The X-Men Movies: Mutant Rights = Gay Rights?
By the time you read this, the latest X-Men movie, although currently breaking box-office records, will probably be replaced in the rabid movie-going audience’s mind by another Movie Of The Moment. And all fans of the series will have already seen it and moved on. And that’s great. This review isn’t really for those people. This review is aimed at the rest of the queer audience, who fail to see any relevance of a superhero movie in their own lives. Because actually, in the world of metaphorical gay cinema (that is, “regular” movies that can easily be understood as pertaining to gay themes), you can’t do much better than the series of “X-Men” movies. The third one, X Men: The Last Stand, makes the connections very obvious.
Yes, the X-Men movies are part of a superhero genre. From comic books. No, I don’t like superhero comics – as one comic book writer said so eloquently, superhero comics tend to be little more than juvenile power fantasies. And since I’ve never read the X-Men comics, I could give a shit about the great debate over whether the movies follow the comic book story.
But here’s what makes the X-Men movies different. First of all, the guy that directed the first two movies, Bryan Singer, is openly gay, and managed to weave in issues of “tolerance” pretty obviously in the plots. You see, the X-Men are a group of people (both male and female, despite their name), who are born with a mutant gene that gives them super powers, yadda yadda yadda. The strength of the movies, however, come from the social surroundings of the mutants. The first movie made a connection between a mutant and the WWII concentration camp. The second movie featured a sub-plot of a young teenage boy afraid to tell his parents that he was a mutant. The scene where he sat his parents down in the living room and “came out” was instantly (and, I think, deliberately) recognizable to every kid struggling with sexual orientation.
Even the basic struggle in the movie series mirrors the struggle for gay rights. The “good guys”, the X-Men themselves, are trying to help the rest of humanity by fighting crime and representing the mutant population as productive members of society. The “bad guys” aren’t your typical evil overlords. They are a group of mutants who could be called a radically extreme mutant rights group. Their goal is nothing less than complete acceptance of the mutants, even if it means seizing acceptance by force. Scenes in the film showing a divided America wondering how to handle the problem of mutant rights mirror this struggle between the mutant groups.
This conflict comes to a head in this third movie, when the mutant community is faced with a government-sponsored medical breakthrough. This breakthrough is nothing less than a shot that will instantly “cure” the mutants by “suppressing the mutant gene”, rendering them normal. Now, almost every queer person I know has contemplated that scenario themselves; the very idea of a “cure” is what keeps those destructive ex-gay movements raking in the power at the cost of human lives.
This movie was not directed by Bryan Singer, but still manages to keep the gay metaphors going strong. Sure, the movie features lots of special effects and superheroes doing super things, and if that’s what floats your boat, you’ve already seen the movie. For me, the conflict between the “good” Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart and the “extremist” Magneto, played by Sir Ian McKellan, is the crux of the film (interestingly, Ian McKellan himself is an openly gay actor and an outspoken advocate of gay rights. Coincidence?).
X-Men: The Last Stand may be a little hard to follow for those people who haven’t seen the first two. It’s not a huge deal, I’ve already painted the broad strokes above. As for the more detailed relationships between the characters that I have deliberately avoided going over here, you can pick them up as you go along. Or even better, rent the first two movies first. For while they are not the best films ever (they are all meant to be summer blockbusters, after all), they are genuinely entertaining and do provide some valid social commentary on the state of people who are different - different like most of the people reading this column.