Dir.: Jannk Splidsboel
Documentary; USA/Sweden/Denmark 2015, 75 min,
After watching Jannk Splidsboel’s documentary about gay and lesbians in Tulsa, Oklahoma, one wonders why the religious fanatics of this world (in this case mainly Christians) create such hell on earth for everyone who fails to share their narrow perspective of life – whilst at the same time proclaiming endlessly publicly that these “sinners” will go straight to Hell.
Tulsa, population 400 000, is very much a soulless city and not only for these minorities. A uniformity of landscape prevails without any individual expression. It seems to have been censured by planner and inhabitants alike. A conformist force abides not only the suburbs, reducing the inhabitants to ants in a Lego world.
Now imagine being a gay or lesbian teenager in this environment. Suicides are not exceptional, doctors prescribe anti-anxiety drugs at the drop of a hat and many of the youngsters are literally thrown out of the house, as in the case of Larissa (17), whose mother simply declared “you are not part of the family any more”. The single safe heaven for these teenagers is the (only) Gay Youth Club in the city: “Openarms” has saved many lives, because people like Ben (19) feel that “it is me against the world”. For all of them, the club is “like entering a refuge, home and the family they never had”. On the wall of the meeting room is the motto of the club: “All love is equal”.
The stories these youngsters tell are disturbing – not only were they forced to go to Church but any book doubting strict religious dogma is confiscated by their parents. But not all of them have left religion behind; Benny (20) for example muses seriously about the concept of hell: “I believe in God, read the bible, and believe in hell. Where else would the bad people, the rapists and murderers go? But religion is contradictory”. All of them agree, “that no person would ever choose to be gay, looking at the trouble we are going through.” And the “trouble” is not just being thrown out of the family home, or being harassed by religious fanatics with megaphones and signs (“Remember Sodom & Gomorrah”) – one of the young men puts a knife into his boot because he has been attacked before.
The emotional turmoil these young people go through is shown with great sensibility: particularly the meeting of one couple, a transgender boy and a lesbian so full of angst (understandably, since they are literally re-inventing themselves), that the highly charged feelings are transferred to the audience. There is just one positive example here, when a young man discusses with his more liberal mother his proposed move to Dallas, to escape Tulsa for good.
Overall MISFITS suffers a little from structural issues and a restricted budget, but this is more than compensated for with a rare emotional directness. It certainly offers up a new example for the concept of “a living hell on earth”. AS
BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY. OTHER COVERAGE IS UNDER BERLINALE 2015