Sunday, 30 May 2010

Eyes Wide Open

We had a date night planned last night, but nothing much to do - my husband vetoed Streetdance, I vetoed Sex and the City 2 and neither of us fancied Four Lions or Hot Tub Time Travel.

So the choice was between a movie about the early life of Mussolini and an Israeli film, Eyes Wide Open about a gay affair between two men in the Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem. I didn’t enjoy the last film we saw about Italian politics (if you were disturbed by snoring during a showing of Divo at the Screen on the Green, Islington last year, then it was probably me) we opted for the latter. ‘I don’t think we’ll need to book,’ said my husband. ‘It’s a bit of a special interest film.’

Anyway, Eyes Wide Open was a quite extraordinary experience. It’s slow and underwritten; a deadly serious film with flickers of humour. There are sections which drag, and there’s only one explosive moment when someone says exactly what’s in his heart - but that very reserve makes it a film that stayed with me, making me think long after the movie has ended.

It’s the story of Ezri and Aaron. Ezri, little more than a teenager, has been thrown out of his yeshiva (religious college) and is homeless and jobless. Aaron, married with four sons, takes pity on him and gives him a job and somewhere to stay at the butcher’s shop he has just inherited from his dead father. Slowly, a relationship developes between the men. And gradually the viewer realises that everyone in the claustrophobic community around them, including Aaron’s wife, knows exactly what is going on.

It’s that realisation that makes me want to see the film again. At first you think that Aaron is unaware of the nature of Ezri’s love for another man - that he is innocent and unworldly behind his big beard. But in fact Aaron - and everyone else - realises instantly that Ezri is gay, and the film is about the effect that knowledge has on a society held together by strict rules, enforced by the ‘morality police.’

I’ve seen a few reviews of the film suggesting that it’s about the homophobic nature of religious groups, particularly Orthodox Jews. But as we drove home from the cinema there were two stories on the news. One was about the gay couple in Malawi sentenced to hard labour for announcing their engagement. Pressure from the international community - Elton John, Madonna, the UN Secretary General – had forced their release. Liberal Western values had saved the day.

And yet…and yet…there was the story of David Laws. A government minister for 16 days before his own actions brought him down. David Laws was so keen to maintain the fiction that his landlord was just that, even though they had been lovers for nine years, that he wrongly claimed his rent as legitimate expenses. Once this was revealed by the Daily Telegraph, he painfully ‘outed’ himself and resigned.

Can you really call a sexual relationship a ‘partnership’ when it is kept a secret from family and friends? And if the relationship was really secret, how come it was revealed so quickly?

David Laws’ secrecy and shame made him break the rules. Now he is paying the price. The Daily Telegraph, like the morality police of Mea Shearim in Eyes Wide Open, knew his secret. And I asked myself, how does our liberal Western society work? Are we different enough from the religious communities of Malawi and Jerusalem? What was David Laws so scared of? And will he feel liberated now - or unbearably exposed?
(You can watch the trailer with English subtitles here )


  1. Excellent post, Keren. Very though provoking.

  2. I find the Laws case difficult. Just because he is gay doesn't give him a special dispensation to break rules, but it is sad that the world in which we live put pressures on him to pretend he wasn't gay.
    I am interested that in 'Eyes Wide Open' everyone knew what was happening; on Saturday I was talking to my grandmother about Mr Laws and said to her that I imagined that his family would have known exactly what form his sexual orientation took, making the pretence so needless.

  3. Excellent and thought provoking post, Keren!

  4. Just reading the paper..David Laws quoted as saying 'When I grew up being gay was no accepted by most people including many of my friends. So I have kept this secret from everyone I know for most of my life. I was so determined to keep my private life secret that James and I acted as if we were good friends. I hope that others will now learn that it is time for people to be honest about their sexuality. Keeping secrets is much tougher than telling people who you really are...Only one person was aware of who I really am - James. I hope that people will understand that fear of loss of privacy rather than desire for financial gain has been behind the problems I now have.'
    When we saw Eyes Wide Open we debated why Ezri didn't just leave the Orthodox community and go and be openly gay in secular, liberal Tel Aviv. But we could also see that he was unable to imagine life outside the community which is rejecting him. 'Who will look after me?' he asks, in desperation. Aaron tells his rabbi:'With him I felt alive. Before I was dead.' How similar to the trapped feeling that David Laws described. How sad is that statement: 'Only one person was aware of who I really am - James.'

  5. Great questions Keren. Me and hubby have been talking about David Laws too. He says if he didn't want his private life exposed in this way he shouldn't have claimed expsenses. He probably could live quite adequately without them. Fair point. Me - I'm more concerned that our society is not tolerant enough that David Laws felt he needed to hide his sexuality. We are not as embracing and celebratory of diversity as I thought, I guess.

  6. I think what David Laws means when he says 'When I grew up being gay was not accepted by most people', he really means most people in his milieu, and most people with his ambitions. There are people his age or older that live out of the closet without fear, and people younger than him who are in the same situation. Gay people might be able to have civil partnerships but their sexuality does impinge radically still on their success. Everyone knows that there are quite a few leading Hollywood men even now who are in sham straight marriages, ditto with politicians. Coming out is a problem for them because their success depends on the general public. Every person who matters gets to decide if they're okay with them being gay by voting or not voting for them, or going to see or staying away from their films. God, I'm ranting, so I'll sign off

  7. He broke the law, knowingly. If that was a normal Joe Bloggs who fiddled the Government out of 40,000 pounds he'd be in the nick and throw away that key. Can someone please tell me where the moral difference lies in an "Expenses cheat" and a, "Benefits cheat"?
    Everyone has applauded his resignation, calling it, "honourable".
    Resignation(?) he should have been sacked.

    I will add that it is sad that he felt he had to hide his sexuality but as long as The Sun is Britain's number 1 read and the most cerebrally challenging confrontation anyone is interested in is the next episode of Coronation Street, then things will not change.
    The great unwashed despise anything that doesn't fit in, that doesn't toe the line and it will be a long time before this attitude changes.

    It took me two days to decide on whether I wanted to post something on here. I'm not homophobic but I am definitely not a supporter of militant homosexuality. I understand their need for a "strong arm" wing but that doesn't mean I have to like it and I don't; just as I don't like anything radical and "in your face" on anything religious, political or private, (unless it's Liverpool FC of course).

    You may think I'm a dinosaur, a relic from the past in my attitude, I don't know. Perhaps it is because of my upbringing on a council estate in North Wales and the years I served in the military that I am not very liberal in my acceptance of another's sexuality? That said, I have worked with a homosexual man, who was also my boss and is still my friend so I don't consider myself too unenlightened.
    But I don't think it's too much to expect that a gay man who broke the law trying to hide his sexuality should be treated the same as anyone else who breaks the law. Unfortunately it isn't the case, obviously.

  8. 'He broke the law knowingly...'that's just it. I think he actually didn't believe he was breaking the law..because he was lying to himself. It was as though he was saying 'If I pay rent to him then he can't be my partner because that would be agaisnt the rules, therefore I'll go on paying rent because then we can't possibly be partners.' So his thinking became twisted around to fit his idea of himself as someone who couldn't possibly break the rules and to hide that which he found unacceptable.

  9. Well, denial is a very plausible "semi-explanation" but I still don't see it as a valid defence.
    Whatever, I don't want to force the issue.
    Let's stay with he made a mistake and leave it at that.

    We all have our own opinion and I seem to rant a bit too much on your Blog for a guest Keren, so I'll shut it :-)
    Good post though, sorry I didn't mention it in the last rant, I mean comment, lol.

  10. Ranting is fine! Anyay, the more I think about it the more I think it's a rather good thing that he's no longer in charge of public finances if this was the mess he made of his own. Silly man.

  11. The film sounds fascinating. Not sure if I quite buy the David Laws story, especially with the LDs being such a broad church. I suspect that he just thought that he could get away with it. But it leaves HMT in an interesting position.