“The Big Sick”: romantic comedy about caregiving covers Muslim assimilation

The Big Sick”, directed by Michael Showalter, written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, does, even as a romantic medical comedy (if there is such a thing) lay out the issue of assimilation for religious minorities, especially Muslims.

Kumali, playing himself as having come with his parents as a little boy from Pakistan, does comedy gigs at Chicago nightclubs, more or less on Rush Street. His more conservative but well assimilated Muslim parents urge him to go to law school and become respectable.

Kumali falls in love with a (Gentile) girl Emily (Zoe Kazan), and they start sleeping together.  One day Emily twists her ankle in a supermarket, and a few days later is in a medical coma with what looks like a life-threatening opportunistic pneumonia.  Kumali is the only one present until family arrives and pretends to be the husband.  The doctor asks if she has HIV, which could mean that Kumali has been exposed to AIDS himself. (Yes, heterosexuals can spread it.)

But it turns out that Emily has an unusual automimmune disorder, related to genetics (and probably an earlier infection like mono).  Eventually she pulls through, and the end of the film will deal with whether they still have a relationship.

The film presents a few social issue confrontations. Early in the film, when Emily shouts out at him, he scolds her for harassing a  comedian, which is considered rude behavior in comedy clubs.  (Ask Kate Clinton, whom I have watched on Netflix.)  Nevertheless, that helps start the relationship.

While Emily is in the hospital, a caricature of a while nationalist and “Trump supporter” harasses Kmali in the club as a recruiter for “ISIS”.  The boorish troll gets tossed by security, but not before he is told he is  “bad person”, part of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”.

Then there is the scene where Kumali is confronted by his parents.  Why doesn’t he think about his family instead of himself, they say.  Why is an arranged marriage to a Muslim girl not god enough for him?  Why won’t he grow his beard?  (He looks quite handsome and charismatic as he is, clean-shaven but with his hairy body;  most middle Eastern people are actually “white”, a fact that gets lost on a lot of people.)  Why won’t he kneel and pray five times a day facing Mecca?  Kumali does not such formality is necessary to have the personal faith.

I worked in I.T. or 30 years, and I always encountered software people from India and Pakistan. Until 9/11, nobody thought about religion in the office.  Everyone was assimilated. The parents are shown as well off, with beautiful Islamic interior decorations and art work in the house, and well assimilated into American capitalism and business.

At the end, Kumali moves to New York to start in a new club, and Emily has to make a choice.

Chicago picture (wiki).

There was a short film called “Murphy” about a boy, a dog and an animation in the pre-show (M2M).

Name: The Big Sick
Director, writer:  Michael Showalter, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/9/10
Length:  120
Rating:  R
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, Apatow
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, September 11, 2017m at 12:30 PM EDT)

“Human”: People around the world tell their stories, which add up, against alien-looking scenery

Human“, the project of Yann Arthus-Bertrand, alternates interviews with ordinary people from all over the world with aerial images of people in collective actions, or sometimes scenery that is so abstract in design and non biological colors that it looks alien.

The first interview presents a convicted murderer who meditates on learning what love and forgiveness mean. In time, other interviews present what makes humans tick, and some of it is chilling. A couple young men present what makes them want to fight an enemy in a brotherhood (jihad). Others talk about being socialized to sacrifice themselves to overcome common enemies. But as the film progresses, the interviews open up. In the middle section, several gay people speak, starting with a woman who had sex with a man under family pressure and got HIV from heterosexual activity. The religious objection to homosexuality, especially within Islam, is briefly explored. So is immutability.

Then the interviews move back toward a bigger vision of social justice.  One speaker (an Aborigine) mentions that earlier cultures did not have words to indicate personal ownership of anything. There is a lot of attention to the enslavement of low-wage workers overseas in quasi-dorm life.

The intervening photography is stunning.  One of the first images is of people playing soccer on a mountain plateau.  There are mass crowds with human columns and waves.  There are odd images of gas and water that look like they come right out of Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar”).  There is a shocking scene of manual labor in a mine in Russia.  Near the end there is a shocking scene of the slums in Senegal. There are over 60 filming locations.  There is an interesting abstract of Manhattan at night with the reflected light manipulated to look like fire.

The music score, by Armand Amar, resembles the music of Philip Glass.

A possible comparison would be “Koyaanisqatsi“, by Godfrey Reggio (1982).

Senegal scene similar to film, Wiki.

Name: Human
Director, writer:  Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Released:  2015
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E St, 2017/4/24, large auditorium, full
Length:  143  (full theatrical is 190)
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Kino Lorber
Link:  official, Filmfest

(Posted: Monday, April 24, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”: thorough history of gay psychological culture (2nd edition)

I received by mail a review copy, an “Advance Uncorrected Gallery”, of the second edition of the book “Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”, by psychiatrist Loren A. Olson, MD, with a Foreword by Jack Drescher, MD The first edition had been published in 2011, with Karen Levy, by the InGroup Press. The new edition is due from Oak Lane Press on April 1, 2017.  The review copy was supplied by FSB Associates.

The book is monumental in its coverage of the cultural, moral, and particularly psychological history of “the gay community” and particularly of the value of gay men born in earlier generations. The author was born in 1943, the same year as me, even before the “Baby Boomers”. So, like me, he is a “Traditionalist”.

The book at first focuses particularly on gay men who have married and had children, and then “come out” in mid-life or later (and move out from “living straight”, often leading to divorce and custody issues). Olson introduces the acronym MSM, “men who have sex with men”, as not always synonymous with “homosexual” or “gay”.

Olson covers he vitriolic anti-gay societal attitudes immediately after WWII, that loosened in the late 1960s, leading to Stonewall. He notes that earlier generations had accepted homosexual men without naming them as such. But in the early 20th Century, the idea of eugenics became somewhat popular, along with the idea that sexuality (even to the point of considering masturbation and fantasy) should be completely dedicated to create and raising “better” future generations. We can certainly connect that with fascism. Olson presents McCarthyism (in line with the hypocritical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) as a “conflation of cowardice, homosexuality, and treason” in an era of pinko-phobia (my own take). He also relates this to his own upbringing in Nebraska (he practices in Iowa), where his mother implied that a boy who couldn’t manually start a lawn mower was a sissy. He traces the gradual change in attitudes up through the 1990s (living through the AIDS epidemic) and mentions the 1982 movie “Making Love”, as dramatizing the issue of a married man’s coming out.

Olson covers the issue of intergenerational gay relationships. He shows surprising candor in discussing the body image problem for gay men (sometimes it becomes “body fascism”), but maintains that a certain subset of young adult gay men are attracted to older men, even when overweight, bald, and hairy. The term “chubby chasers” gets mentioned. He describes the physiology of male sexual arousal, and relates it to age: young men have the greatest testosterone levels from about age 15 to about 30, with some variations; after about 35 or 40, most men drop off slowly. He does discuss the opportunism of pharma on this. He notes that men who come out later in life, after marriage, would not have experienced being “in the market” when their bodies were likely to be perceived by some people as the most “desirable”. He notes that agism has more effect on women and gay men than on straight men (even after divorce); men tend to care more about the visual satisfaction that their partners provide than women do, but then again, not always.

He also discusses the moral and legal issues concerning illegal relations between some men and underage teens. He distinguished between pedophilia and pederasty, but he might well have introduced “ephebophilia”. Since this book is in final revision, he might have the opportunity to discuss the “fall” of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos over the latter’s reported videos on this matter (my further comments).

The last two chapters do discuss briefly recent advances in gay history: the end of “don’t ask don’t tell”, and the Supreme Court victories in gay marriage. He also discusses hate crimes from enemies who remain, especially the horror of the attack on the Pulse disco in Orlando. He also mentions the arson at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 (film review Feb. 16).

He also discusses the needs of gay seniors, often living alone, with widely varying degrees of independence and health. Many were prudent enough three decades ago never to become infected with HIV. He notes that never married gay men and women, especially, as they get older, are more likely to wind up taking care of other relatives, out of filial piety. He does provide some discussion of genetics, epigenetics, and gender expression and sexuality. A gene that makes a male brain predisposed to more sexual interest in other men would reduce births fathered by homosexual men, but might increase childbirth from women with the gene, and therefore result in a net gain in population.

He also has an interesting mathematical definition of self-esteem,, as a reciprocal of the difference between the ideal self and actual self.

My own take needs to be mentioned. As I have written before, I “came out” a second time, in 1973, after a listless but interesting period of heterosexual dating without sex. In my novel, “Angel’s Borther”. I introduce a 40-year old man, still at the end of his biological summer, married with children, with a day job as a history teacher but also as a covert intelligence agent, who is suddenly sent to the site of Auschwitz where he meets a mysterious, precocious male college student with whom he falls in love. Previously, he has avoided homosexual activity (partly out of “public health”) except for some “rite of passage” sessions when in college, which he feels need some sort of culmination.

Mentioned In the book:

Met Life’s Study “Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian and Gay Baby Boomers” (link)   (2006) And sequel “Still Out, Still Aging” (link) (2010).

Author: Loren A. Olson, MD
Title, Subtitle: Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight
publication date 2017/4/1, second edition (first ed. 2011)
ISBN 978-0-9979614-3
Publication: Oak Lane Press, Des Moines, IA; 286 pages, paper, 9 roman; Foreword, Preface, Introduction, 12 Chapters, Endnotes, indexed
Link: Publisher, author

(Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“Theo and Hugo”: explicit gay film with a love story centering around containing HIV

seine_and_eiffel_tower_from_tour_saint_jacques_2013-08

Name: “Theo and Hugo”
Director, writer:   Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Reel Affirmations, Tivoli Theater, 2016/10/15
Length 92
Rating NA (would be NC-17)
Companies: Wolfe
Link: link 


Paris 05:59: Theo and Hugo”, also titled “Theo e Hugo dans le meme bateau” or “Theo and Hugo in the Same Boat”, directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, is a gay love story whose alternate title amounts to a logline for the plot.

It’s also a porn film, arguably NC-17, with a real plot. Theo (Geoffrey Couet) mounts Hugoo (Franxois Nambot) in a sex club, as the film opens with an orgy in muted reds, the camera flashing a heavenly light on the couple when it appears.

Ove the next ninety minutes, until dawn in Theo’s tiny flat (remember “Zero M2”, Sept. 16) the couple wanders the streets of Paris, and into a hospital where Theo gets a prescription for some protease inhibitors after he confesses he didn’t use a condom, and Hugo says he is HIV+ but with undetectable viral load. It’s amazing how quickly the French health care system works at 4 AM for an “ASE” emergency. The film has some useful information on the practical risk to the “active” partner, and some info also on the side effects of protease inhibitors (which are much less severe than they once were;  Hugo looks pretty good).  I once had an incident in 1999 where I “criticized” the shocking appearance of a friend and was berated for lookism; but the “protease pot” seems to be a thing of the past, hopefully.

The last scene, if presented first, could have been erotic, because there could be some real tension before the characters go nude.  Theo is the “masculine one” – hairier, but slightly shorter.  Theo apparently works as a teacher (but can’t afford much in Paris); Hugo works as a notary, which got some laughs from the audience, which could have made a mental comparison to “The Accountant”.  Unfortunately, the orgy scene comes first, which, for me at least, drains the tension at the outset.  (In Catholic France, circumcision seems to be the rule, not the exception.)  Whatever the film title, there’s no “Quasimodo” in this film.

My “first experience” was in the Club Baths on the East Village in New York City on a Saturday night in January 1975.  I remember the experience vividly, as a fallen male (to quote George Gilder). The baths got closed in the 1980s during the AIDS crisis, at least in the U.S., but underground sex clubs started opening in the early 90s.  In the US they were usually in private locations where you had to call to get the address.

I saw the film at the Gala Tivoli in Columbia Heights of Washington DC as part of the Reel Affirmations film festival this weekend. But the show got started about 40 minutes late.

Wikipedia attribution link for Paris picture, by Zinneke under CCSA 3.0.  My most recent visit: May 2001.

(Posted: Sunday: Oct. 16, 2016 at 10:45 AM EDT)