Holding The Man ***
Starring: Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Neil Armfield
Behind every mass tragedy are the collective faces of its human victims. Behind each face is a story; life, love, ambition, success, failure – the strands from every life that can only be seen in their totality after someone has passed on. It’s easy to dismiss the number of fatalities as just a statistic in the history books, but Holding The Man seeks to unpick the story of just one of the millions lost worldwide during the AIDS crisis. To show just one of its senseless tragedies.
Tim (Corr) and John (Stott) fall in love while at an Australian high school during the 1970s. Despite derision from both their parents, they defy the claims they are “going through a phase” and stay together through graduation, college and beyond. Though their relationship isn’t conventional, the intensity of their love for one another is tested and proved over and over again, until they face its greatest test of all. Where many would buckle and fold, Tim and John face their recriminations head on while they struggle to deal with life as gay men during the 1980s.
Holding The Man’s greatest strength is also its biggest flaw. Both Tim and John are highly imperfect, with both making mistakes and behaving irrationally. However, despite this, the two are able to look past their mistakes and love each other unconditionally, making for a very believable depiction of a very human relationship. However, these imperfections subsequently make it quite difficult for the audience to fall in love with them. John, though sweet and warm, sometimes appears saccharine and sickly; while Tim is annoyingly confrontational. It’s difficult to see in the film’s early scenes why John would be attracted to Tim at all, both from his provocative behaviour and his overly spirited uglification from the film’s style-by-numbers hair department.
It’s difficult to see what Armfield’s intention was. In adapting Timothy Conigrave’s memoir, there is clearly an attempt to honour his memory with a depiction of the human at its centre, but as a piece designed to show the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, the film needed a more sympathetic protagonist. Of course our hearts break with the film’s later scenes, but because there is a lack of investment in the relationship itself, scenes that should have been seeped in misery come across hard and cold.
The supporting cast also fail to add any warmth, with a sea of faces that have little impact on the relationship or the film. Both sets of parents have a narrative function, but beyond that, do little more than feature as archetypes. And during a segment set at a drama school, the old farcical clichés are rolled out, serving only to undermine Tim, his profession and any real credibility he holds. Though often well-edited and slickly shot, any attempt to populate the world around the central relationship succeeds only to weaken it, rather than contextualise it within a wider world. And when the invading elements of this world should be under the microscope, this is a real problem.
However, in putting a human face on the AIDS Crisis, Holding The Man succeeds to a degree. It serves as a reminder that the virus touched people from all demographics and though sometimes it’s easy to pass moral judgement on the characters for their moments of indiscretion, their ramifications so clearly outweigh their cause. Regardless of whether you like Tim and John, it’s plainly obvious that neither deserves the pain that is forced upon them and the film lingers as an adept testimonial about the LGBT Community’s darkest hour.
Available to download, stream, buy on DVD or watch on Netflix.