Opinion: Kristen Stewart thriller is also a reminder of what queer kids are up against

Opinion: Kristen Stewart thriller is also a reminder of what queer kids are up against - Opinion and Analysis - News

Unraveling the Complexities of Queer Youth and Homophobic Parents in “Love Lies Bleeding”

The issue of queer youth being subjected to the cruelty of their own homophobic parents is a pervasive and often overlooked reality. Pop culture and political discourse acknowledge this taboo subject matter with reluctance, treating it as an uncomfortable open secret, much like the closet itself. In her latest film, “Love Lies Bleeding,” writer-director Rose Glass tackles this issue with raw and commendable directness. However, the film grapples with containing the magnitude of homophobic familial cruelty within the confines of a mainstream suspense thriller.

The narrative revolves around Lou (Kristen Stewart), a disheartened gym manager, and Jackie (Katy O’Brian), a determined bodybuilding champion. Jackie works at a gun range owned by Lou’s father, Lou Sr. (Ed Harris). Although the gun range serves as a secondary source of income for Lou Sr., his primary business involves less legal dealings. The story unfolds as Jackie and Lou unwittingly threaten Lou Sr.’s illicit activities, leading to dangerous consequences.

This plotline is far from being an unrealistic Hollywood narrative. Queer youth report elevated rates of parental abuse and lower levels of closeness to parents, according to studies. A study by Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University revealed that far more LGBTQ individuals reported adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, in comparison to straight adults. The trauma experienced by queer youth often forces them to flee their homes. LGBTQ homeless youth are more likely than their straight peers to engage in survival sex, trading sex for shelter or food due to lack of alternatives.

Jackie begins the film as a homeless individual who exchanges sexual favors for job references, estranged from her homophobic family with few options. Lou assures Jackie that her father’s homophobia is not the primary issue, but there’s more to this situation than meets the eye.

In “Love Lies Bleeding,” the film both directly addresses the experience of queer youth targeted by their parents and defuses it, albeit subtly. Lou Sr.’s abuse is reminiscent of homophobic abuse but isn’t quite actual homophobic abuse. Instead, it’s Lou’s straight sister Beth (Jena Malone) who suffers the most explicit domestic violence at the hands of her husband JJ (Dave Franco).

The film doesn’t shy away from the far-reaching impact of parental abuse on queer children. Parental love can be both a nurturing force and a weapon, leaving children unsure of how to define themselves amidst the chaos. Lou states that her father has enlisted others into his violence. This metaphorically represents the pervasive nature of abuse in queer children’s lives, making it difficult for them to identify themselves as victims.

Jackie’s bodybuilding journey is portrayed as an ambiguous expression of her feelings towards herself and her body. Her relentless workouts and escalating steroid use represent a self-punishing cycle of rage and violence, but also an embrace of strength, gender nonconformity, and empowerment. Similarly, Lou’s imitation of her father through actions like handling a gun symbolizes her inability to escape his control or her eventual displacement of him.

Filmmakers often explore unconventional means to convey the immeasurable horror and trauma of child abuse. David Lynch’s 1992 film “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me” abandons realism and linear narrative to convey the incomprehensible violence of child abuse. Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s 2022 film “Everything Everywhere All At Once” had to explore an escalating number of alternate earths to find a world where a mother could learn to love her queer daughter. “Love Lies Bleeding” takes a surreal turn in its attempt to break free from the repetitive cycle of trauma at the heart of the narrative. Empowerment and escape are difficult but glorious, pushing open a path to a superhero film or a myth.

Director Rose Glass and writer Weronika Tofilska’s bold and imaginative choice to tackle the intricacies of queer youth and their homophobic parents is commendable, even if it doesn’t always feel fully convincing. The film opens the door for more filmmakers to explore the complexities of parental love and its potential to harm those we should protect most, our children.

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