★★★★ / ★★★★
When Thomas Bridegroom died after accidentally falling off a roof of an apartment building, his family banned Shane Crone, Tom’s partner of six years, from attending the funeral. Director Linda Bloodworth-Thomason tracks the history of Shane and Tom as kids growing up in Montana and Indiana, respectively, as teenagers following very different paths, as young adults meeting in California, up to the aftermath of Tom’s death.
It is very necessary that we get to know Shane and Tom as separate people before diving into the details of their relationship. What better way to do this than to divulge how the two men were like as children and what they had to go through growing up being gay in small towns where homosexuals were (and are) seen as less than and households that did not (or do not) understand what being gay meant. There are recollections of Shane being bullied at school but the more specific details allow the documentary to stand out.
For example, when Shane was a little boy, he expressed to his mother that he thought he had AIDS simply because he had seen Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” and the main character, played by Tom Hanks, is a gay man with the disease. By providing us that detail, it puts us into the mindset of a child who is afraid, a child who is ashamed that he is different, a child who does not yet know how to express that he is attracted to other boys.
Tom’s story is a direct contrast against Shane’s. Tom was a guy that everybody loved, from his good looks to his charming personality as well as his high level of empathy. In a way, the film suggests that he was able to channel a lot of the negative feelings he had for being gay into whatever he must or wanted to accomplish, from attending military school, becoming a model and an actor, to establishing a business.
Since the two are so different and yet were able to find enough commonalities to share something beyond intimacy, one cannot help but fall in love with them as couple. I was very moved by their home videos because it is easy to tell not only how much they adored each other but also how happy and free they were to be in each other’s presence. They were the kind of couple you root for to get old together. A lot of of fictional romantic comedy-drama movies prove too often that it is very difficult to convey those feelings. Here, it is shown in a real way, so romantic that the tragedy is that much more painful.
After the film, I wanted to know if Tom’s parents had spoken out about their decision to prevent Shane from attending Tom’s funeral. (They were asked to be interviewed for the film but had not responded.) I read some posts or articles saying or suggesting that Shane had the worst parents. I feel it is not my place to judge. However, I do want to understand.
I understand that they are devoutly religious and whatever the Bible says is always the bottom line. But what about their own morals—separate from what the text suggests that they do or say or think? For me, personally, there must be a separation. Because if there isn’t, then, to me, it is an irrational way to live’s one life, a state of being—for the lack of a better word—brainwashed.
Couldn’t Tom’s parents have thought, “If were dead and my wife or husband was banned from my funeral, would I like that? Would I feel respected during my final hours above ground?” I felt sad for Tom and Shane’s beautiful relationship being cut short but I was also saddened by Tom’s parents’ inability to love their son for who he was completely. In my eyes, they did not honor their son. They continued to deprive him of what they should have given him in the first place: unconditional love. If they had allowed Shane to attend the funeral, they would have given Tom what they couldn’t. Instead, they chose to be selfish. My heart sank because the corpse that they put in that ground deserved so much more.