Reviews of Films I Haven’t Seen: Close to You

Elliot Page in ‘Close to You.’

Elliot Page wowed audiences at the Toronto Film Festival this week with the premiere of his new film, Close to You, which parallels his own story of transitioning from being born Ellen Page to her new identity as a man. The film appears to be a major creative success, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Page’s talent is well established, and this is a deeply personal role for him.

Close to You, directed by Dominic Savage, tells the story of a trans man who returns to his hometown to confront his painful past. The film evidently features a great deal of improvisation, which makes the achievement all the more impressive.

The film also highlights a phenomenon in the consumption of artworks that doesn’t get enough attention, in my opinion: In many cases, experiencing a work of art, such as a movie or a book, is a sort of menage a trois between the artist, the viewer, and the artist’s reputation. Yes, sometimes, when we see a movie by a director we don’t know, featuring unknown actors, we have a pure artist-viewer experience, but most of the time, and certainly with commercial films, we come to the material with some idea of who made it—and that affects our interpretations of the work.

This isn’t an earth-shattering idea, but it’s been on my mind since I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. It’s a fine book, but I kept thinking, as I read it, that it was basically a well-written memoir of loss by a sixty-something woman. The fact that it was written by Joan Didion loomed large. If an unknown sixty-something woman wrote the same memoir about the death of her husband, it would have surely vanished into slush pile hell. People bought the book because they wanted a Joan Didion reading experience. Either that, or I’m a cretinous philistine who doesn’t know good writing from his ass in the ground.

With Elliot Page, the audience will know him and his story. In his public persona, Page comes across as a thoughtful, caring person with a lot of meaningful things to say about identity and living your life as your true self. You don’t get a vibe of Hollywood posing with him, either. He seems very real. His book about his transition story has been well received. This will probably inform the menage a trois experience of viewing Close to You.

Stories of gender transition can be inspiring, even to people who don’t believe they are in the wrong kind of body. Many of us have struggled to figure out who we really are and fight with established authorities, including families, as we self-realize into new identities. I had a minor version of this when I “came out” to my family as an orthodox Jew a few decades ago. My family has been understanding, but I know my choices baffled them at the time. There have been a few struggles, like with old friends who told me, “You’re too educated to believe in all this bullshit, right?”

Transition is not always a positive thing, however. Look at the millions of Americans who have finally found the “courage” to come out as racist assholes. All their lives, they felt different, unable to articulate that deep inside them was a person who wanted to make death threats against librarians and run their mouths about how the blacks are ruining everything. Society’s cruel rules, like you shouldn’t hate people for being different, held them back. Not anymore. They’ve found their true identities and they’re so pleased with themselves.

Gender transition has its unexpected surprises, too. Not every journey is to a happy place. A recent, poignant Newsweek article highlighted this reality. James Barnes, a trans man who had wanted to be a man since the age of three, wrote, I’m a Trans Man. I Didn’t Realize How Broken Men Are. When he finally transitioned, he learned something that I, and pretty much any adult man, could have told him: men don’t have a lot of friends. Men don’t make friends easily. Men don’t spend a lot of time talking with male friends. Or, as Nancy Pelosi opined about Caitlin Jenner: Why would anyone choose to be a 65-year-old woman?

Further to this point, transition stories like Close to You may serve to expose the lies we tell ourselves about who we are. An insightful review in Cosmo UK of the film Fair Play, which depicts the unraveling of a relationship after the man can’t handle his wife’s being promoted at work, cuts into the Hollywood myth of male strength. No, (and how derivative is it to review a review of a film? I’m liking this…) men are in fact terribly fragile. The loathsome man in Fair Play has all his cringeworthy weakness hanging out, and more men than you might imagine can relate.

If this notion confuses you, see: Trump, Donald. Here’s a man who boasts of his manliness nonstop, whose fans love his “Big Dick Energy” (BDE), but who is fact a whiny coward, arguably the most pathetic excuse for a man every to present himself in American public life. He’s so insecure, he’s ready to destroy the entire republic just to avoid admitting he lost an election. Maybe it’s time for him to transition. There’s obviously a huge loser inside all that blubber screaming to get out.