Lukas Dhont, the young Belgian filmmaker’s claim to fame, came with his directorial debut of “Girl,” which tells the story of a young transgender girl who dreamt of becoming a ballerina. His next film is titled “Close,” and it’s an exploration of the friendship between two childhood friends whose dynamics undergo changes when they step into their teens. The movie is a nuanced study of the extremely sensitive nature of children on the cusp of becoming teens and the several emotions they start undergoing once they step into their teens. A heart-touching film that leaves audiences with a bittersweet taste and an important lesson about teenage friendship, here are the several themes that the movie deals with.
The bridge between adolescence and teenage is a strange phase; a hundred emotions crowd the brain, the body we spent the past 12 years in starts feeling different, and the world doesn’t seem to understand us anymore. In such confusing times, being a boy makes things more complicated. You see sportsmen who represent the national team and win trophies, male models who win the hearts of all your female classmates with their chiseled jawlines and stunning biceps, and seniors who sport long hair and can be seen outside the school with cigarettes loosely hanging from their lips. You want to be like them; you wish you were in their place, and you want to pursue such a life. But what if a kid finds happiness running through flower orchards with the boy he grew up with? What if he likes fighting imaginary knights with his friend by his side and goes to sleep hugging him because it feels like home? Then that boy is persecuted, he’s called names, and he’s made into a pariah if he doesn’t conform to the pre-determined rules of masculinity. This became a reality for 13-year-old Leo (Eden Dambrine), who quickly found out that his intimacy with his best friend Remi (Gustav De Waele) made others snigger and pass snarky comments because Leo wasn’t like his male peers. The golden-haired boy with blue eyes was interrogated by his female classmates, and their friendship was called into question while the older boys denigrated his masculinity for laying his head on the oboe-playing Remi’s shoulder.
While Remi remained unbothered by the snarky comments meant to insult the friendship he shared with Leo, the latter took the comments to heart. Determined to prove the naysayers wrong, Leo joined ice hockey and all the other sports he could find in his school to remind his peers that he was as masculine as society wanted him to be. The forced responsibility to be who you are not and the added stress of wading through a world where weakness is detested and masculinity is measured by the number of push-ups you can complete while your friends cheer you on confuse Leo. In this regard, Remi was much truer to himself than Leo ever could be. The oboe-playing kid found joy in talking to girls and his juniors, while his best friend took it upon himself to participate in ice hockey. The world of teenagers is cruel at its worst and confusing at its best. Leo hungers for a soul to bare his heart out to, who will condone the love he has for Remi without shaming him, and is forced to find solace in the frozen floors of the skating rink. The flawed sense of masculinity makes Leo drive Remi away because his sexuality is questioned, and yet he’s never able to consider the fact that the idea of what it means to be a man goes far beyond scoring goals in an ice hockey match and competing to see who can ride their bicycles fastest. By the time the realization dawns on him, he’s all alone.
The Need To Educate Children About LGBT Representation
Mainstream commercial media used to divide their products into two genders until recently – blue for boys, pink for girls, and GI-Joe for boys, Barbie for girls. This viewpoint has become so ingrained in society, especially in the expanding minds of pre-teens and teens, that anything that challenges the norm is frowned upon as queer. The lack of representation of LGBT students in schools and the absence of gender studies lead to a narrow-minded understanding in young teens, who can’t help but question when anyone opposes the established gender roles. Interestingly, the first people to question the purity of Remi and Leo’s friendship were a group of girls who found their closeness to be odd and planted the seeds of doubt in Leo’s head. The boys took it further and added an extra dash of insult by making homophobic remarks about Leo because of the closeness he shared with Remi. Despite his earnest attempts to clarify that he and Remi aren’t a couple, the stinging questions kept coming because the ones making the hurtful comments were never educated about sexuality and gender in the first place.
Brought up in a world where men are portrayed as the tough protectors whose primary responsibility is caring for the weaker, gentler women, the sign of a boy laying his head on another boy’s stomach to sleep raises quite a few indignant eyebrows. In an age where Leo and Remi themselves haven’t figured out what this closeness they feel about each other means, the world takes it upon itself to decide that the children are a couple and chooses to nip a beautiful relationship in the bud. The saying that goes – let children be children should also allow young teens to decide whom they want to be friends with and what activity should give them joy, instead of society deciding for them. Leo’s school hosted talk sessions where counselors offered guidance to students to speak about their emotions with the promise that they’d always listen if anyone were to come to them. What the school did need was prevention and lessons from an early age that gender roles are a societal construct and kids don’t need to conform to such regressive thought processes when they’re not old enough to be left unsupervised.
Friendship…And The Subsequent Loneliness Afterwards
Perhaps the most glaring theme in the movie is friendship that starts off in the purest of ways – fighting imaginary battles, running through vibrant meadows with their family chasing them, cycling through the winding paths with the wind in their hair. Leo and Remi had been friends since childhood and grew up in each other’s company; sleeping over at one another’s place was commonplace for the two boys. Leo celebrated Remi’s success, Remi vied for Leo’s appreciation, and the two had created a world of their own where they found security in each other. Then the corruption of society began. Masking emotions comes easily to adults who have learned to hide their pain adeptly under their smiles, a skill children are unaware of. The pure, raw emotion of comfort in placing his head on his best friend’s shoulder is how Leo demonstrated his friendship—something that was alien to the other children of his age. The expressive eyes of Leo and the unadulterated joy he felt when Remi was around him were the innocence of childhood before the comments of his peers made him question himself. Such was the impact of the bullying he faced that Leo felt the need to push his biggest confidante Remi away. The pain with which Remi tries fighting Leo, as tears gush down his brown eyes, is the loudest scream in the timid kid’s life as he fights to hold onto the friend who helped him make sense of this strange world. When the only friendship that mattered to him is extinguished, Remi takes his own life, unable to bear the absence of his best friend from his life.
“Close” is a movie that explores the extremities of human relations. Leo grew up hugging Remi while sleeping and blowing air on his face, which was the epitome of their closeness, and when Leo alienated him from his life, Remi felt the tremendous weight of loneliness. Such was the pressure of having to traverse the world without Leo that Remi chose to end his life, whereas the alternative was having to see him from afar and failing to be near him. Leo has been torn apart as well in his best friend’s absence, and nothing he does fills the gaping hole that the black-haired boy left in Leo’s heart. Leo feigned a boisterous laugh, played ice hockey to the best of his abilities, and kicked a football aggressively, but the warmth that Remi’s presence brought him was never filled again. Remi’s mother, Sophie, was kind to Leo until the day he finally gathered the courage to confess his part in Remi’s death, and he later returned to their residence to find them gone. “Close” closes with Leo standing alone amidst the orchard, an utter contrast to the lack of people who surrounded his life in the beginning.