For the Reelout Film Festival I watched the suspenseful, hard-hitting drama called “Drown”. Directed by Dean Francis, the film took place on the sandy beaches of Sydney, Australia and was centred on a man fighting his sexual attraction for another man, feeling pressured to stay within the boundaries of society’s constructed gender binaries. The film was filled with passion and violence, truly representing the struggle that so many individuals apart of the LGBTQ community face, especially when trying to fit in or when coming out to their friends and families.
The story begins when an attractive man named Phil joins Sydney’s Surf Club and the seemingly tough man with a large ego, Len, doesn’t accept him or his feelings he has for him. Phil begins to outshine Len on the job and from the beginning there is a sense of anger and hostility that Len holds over Phil. The story is told from Len’s perspective, he is seen continuously repeating to himself that he is worthless and when there is a flashback to a time his father abused him, it is evident that Len’s father believed in compulsory heterosexuality and would not accept the possibility that Len could be gay. Eventually Len could not hold back his anger anymore, viciously abusing Phil he leaves him bloody, bruised and betrayed on the bathroom floor. Phil never tells on him, but Len is still kicked out of the club, the one place where he felt accepted and powerful.
Phil ends up gaining the title of Lifesaving Champion, another reason for Len to hate him and when they all go out on the town to celebrate, the night takes a turn for the worst. Phil’s boyfriend shows up at the bar and is faced with ridicule by not only the members of the swim club but also Phil, perhaps ashamed and afraid of what the others might think of him, Phil leaves with Len and his best friend named Meat. The night continues and Len doesn’t stop poking fun at Phil’s sexual orientation, the three men stumbling around intoxicated enter a gay bar. It is here that Len finds himself attracted to the men around him and engages in sexual activity with someone. Drunk, high, embarrassed by his sexual behavior and extremely aggravated, Len takes Phil and Meat to the beach. Len ridicules, beats and sexually assaults Phil while instructing Meat to dig a hole in the sand and despite the fact that Meat tells Len to stop, knowing what they were doing was wrong, he continues to do so. With the sun rising, Phil is embarrassed, harassed and buried naked, only his head visible and when Len is confronted by Meat about his sexuality he insists on seeing who can swim the furthest as a way to prove his ‘manliness’.
The end scene was the most powerful and shocking in my opinion, all throughout the movie Len’s conscience continuously goes back to a time when he let a woman swim out into the ocean and commit suicide, it haunted him like his father and his forbidden homosexuality. In this scene Len does not stop swimming when Meat does, instead he continues on into the sea until his legs can’t keep kicking and his body sinks down, reminding himself of all of the mistakes he had made and all of the feelings he had bottled up inside. This scene also highlights the meaning behind the title “Drown”, not only does Len end up drowning in his own thoughts, and his own anger, but he feels as though he has no other option than to drown himself and escape it all. Understanding the difficult position Len was in made me realize that many bullies, like Len, are suffering from extensive pain and feel they have no other way of release than to hurt those around them, although this does not justify the bullying. This end scene was intense and I think it effectively portrayed the constant battle that so many LGBTQ individuals face, both internally and socially, being entrenched in society’s gender norms. For Len if he were to give up his hegemonic masculinities and come to terms with his homosexuality and the fact that he doesn’t fit within the gender binaries, he would have trouble viewing himself as a ‘man’, which is a debate many others face too.
Overall, I enjoyed attending this Film Festival, I had never heard of such a thing before and the environment in which it was held was welcoming, I would also highly suggest watching this movie if you want to understand from a visual and emotional perspective the difficulties many gay individuals face. I believe that for me some scenes were difficult to watch or wrap my head around, simply because we do not usually see these forms of verbal, physical and mental abuse in society or media, they are often kept hidden, even when this topic is so prevalent in society today and needs to be dealt with. I think there needs to be more movies like “Drown” in mainstream media which don’t exclude the LGBTQ community and do not sugar coat the dangerous violence and isolation that many individuals face.
The film was emotional and the director gave the viewer lots of opportunity to use their own interpretation and imagination when it came to certain scenes, which I thought was very interesting. “Drown” was effective in getting the message across that so many individuals suffer from isolation and violent bullying for not fitting in with societal norms and some people, like Len, simply end up committing suicide because they do not have the support to express their true sexuality. I believe that everyone should have the right to feel safe and comfortable to express their true identity within society, without having to feel terrified or vulnerable like Len and Phil did.