Max (Clive Owen) is irresponsible, in his own words a rotten person. Being gay is more a lifestyle choice. He’s got a boyfriend, a dancer who loves plants. Max brings home a beautiful blond boy, which proves a bad mistake. This is Berlin under the Nazi regime. The decadence of Weimar Germany captured by “Cabaret” lingers. Max goes to a nightclub like a bombed-out Babylon where drag queen Greta (Mick Jagger) sings mournful songs, suspended from the ceiling. Max’s pretty boy turns out to have the wrong connections. He’s a friend of a powerful man close to the Fuhrer, who orders his murder. Greta, now George, tells Max “Queer is out”. Max and the dancer escape the fateful knock on the door. Jude Law has a cameo as a Nazi Storm Trooper.
Max tries to do a deal through a rich relative (Ian McEllen) to escape to Amsterdam. But he can’t leave his dancer behind, so they go on the run, living rough. They’re inevitably caught, neither adept at survival in this harsh new world, where you can be arrested for having fluff (i.e. gay) thoughts. A nightmare journey on a train follows, en route to Dachau.
Max meets Horst, who wears a pink triangle denoting his status as lowest of the low, a homosexual. Horst gives Max advice. If you survive the train, you stand a chance. Max is in deep denial; but that won’t get him through. They’re in the jungle. You do what you have to, to survive. There are disturbing scenes to drive home that point, as a sadistic Nazi officer (Rupert Graves) forces Max to deny what he is.
Max hides under the yellow star, reward for his actions on the train. Easier to be Jewish than gay. Max gets a job moving rocks from one pile to another, then back, absurdist work to drive him crazy. He buys his gay friend into the same job, hoping companionship will get him through Hell.
As they labour a relationship develops. Max hurts those whom he loves, so can’t admit feelings for Horst. They have sex without actually touching, by talking themselves to mutual orgasm. Hard to find anything erotic in a concentration camp but this scene actually succeeds.
Max gives a guard a blowjob to secure medicine for Horst. An act of love? Or selfish desire to keep by him the man he needs to stay sane? There’s a tender scene, very powerful, where Max keeps Horst warm describing a sheltering embrace, gentle and soft. Max understands he has a choice: he needn’t become cruel and hard like the guards.
This is an emotional film about finding love and sexual identity in what has to be the most unlikely place possible. Max finally touches and holds his friend, moving moments that give the lie to those who’d deny male love. He dons the pink triangle symbolic of gay pride and finds redemption in final scenes that break the heart. Survival isn’t enough, and life without love isn’t living. Hard to feel uplifted, however by something so sad and deeply full of despair as this movie. Would the Nazis have allowed two men to move rocks endlessly while chatting and falling in love? Nicely symbolic, yes, but hardly believable. Still the message of the film resonates. Freedom to live and love is a right for all.
I read this synopsis of Bent on the MGM site:
This emotional drama chronicles the struggles of a gay man who not only survived a concentration camp, but also emerged from it a better, more caring human being at peace with his sexuality.
That’ll teach me to read other people’s reviews.
I won’t be the first reviewer to call this film harrowing. Set in 1930s Germany, Max and Rudy are lovers living the decadent life portrayed in Christopher Isherwood’s novels, and to an extent films such as Cabaret. There’s a wonderful cameo performance from Mick Jagger as a drag queen nightclub owner Greta.
Max and Rudy’s lifestyle comes to an end when Hitler begins persecuting gays. They flee to the woods, but are soon arrested and sent on a train to one of the camps.
A fellow prisoner on the train, Holtz, gives Max some advice: not to admit that he is gay and not to admit that he knows Rudy—whatever they do to him.
By the time he arrives at the unnamed camp, Max is on his own, and he’s decided to do anything to survive. Admitting to being a Jew, but not to being gay, he’s given a yellow star. Set to work moving rocks from one pile to another and back again keeps him sane, although the boundaries between sane and insane are blurred in this place of utter insanity.
Bribing a guard, he gets Holtz assigned to his rock-moving task as part of his determination to stay alive and prove to Holtz that he took his advice.
The lead actor, Clive Owen, is magnificent and carries the film, even though much of the film is watching him move rocks.
Do not believe synopsis of this film. It’s harrowing but magnificent.
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