Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

"This Place is Dead Anyway."

I watched Swingers with my friends last night. I was amazed how much I'd never picked up on before.

Now, I've seen the movie. A lot. I am, after all, an American male who entered college in the late nineties: repeated "Swingers" viewing was one of my few undergraduate requirements. I'll estimate I've seen the movie, all or in part, maybe 75 times. One of my freshman year roommates got into the habit of watching it every night before he went to sleep. I think maybe he thought it was some kind of esoteric riddle, that if he watched it enough ancient and powerful secrets would be revealed. (Sort of Pi-esque.) Or maybe he just liked the jokes. I never figured it out. Anyway, I'd invariably watch with him sometimes, and so, without ever quite intending it, I managed to watch "Swingers" an ungodly number of times.

But, in all my repeat viewings, I never picked up on a bunch of stuff. I think I was always distracted by my discomfort at the gut-wrenching awkwardness of everything the movie's protagonist, Mike, does. (It's hard not to be if you're possessed of any human sympathy.) I always watched "Swingers" the way I used to watch horror movies when I was a kid: my eyes and ears were there, but my mind was in hiding, throwing up wall after wall of defenses, desperately pretending it was somewhere else. And so I missed a lot of stuff that I'm only just noticing now, after law school has stripped me of all your pathetic human "emotions". (kidding, kidding)

I missed the small details: the times the characters don't pick up the drinks they order, the fact that the guys all drive their own cars in a little motorcade as they're going from party to party. Little subtleties that tend to escape you when your mind is screaming: "THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. THIS IS NOT HAPPENING."

One thing that I never caught is how vaguely homoerotic the relationship among the male characters is. There are a couple of instances of this, but the one that most jumped out at me was a moment in the swing bar towards the end of movie. Trent and Sue (who's a man, for those unfamiliar with the picture) are sitting in a booth, with a woman, apparently a semi-serious girlfriend of Sue's, on Sue's left. Earlier in the scene, there'd been an argument between Sue and his lady-friend about whether he'd called her the previous Monday (he hadn't, but was trying to claim he had), with Trent gleefully poking holes in his friend's story. That argument came to an end, however, when they see Mike hitting on a woman at the bar. (Mike's romantic problems - he can't get over his ex-girlfriend who broke up with him when he moved to LA to try to make it as a comedian - are the focus of the movie. His friends spend the picture trying to lift him out of his rut, mostly by helping him hit on women in casinos, bars and parties. But because he can't get over his ex, he's spectacularly, and agonizingly, bad at it.) Anyway, when they see Mike at the bar, Trent and Sue become enrapt, watching their friend and protege finally succeed. Intoxicated, they're already fallen into each others arms. They're leaning against each other, with Trent's arm behind Sue's back, his hand over his shoulder. The girlfriend, who's still with them, is sitting apart. She's probably less than a foot away, but in terms of emotional space it might as well be an infinity. And then, the best part, which I only just noticed last night: Trent starts to play with Sue's hair with his fingers. It's a brief shot, not played to be noticed. But it speaks to the larger themes of the movie.

None of the five men the movie centers around are homosexual. But they're all, to a large extent, homosocial. They live in a world where men can only be friends, in any meaningful sense, with other men. All their emotional ties (except Mike's feelings for his ex-girlfriend, which the audience experiences only as memory and hurt) are with other men (specifically, each other). Women are a kind of prey, to be hunted for sport or, on occasion, out of need. It's the apotheosis of the "bro's before ho's" ideal. And the bro's are actually quite capable of emotional intimacy with one another, and even (as in the scene I've described above) of a certain tenderness. It's the result of the philosophical decision they've made to separate physical and emotional intimacy: two heterosexual men snuggling in a swing bar.