The opening of Bruce La Bruce’s Gerontophilia introduces Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie) as a young and beautiful lifeguard at a pool where the elderly go to swim. When he’s forced to perform mouth-to-mouth on a drowning old man, he gets an impossible-to-hide boner and is subsequently fired. The sequence recalls Kai Stanicke’s viral short Cold Star in the way the aquatic atmosphere of the swimming pool seems to suspend sexual repression and hypnotize the otherwise incompatible moist bodies of strangers into slow-motion contact. Perhaps it has to do with the literal fluidity of water, or the very acoustics of the public swimming-pool ambiance, harkening back to the place where boys see men naked for the first time without having to feel guilty. Unless, like Lake, the arousal becomes visibly evident.
The erotic magnetism of the pool amounts to a motif in queer cinema, from João Pedro Rodrigues’s masterpiece O Fantasma to Cam Archer’s wildly underrated Wild Tigers I Have Known. In La Bruce’s film, it functions as a narrative and sexual trigger for Lake, who, conveniently enough, ends up taking a job at a senior-living facility. With a little help from the psychotropic drugs he steals from a patient, he turns his attraction into practice and ends up having an affair with 81-year-old Mr. Peabody (Walter Borden). They then go on a road trip with no specific destination across Canada.
It’s probably unfair to say that the swimming pool and the near drowning make us aware of Lake’s “fetish” for older men, since an actual fetish functions more like a prerequisite for someone to get sexually excited. Which isn’t true of Lake, who seems to function sexually just fine with biological women his own age, like his BFF and ex-girlfriend, Désirée (Katie Boland). The extensive latitude of Lake’s objects of desire is, in fact, a recurring element in La Bruce’s films, where the real fetishized object is the manly male protagonists themselves, whose heterosexual masculinities are made available for queer consumption: ours, the filmmaker’s, and the gay characters surrounding them. But more than consuming butchness (epitomized by Tony Ward’s beefy body in Hustler White), La Bruce seems to be, as of late, more interested in making boyish youth available to be queerly devoured, sometimes literally, as in the anthropophagic orgies of Otto; or Up with Dead People.
La Bruce’s work has always dramatized, if not defined, queerness. He has a way of mixing political anger with untrammelled desire, an adolescent thirst for subversion that ends up exposing hetero-masculinity as a democratic toy that anyone can get off on. But in Gerontophilia, the filmmaker seems to have reached a point of maturity in his career not unlike Madonna’s, where he finds himself turning his trajectory into a kind of wearable brand, and his purposefully naïve obsession for the revolutionary into a self-referential parody of sorts. While the classic The Raspberry Reich took the idea of the revolution to ridiculous camp extremes, bringing us unforgettable one-liners like “The revolution is my boyfriend” and “Heterosexuality is the opium of the masses,” the only self-described revolutionary character here is silly Désirée, whose political ambitions bear the depth of a hashtag. Thankfully, the campy maxims are still there, such as “Shoplifting is revolutionary” (Winona Ryder is on Désirée’s list of “real revolutionaries”). While La Bruce’s cinema has always been cheeky and self-aware, Gerontophilia embodies a sense of disillusionment not only with the desire for the revolution, but desire for the properly butch male body that will finally come, bearing no traces of the queerness that will consume it, and ravage the otherwise undesirably queer one—as it does, repeatedly, in Hustler White’s memorable gangbang scene.
LaBruce’s greatest quality has always been his willingness to film, and to say, what no one else will, with a French sort of casualness and without the self-importance of other taboo-loving directors such as Lars von Trier. Xavier Dolan has inherited something of La Bruce’s insolence, without being able to replicate his rawness. In a way, La Bruce himself fails to replicate his own rawness in Gerontophilia, which chooses the delicateness of a fable instead of the narrative recklessness we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker. The idea of bridging the generational gap between queer generations through sex is reduced to a mere premise or storytelling device. La Bruce never really explores the perverse potential of bringing gays close to their most horrifying phobia besides femininity: aging. The Raspberry Reich’s iconic Che Guevara wall, which echoed the “your shit means nothing to me” text behind Jeremy Jordan’s bed in Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, gives way to the Gandhi background in Lake’s bedroom as a type of haunting headboard emblematizing the film’s tame spirit. Désirée’s own nickname for Lake is actually “saint.” Gerontophilia becomes more relevant if we consider it in the greater context of La Bruce’s rebellious oeuvre, that is, as a symptom, or an answer, for what queer theorists have been asking themselves for a long time: What comes after queerness?