I missed this one at MIFF and it’s a timely tale of the damage caused by a lack of love and acceptance. Johnny (Josh O’Connor) lives on an isolated Scottish farm with his dad (Ian Hart) and Nan (Gemma Jones). There’s not much warmth in his world. His dad, whose physical ability has been limited by a stroke, lets Johnny know of his expectations and also his constant disappointment. Johnny copes by getting obliterated each night at the pub and seeking anonymous and emotionless sex with strangers. When his dad takes on a casual farm labourer, Romanian Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), Johnny is forced to work with him. With few words, a tentative friendship begins and Gheorghe’s warmth and acceptance gradually transforms Johnny’s view of himself and the world.
With the current furore about allowing marriage equality in Australia (and the vehemence of those opposed to it), I think of the film Lars and the Real Girl and the premise, as described by its writer Nancy Oliver, “What if you had a mental illness but everyone treated you with total love and acceptance?” What if Johnny, as a young gay man, had been treated this way? Would he still be trying to punish himself, to wipe out his days? Would it have allowed him to form healthy friendships and relationships? Would it have given him the confidence to talk to his father as an equal, to take on the responsibility of farming and of being an adult?
There isn’t a lot of graphic sex in this film but Johnny’s first furtive fumble in the back of a cattle truck catapulted an elderly opposite-sex couple out of their seats and into the benign sameness of their world outside. I imagine they thought this might be a gentle tale about Scotland and farming, about the valuable weight of tradition and the buoyant promise of youth. It’s a shame they left as they missed a beautiful story and the contrast of this first sex scene with later ones perfectly illustrated, without words, Johnny’s journey.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.