Thoughts on queerplatonic/homoromantic subtext in London Has Fallen

London Has Fallen is an action movie made in 2016. It´s your everyday action flick, with explosions, choppers, allmighty tough guys and so on. Gerard Butler plays the undestructable bodyguard of Aaron Eckhart´s moderately hardcore occasional damsel in distress (more on that later), the president of USA. Tha fall of London was preceeded by the fall of Olympus, that is, the White House, which fell three years earlier (Olympus Has Fallen, 2013). Also Morgan Freeman is there.

So let me set the stage here. Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a happily (I assume) married man, who works for  Ben, the president (Aaron Eckhart). One faithful night the president´s limousine crashes and leaves Ben a widower, his son Connor without a mommy, and Mike disgraced and mildly traumatised. Then Olympus Has Fallen happens, Mike resolves it, saves some people including Ben and Connor and is back in the bussiness with all the previous glory.

Then London Has Fallen happens. The funeral of a mysteriously deceased british MP turns out to be a big ass trap for the world´s most powerful leaders. When the shit hits the fan, Mike grabs Ben by the arm and drags him away, hoping to get him to safety.

That´s the main difference between Olympus and London falling. Mike and Ben spend the second movie together. When I watched the movies right one after the other, I couldn´t help but feel something was missing from the first movie. My dad had told me the same thing before I watched it, but while he couldn´t quite put his finger on it, I knew what it was immediately after seing London. 

Butler and Eckhart have great chemistry together, which the first movie completely wasted – the president is separated from Mike and held in a bunker. I have to admit I have strong shipping tendencies and everything is kinda gay when I try hard enough but in all seriousness, action movies do have a history of  hiding the gayness under the layers of macho icing. There was a whole period during which the male body in action film was almost fetishized, not only by camera but by characters in the movie. Think about all the torture scenes, for instance.

Anyways, London. Let´s have a look at some of the things that stand out to me as symptoms of something going on under the main plot.

The whole bodyguard thing – In movies, bodyguards and those they are supposed to protect have very close relationships, based on absolute trust. The protectee´s life is very often in the protector´s hands. If the bodyguard also happens to be a family friend, as it is in the case of Ashers and Mike, it´s quite possible one of the strongest relationships the protectee has in their life and therefore it is only logical that Ben seeks an emotional asylum in Mike after Margaret dies.

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“Ben” vs. “sir” – Mike does switch a lot between these two ways in which he addresses the president. He has troubles hiding how personal this is for him, it´s not only the president who is threatened, it´s Ben and as seen in Olympus Has Fallen, once they touch Ben, they have Mike to deal with and it ain´t pretty. This is not a very sharp argument to support my point, but I saw fit to mention it anyway.

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An excessive amount of touching – Sure, from time a bodyguard has to grab someone and drag them to safety, but these two really have a lot of physical contact. Besides taking Ben by the arm or patting him on the back, which is happening constantly. At one point he just grabs his face, and take note that Ben is conscious and responding at the moment, so Mike is not touching him like this to check whether he´s alive or to keep him present, as seen in Olympus Has Fallen:

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Here this move seems to be motivated more by the need of physical contact due to the traumatizing experience they´ve just been through. You know, that´ he/she had to touch him/her to make sure they are still there´ kind of touching.

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And I already mentioned the arm-grabbing. There are few moments where Mike is just dragging Ben behind him like a kid. (Until he slams him against the car. Please don´t slam your kids against cars. Aagainst anything, for that matter.)

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That one sentence:

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There´s quite a few bits of dialogue that could be interpreted in various ways, but I´ll talk about that elsewhere. This particular sentence is either a stupid gay joke, which is a notion that was popular in action movies somewhere in the eighties and earlier, and which I think we are quite over, or it´s a pun playing on the fact that Ben was both literally and metaphorically hiding in a closet.

Ben in general – The more I look at Ben, the more of a puzzle he seems as a character. Technically, London Has Fallen resembles a buddy cop movie (which also like to include gay vibes, by the way) – two guys with guns kicking asses of some baddies of non-american origin. The only thing stopping it from fitting the subgenre of interracial buddy cop movie is the fact, that it´s not interracial. Otherwise, we have the violently hyperactive white man – Mike, and instead of his calmer, more domesticated black colleague, there´s Ben, who certainly is calmer and more domesticated, but also white.

But even bigger similarity is to be found elsewhere. Ben´s status destines him to be the one in danger in such a movie. But then again, there also were some downright badass american presidents in movies, to name the top of the class, I´d say Harrison Ford´s James Marshall from Air Force One. Ben Asher is made out to be more realistic next to this counterpart of his and also next to Mike. He´s scared, he doesn´t like the sight of a man slowly dying, he´s not partial to shooting people, he worries about his child, he likes ice cream. He can take a punch but he isn´t a superman running around with a hole in his stomach.

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Ben´s primary function is to be rescued. Which is something usually reserved for women. The damsel in distress is considered to be one of the most sexist archetypes and current filmmakers are trying to avoid it. Placing it incospicuously into an action flick with two white male leads is quite a breath of fresh air.

Ben fits there wonderfully. In the first movie he gets kidnapped, here he tags along as the main tough guy shoots and punches his way to the bad guy source. At one point he literally screams for Mike as he´s being taken, I would assume partly out of worry and partly because he knows he´s fucked without his bodyguard, so no instant hero.

Downplaying Mike´s family life – The viewer knows Mike has a pregnant wife, but those few somewhat gratuitous shots of her planning nursery or worrying are… well, somewhat gratuitous? And at the end of it all, Mike still chooses to continue in his dangerous job, despite the fact that he´s gonna have a new baby at home. What conclusion can be drawn from this? The options are following:

  1. Mike loves America more than anything and anyone and wants to kick all the terrorist butts in the world, which gives me a rather nostalgic vibe. Action heroes aren´t this obviously one-dimensional these days, I think, unless it´s done on purpose.
  2. Mike is confident that he won´t die. Yeah… no. Personally I don´t see that working.
  3. Ben is equally or even more important to him than family. Mike loves his family and is happy, so if he´s willing to put them aside for him, there probably is something stronger going on.

 

So, to sum up:

  • a strong bond between two men that just might surpass the level of friendship because they have been to hell and back together
  • deep personal interest in the other´s well being
  • a lot of touching between the two
  • the ´closet´pun
  • Ben fitting the archetype of damsel in distress
  • the second movie got significantly better thanks to the leading couple

With this said, I think London Has Fallen could be an example of a movie depicting a homoromantic relationship in its second plan of narration. I wouldn´t  go as far as claiming that there is an explicit homoerotic something happening, I would need at least one shirtless male to defend that, but I think it´s not far-fetched to consider Mike and Ben having a canonical, at least queerplatonic bond.

 

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