[This is a reply to Charles Francois on a movie discussion chat board. I always meant to do more with this, but lost interest in the film itself. Perhaps one day.]

 

As a defender of CHUCK & BUCK, I thought I would weigh in on why I found the
film really moving, and why I disagree with Charles's reading of the film's
ideology about gay sexuality. (That reading, in fact, is exactly what I
expected when I went to see the film, and I was immeasurably relieved to
find something completely different.)

First, the realism question. No, a guy wouldn't sleep with his stalker. No,
his fiancee wouldn't keep inviting him around. No, nobody would produce such
an awful play, least of all someone with Beverly's rapier wit. It is not a
realist film. Personally, I think assailing the film on these points is
wrongheaded. But suit yourself. Now, onto the ideology issue.

To me, the film alludes to reactionary theories of homosexuality such as
"inversion" or "arrested development" in order to discredit them. Neither
Buck nor Charlie are presented in the film as being reliable interpreters of
their own sexual subjectivities. Buck interprets his gayness within the
faulty framework of arrested development. In his conversation with Carlyn,
he bemoans the fact the Charlie "made [him] this way," as though being "that
way" were a serious problem. When Buck propositions Charlie, he is brazen
about it, but still must couch it in terms of a game. So Buck, with his toys
and lollipops, has slotted his sexual desire within a narrative of arrested
development. He seems to be holding onto the trappings of childhood not
*because* he's gay, but because that's the only way he can emotionally
manage his own gayness. I don't want to come off like I'm saying this
"isn't really a film about homosexuality," because it certainly is in many
respects. But I think Buck's juvenile way of dealing with sexuality is shown
by the film to be a flawed interpretation, and in this way Buck can fixate
on his gay desire as a part of an overall fixation on the past.

I think the scenes immediately after Charlie has sex with Buck are quite
telling. Buck clearly wanted to relive the past, but he actually ends up
doing something very different. He ends up having adult sex with Charlie,
and the aftermath shows that this busts up his prior interpretive framework.
He throws his toys away, ditches the suckers, and cries. An act which was
supposed to help him reassert that his gayness was and still is connected to
a boyhood past actually sends him headlong into adulthood (where he clearly
already was, but he wasn't prepared to admit it). But even more
interesting, I think, is that having sex with Charlie as an adult
retroactively recodes their childhood sexual relationship for both of them.
Buck's play, of course, demonstrated how Buck saw childhood and lust for
Charlie as inextricably linked. Once those two things are severed, Buck must
become an adult precisely in order to accommodate his homosexuality, which
is actually (surprise!) a sign of maturity.

(Incidentally, the shift in Buck's relationship to the past is reinforced by
a beautifully subtle moment near the end. Buck's jacket for the wedding
becomes a token of his new beginning, a thing of the past resignified.
Whereas before it would've been another sign of his being sadly stranded in
the past, it can now represent retro-coolness, because Buck's relationship
to the past has been reconfigured based on his tryst with Charlie. Buck is
no longer stuck in the past; he has a past and utilizes it in the present,
like most of us.)

Several reviews have complained that the character of Charlie is a cipher,
and that there is no convincing reason that he would sleep with Buck.
Putting aside the realism issue for a moment (see above), I think this
reading misses the epiphany that the tryst represents for Charlie (who,
let's recall, made the "deal" in the first place). When Charlie says "I
remember everything" and begins to passionately kiss Buck (as opposed to
simply upholding his end of the bargain), I feel that the film offers a kind
of explanation about the difficulty of getting a read on Charlie. Here is a
man who has made certain decisions about his life and sexuality, and
ambivalence about those decisions appears to be barely held at bay. But as I
say above, they both discover that sex as adults requires a new explanatory
framework, one which cannot be contained by childhood or innocence. Charlie
has now had adult gay sex with Buck (and, based on what we see, is going to
have a good time), but still returns to Carlyn.

There is no "magic cookie" impelling Charlie in this direction. Charlie
shows Buck that he has not abandoned the past or become heterosexual
lightly, but has fully assumed his choice to be with Carlyn. What for
Charlie might've started out as running away from being gay, becomes "good
faith," existentially speaking, and this Buck can accept. By bringing the
past into the present, Buck and Charlie both have to face two facts about
Charlie's sexual subjectivity. First, Charlie has had sex with Buck, and
still he wants to be with Carlyn. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Buck
is a part of Charlie's sexual past, and that past *is* a fundamental part of
Charlie's sexual present. Unlike most "compulsory" heterosexuals, Charlie
has arrived at his desire for Carlyn by way of a history of which Buck must
now be a fully acknowledged, and adult, part. This is *not* to say that gay
sexuality was just a layover point on the way to a "mature" het
relationship. This was the lie both Buck and Charlie told themselves, and
that's the lie which collapses.

The fact that having sex was transformative for Charlie as well as Buck was
shown by inviting Buck to the wedding. (I don't buy the supposition that
Carlyn invited Buck without Charlie's permission. She's not an idiot. If
Buck was invited, Charlie was responsible for it.) When Buck first confronts
Charlie about their relationship, Charlie dismisses their sexual past as
"exploration," calling on the "childhood games" trope. It seems to me that
by inviting Buck to the wedding, Charlie (and perhaps even Carlyn, but we
don't specifically know) is fully assuming his past, not segregating it as a
childhood indiscretion. By inviting Buck, I think Charlie is acknowledging
him (at least among the three principals) as an "ex." For both men, the
patronizing framework of arrested sexuality or "innocent sex play" is
discarded, and, at least between Charlie and Buck, a fully conscious, gay
past is affirmed.

As far as the wedding itself is concerned, I think reading Charlie's
relationship with Carlyn as a bisexual copout, chosen simply to acquire all
the cash and prizes of hetero marriage / monogamy, is rather reductive.
(Unless, like a horror-movie villain, we expect Buck to return in a sequel
as the Gay Avenger or something.) I think Buck really *does* accept
Charlie's decision, because Charlie convinces Buck that his decision is more
than a copout. It's a decision of the heart, which is part of what makes
Buck realize that he's an "ex."

At the risk of making my argument sound like Borges's "Pierre Menard," I
think the straightforward reading of the film is that gayness is an immature
stopover on the way to "proper" heterosexuality. (This is the reactionary,
100-plus year-old claptrap at which Charles F. rightly bashes back.) In
fact, the film rewrites heterosexuality as being an unusually,
uncharacteristically genuine (even "mature") choice, because it wasn't
compulsory, it didn't cordon gay sex off in some zone of pathology. Gay sex
is removed from the zone of pathology. To get Lacanian (please! don't hit!),
this film depicts a heterosexual man (Charlie) who fully assumes his past,
and in so doing, arrives at heterosexuality as something other than a
defense against homosexuality. It also depicts a man (Buck) who assumes his
existence in the present, as a gay man, and overcomes the "arrested
development" of cockeyed, homophobic theories about the aetiology of gay
desire. (I think Buck is flirting with the guy with the wedding cake.) I
think the film is actually pretty radical.

That's all.