The revolutionary love story of a saint and his senior.
By Lucy Doyle
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems/Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”/And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand./“I know what you mean,” said the little old man. —from Shel Silverstein’s “The Little Boy and the Old Man”
The romantic leads in Bruce La Bruce’s surprising new film Gerontophilia would surely appreciate Shel Silverstein’s poem about the similarities of youth and the aging, our very human distaste for our own mortality, and the importance of physical love.
The film’s opening credits are accompanied by nothing but the sounds of a woman climaxing between sloppy kisses. We come to understand the moans belong to youthful Désirée (Katie Boland) in an intense make-out session with the film’s lead, Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie).
It takes 15 minutes before we are privy to our first erotic scene: Lake has just started working at an assisted-living facility, and he lovingly gives a resident a sponge bath. It is an innocent enough scene, but the focal point of the innocuous interaction is Lake’s deep pleasure.
For a film whose title suggests something more illicit, Gerontophilia is quite tame—at least when compared to the director’s 1996 black sex comedy Hustler White, which also touched on staggering age gaps in the world of “gay-for-pay” hustlers and their elderly johns. Almost 20 years later, La Bruce’s fetishistic fascinations are more nuanced. It’s no accident this film features little more than necking; La Bruce is aiming for mainstream audiences, and he shows careful restraint in his handling of what has been called the “last sexual taboo.”
Although the handsome, well-mannered Lake has a girlfriend of his own (a running joke in the film is Lake’s alleged “saintly” identity), his sketches of the elderly are what really spark his lust.
In Gerontophilia’s world, the elderly are abused and belittled, and no one but Lake would ever notice the kindly old crossing guard. “One of the benefits of getting old,” says Lake’s love interest Mr. Peabody (delightfully portrayed by Walter Borden, as he unloads a shoplifted haul), “is being invisible.”
La Bruce knows his subculture, and he doesn’t mind flaunting it in his first big-budget release. With a flawless soundtrack and keen awareness of queer and feminist politics, Gerontophilia is the kind of film you invite to a party to impress your friends, but you hope won’t talk about its new 81-year-old boyfriend.
Some of the most profoundly beautiful and disturbing scenes juxtapose Lake’s unblemished, fresh skin with Mr. Peabody’s wrinkled, vulnerable body. Lake looks nearly ethereal in his youth, and our own mortality is a prominent motif of the film. Although Gerontophilia is being marketed as a “romantic comedy,” there are moments of horror, drama, and black comedy particularly reminiscent of the well-received cult classic Harold and Maude in the mix.
Gerontophilia may not be this generation’s Harold and Maude, but it is a beautifully shot, profoundly unnerving, and thoughtful movie. The humor never breaks the pacing Bruce La Bruce establishes with his sweetly novice star and his seasoned, well-aged romantic lead. The movie will spark dialogue and disagreement about society’s desexualization and, frankly, dehumanization of the elderly—a welcomed conversation-starter when you realize that most directors today are wary to even feature any actor over 35.
But do think twice before you bring this movie over to grandma’s.
Available from Strand Releasing (strandreleasing.com).