I watched “The Talented Mr. Ripley” recently, and it was absolutely heartbreaking. Despite the titular character, played by Matt Damon, Tom’s propensity towards violence and the seemingly never-ending string of lies that he finds himself needling over the duration of the film, the core of his character is one riddled with a sense of deep longing and loneliness. He spends the entire story trying to lie his way into a life that’s always just out of reach.
The father of a dilettante run off to Italy, Dickie (played by Jude Law), hires Tom (after being led to believe that he went to school with his son) to find said dilettante and bring him back to New York to rejoin his family’s shipping empire. Of course, things do not go according to plan. Tom and Dickie become fast friends, and the former develops an obsessive infatuation with the latter. The rest of the plot is complicated and, hey, that’s what Google’s for, right? The four people reading this article don’t need a synopsis from the likes of me. What matters is that the film fits in squarely with a storied history of queer narratives dominated by a sense of confused desire, at the very least fraught, operating in a landscape of imbalanced power, and often unrequited.
These types of films are almost like a right of passage for presumably straight male heartthrobs: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal (2 for 1 special), Ashton Sanders and now Timothee Chalamet, to name a few, have all joined the Gay for Pay Hall of Fame, and it’s not a stretch to say that all of them have enjoyed a boost in their profile for having done so. Depending on who you ask, this isn’t necessarily a phenomenon worthy of unequivocal condemnation, and my critique isn’t directed towards any one of these actors of even of the movies themselves, but moreso towards an inquiry into the dynamics that create a draw towards these types of narratives and the guaranteed celebre reserved for straight actors who choose to take on gay roles.
According to a report by Lyst, Timothee Chalamet is the most influential man in fashion in 2019. The Vogue article announcing it features Timmy boy in a sequined hoodie from Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh, which was apparently commissioned via text. He looks on to the cameras covering the red carpet premiere of The King that he graces with a deadpan expression, fully aware of the power he wields.
It’s impossible to imagine this Chalamet-steeped reality that we live in without his Elio, which quickly earned him an Oscar nomination and a continued award show/premiere partnership with both Louis Vuitton and Haider Ackerman, the combination of which has afforded him the kind of internet style icon status that he will be able to cash in on for years to come. This might not have worked in the way that it did had he been openly, “visibly” gay or even speculated to have been in a same-sex relationship at the onset of his career. The possibility that an actor might experience same sex attraction, the interest that yields, along with the seemingly enchanting nature of a semi-masculine, young, boyish actor being able to reasonably act out a same sex relationship on screen without showing any evidence that such an impulse may have been drawn from real life seems to be nothing short of catnip for the media circuit.
It’s almost as though the concept of homosexuality, particularly male homosexuality, is more attractive to the masses than actually being homosexual. The profitability, or at least the sheer ability for those expressing genuine homosexual desire to find success in the entertainment industry, is certainly changing, but recent years have provided more than enough evidence to suggest that the curiosity of what might be is more interesting, more consumable, than the real thing. It’s almost like we could be supporting queer art that really says something and supports the communities whose stories they seek to tell, but we’re all collectively opting to see a big budget version of Czech Hunter instead.