Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"Rock Haven": a small film about religion and sexual identity


The little film “Rock Haven” (TLA Releasing, 78 min, site), directed and written by David Lewis, sounds, from its title, that it ought to be some kind of gentled fantasy horror. In fact, it is a minimalist “coming of age” gay love story that again takes us through the whole problem of homosexuality and religion. In fact, the “hero” Brady (Sean Hoagland) is almost sent to ex-gay camp but saves himself from that fate, preventing an unfolding like in the much bigger film “Save Me” reviewed here Oct. 24.

Much of the film is shot around Bodega Bay, CA, and includes the famous white church, which I saw in a 1995 visit to the area, which was made famous by the 1963 Hitchcock film “The Birds.” Furthermore, on a pre-Christmas trip to the West Coast from grad school in 1966, I and several buddies from the University of Kansas bounced around the famous beach on the way north to Oregon and eventually to Vancouver (aka Metropolis, pre Smallville).

Brady has moved to the California shore with his mother after his father died, and his mother is determined to carry on Christian evangelism. Carrying the Bible on the beach, he meets the Spaniard teen Clifford (Owen Alabado). Clifford, 19, is surprised from looks that Brady is already 18. The movie gradually makes Clifford almost a second lead (rather than supporting) character. Clifford has a New Age mom and a dad in Barcelona. Gradually, Clifford draws Brady toward his true self. “You don’t have a mean bone in your body” Clifford says. There is a lot of tension in a series of scenes building up to physical intimacy which, when it happens, is not directed as precisely as it should have been, despite the Hitchcock-like use of overhead shots (and there is a trace of NC-17 nudity). Brady starts lying to his mother about his absences, say, from church. There are some script lines about the supposed authority of scripture and the lack of freedom of man to pick what he wants to believe.

In a climactic scene, Brady and his mom each confide that neither one can “change.” His mother seems lost in the authority of scripture, and seems not quite recognize that her expectations from Brady are really more a matter of her own psychic needs than of religion.

When Brady and Clifford are together, they seem to have found freedom and believe, at least as young adults, they may live "as they are" with a certain innocence. I'm struck, personally at least, by a particular contrast. Clifford comes from a family that allows him complete freedom and encourages it. Brady comes from a religious background that demands emotional, as well as spiritual, payback. We become what we are because of the others who made us, and sometimes they seem to have a lien on us.

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