Today I'm going to study something external to my mind (now you should cheer a lot since this is so rare). Films are nice, especially those with complex characters and interesting relationships. X-Men: First Class is of the kind. No, I'm not joking. While it is a story of 'superheroes' saving the world and being extremely cool with their superpowers, the more interesting part is the chemistry between the main characters, Charles and Erik. The homoerotic subtext is really quite obvious in this film and even the actors themselves admit it. However it's not my only point of interest this time; merely a part that has its own place and importance.
And do forgive me but I'm going to babble on expecting that you know what I'm talking about. I have seen the movie twice and some of you might not have seen it at all but I'm not going to describe the scenes I'm referring to or anything so either you'll just have to keep up or skip this post entirely.
Being a prequel for the four previous X-Men films, First Class shows us how it all began. We get to see glimpses of both Charles' and Erik's childhoods, which proves to be pretty much essential when trying to understand why an how they became the persons we already know from X-Men, X2 and The Last Stand -films. At this point I have to point out how tremendous job these two younger actors, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender have done when filling the boots of their characters' older versions, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen (I mean, c'mon, they're both sirs!). Both of the characters' spirit has been well preserved and personal growth into their older selves is believable. I'm not familiar with acting or making films or anything but I suppose it can't be easy knowing how your character will be like in 10, 30, 50 years when you still should make it your own: not copying nor changing anything vital.
And I am rambling too much. So let's begin.
|Chales and Erik in yellow spandex.|
It is said that opposites attract one another. With Charles and Erik this certainly seems to be the case, for they differ from each other in almost every way imaginable. Still, throughout the X-Men saga they are continuously drawn together (I haven't read the comics but according to my reliable sources this statement is more or less correct) regardless of their differences and disagreements. Starting from the very beginning, Charles and Erik had very unlike childhoods. While Charles lived in a huge, beautiful mansion without any substantial shortcomings, was Erik, being a Jew during Nazi-Germany, sent to a concentration camp where first separated from his mother and then made to watch how she was shot before his eyes, in addition suggesting that it was his fault. Two people's life-stories couldn't have been more dissimilar. Another rather intriguing detail in the boys' early years is what kind of relationship they had with their mothers (of fathers we know nothing). As mentioned, Erik lost his mother young and in probably the most horrifying way possible. The little we see them together clearly points at an extremely tight bond between the two. Charles, on his part, seems to have been quite a lonely and independent child with a rather indifferent mother and a house full of servants. Now, my pseudo-psychologising mind has concluded that this has led to Charles' diligent drive to help and look after others. When possibly having been declined and left uncared for as a kid, he has become determined not to repeat this mistake by unconditionally offering a hand to anyone in need.
Charles' most characteristic quality is his everlasting faith in goodness in people. He rarely accepts that someone is out of his reach and hopeless to be helped. His forgiveness and patience are remarkable, for even after many years of occasionally clashing with Erik in an ideal level he never gives up on him. Charles strictly believes that there's still something good and pure in Erik that can be saved even when he's been locked up in a fairly well-guarded cell and but bitterly mocks Charles' naïvety. Not only does Professor X have a firm trust in his fellow mutants, but also in ordinary humans with whom he hopes to be able to coexist and cooperate peacefully. Again, even when multiply being attacked and mistrusted by the society Charles never turns against it always believing that problems can be solved. Having seen so much evil and fear, yet remaining uncorrupted and idealistic he really is an extraordinary character.
Whilst Charles would happily see the mutants as a part of the rest of humanity, is Erik almost as confident that the world hates everything unusual, which is why the mutants should join their forces, take care of each other and frankly show how superior they are next to tiny humans. As it is, Erik's outlook on the world has been stained since his childhood by being despised and isolated from the society by Nazis. He spends great many years hunting down the people responsible for his sufferings, killing them with his metal-bending superpower, one by one. I believe it is rightful to claim that after his mother's death Erik has deliberately stayed outside social circles and avoided getting involved with people - otherwise than threatening or eliminating them that is. When Charles then selflessly and completely out of the blue grabs him from the water, intrudes his mind and saves him he's compelled to reconsider and see that he's not alone.
What strikes me probably the most is how drastically Erik's bearing changes around Charles and not to mention how quickly the two of them seem to gain each other's trust. Before befriending Charles Erik's manner is tense and aversive and being oriented to only one goal: revenging the murder of his mother, his interaction with other people is straightforward and cold which is quite obvious since most of his human relations have ended as soon as they started - in the other party's extermination. However, with Charles Erik's whole posture and body-language change: he's clearly more relaxed and comfortable, in addition his pressure and stress seem to diminish at some amount. Of course Charles' telepathic abilities play a great role in evolving this relationship for he can access Erik's mind and actually feel what he feels and share his memories. What I find remarkable is how unquestionably Erik lets Charles inside his mind from the very beginning, for yes, with his friends Charles usually has the courtesy of asking for a permission before looking inside people's thoughts. Later though, when the two decide to go their separate ways Erik starts to wear a certain sort of helmet to prevent Charles from using his power on him.
It is also said that that when falling in love people change a bit. At least I started seeing rainbows and heart-shaped leaves, puddles and clouds everywhere. Even abandoning my slash-fangirl glasses and observing Charles and Erik's relationship as objectively and sanely as I possibly can, the romantic subtext is there all over the place; not only in this newest film in which they are young but also in the previous ones. It is clear that they are closer than average mutant pals, and that they both are very devoted to preserve this relationship despite their incompatible ambitions. No matter how you looked at it, you can't ignore that there is something deeper than friendship going on. I don't particularly enjoy labelling or embracing rigid gender roles but I have to point out how atypical for a two men's friendship the one of Charles and Erik's is. They don't hide their emotions - no, they actually cry together for a beautiful memory of Erik's - or weaknesses from each other; on the contrary, as I already mentioned, Erik willingly lets Charles see and feel what his mind has to hold. They have tremendous trust in one another, they back up one another and there's perceivable naturalness in their interaction - all this despite the fact that they are complete opposites in nature. Later on when they end up fighting on conflicting sides they hold back their own allies if it seems that the other's life is in grave danger. They never truly give up on each other and neither has any desire to sacrifice the other for the greater good.
If this isn't love, I don't know what is.
|They are so heterosexual.|
But back to the point.
When having ended his arch-enemy and been forced to face the fact that his and Charles' journey has come to its end Erik still tries to convince Charles and maybe himself too that they should stand side by side against the world. It's evident that getting to know this man has moved something inside him. Charles and other mutants have taught Erik that he doesn't have to do everything by himself; in fact one of the first words Charles says to Erik is : "You're not alone." He learns to trust others and to belong somewhere at least a little. Nevertheless the old scars haven't healed properly and Erik's resistance to create a world side by side with humans who fear and despise him and his kind is the crucial problem that draws him away him from Charles. For a split moment the roles turn upside-down and while Erik endeavours to believe that they can share the future, usually so optimistic and inexhaustible Charles is the one to speak out the hurtful truth: we don't want the same things. Watching how he who's known to be a cynic and a sceptic to an extreme tries his utmost to hold on to the one thing that is precious and good in his life is nothing but painful.
I don't know if I'm just repeating the same things again and again but I was totally awestruck by the immense quality of X-Men: First Class. Charles and Erik's relationship was already fascinating in those previous films I'd seen but this really raised it on a whole new level of exceptional beauty. It is apparent that they love each other, whether it is romantic or not remains debatable. There are plenty of suggestive little details that can be interpreted as homoerotic but in the end that's not what matters. For me the characters' complexity and wholeness and the dynamics between them weighs a whole lot more.
So, go go go watch that movie!