boot.

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest psychological horror feature, Knock At The Cabin, is a loose adaptation of Paul G. Tremblay’s 2018 novel The Cabin At The End Of The World, and centres on a family of three who are faced with an extreme ultimatum during their woodland vacation. They are held hostage by four strangers and given the choice of killing one of their family members to prevent the apocalypse or let the world burn. 

As with the book, the family in question is made up of couple Andrew and Eric – played by Ben Aldridge and Jonathan Groff – and their young adopted daughter Wen (Kristen Cui). I love that Shyamalan cast two gay actors to play these dads. Both Aldridge and Groff bring a deep humanity to proceedings as they exhibit all the fluctuating emotions of fear, anger, humour and love that come with playing contrasting personalities in a couple faced with the most unfair of life-threatening choices. 

Is Hollywood turning a corner in its depiction of queer romance? | Soho House

‘Night treats them like the normal family they should be treated like,’ Aldridge told Yahoo Entertainment UK. ‘They just happen to be this family with gay dads. I loved that. It felt great that that was at the centre of a big studio blockbuster.’ No truer words, Ben.

The fact that they are gay is almost incidental to the story. There is an element of paranoia that they have been targeted by homophobic invaders, which adds to the uncertain, ambiguous circumstances of the film. But as the slow-releasing plot progresses, it hammers home the point that the power of love does not lessen just because it’s formed by family ties beyond the heteronormative (or blood-related) convention. 

Then we have The Last Of Us, HBO’s absolutely stunning TV adaptation of the world-renowned video game about an unlikely duo fighting to survive a trek across America 20 years after a deadly fungal viral outbreak turns most of the population into parasitic zombie-like creatures. Episode three has been the talk of social media ever since it first aired on Sunday 29 January. While the main series focuses on Pedro Pascal’s tortured smuggler Joel as he transports virus-immune teen Ellie (Bella Ramsay) to people who might be able to create a vaccine, this 74-minute instalment zones in on the 20-year love story between two star-crossed survivors. 

Is Hollywood turning a corner in its depiction of queer romance? | Soho House

Nick Offerman plays Bill, a man not altogether unlike his amazing, government-loathing, man of the woods character Ron Swanson from Parks And Recreation. They even have the same pure giggle, though that might simply be a cute Offerman affectation. Bill’s a doomsday prepper who navigates the violent breakdown of society like a pro. Having built a safe zone from his own home in rural Massachusetts, complete with gas, electricity and a heavy-duty armoury, he is content with riding out the dystopia on his own. But then Frank (Murray Bartlett) stumbles into a hole outside his electrified fence and soon enough the survivalist is cooking roast rabbit for two. 

Bill doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would give his sexuality a label, or has acted on it, but his Linda Ronstadt is a giveaway to Frank. Soon after performing Ronstadt’s cover of ‘Long Long Time’ on his mother’s vintage piano, Bill begins a romantic relationship with the outgoing visitor without much pomp and fanfare. These are just two human beings with varying tastes and demeanours, who might have different opinions on who they should trust and what resources they should use, but share the perfect dynamic to survive the apocalypse with one another. 

Directed by It’s A Sin’s Peter Hoar, there is a compassionate simplicity to an episode that chooses not to revel in the horror of this dystopian world. Rather, it provides a beautiful love story between two men to make a powerful statement about companionship: that the act of surviving can give you more purpose when you’re surviving for another soul. When the days are dark, that’s a heartwarming sentiment to remember. And a reminder to screenwriters and filmmakers, that existential ideas of love, relationships and lives worth living hit just as hard with single-sex couples at the centre of the mainstream.

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