Gerontophilia, the first ‘mainstream’ venture of provocative Toronto based director, writer, artist, and photographer Bruce LaBruce, is the beautifully shot story of Lake (Pier-Gabriel Lajoie), an 18-year-old gerontophile (one who is sexually attracted to the elderly) and his love affair with 82 year old Melvin (Walter Borden). In the film, Melvin is a resident at the retirement home where Lake is working for the summer. The title alone makes it quite clear that this film strays far from a typical love story. Staying true to his style, LaBruce represents an extreme subject with a mix of black humour and romantic realism, managing to present an unconventional relationship as honest and endearing.
Set in present day Montreal, this boundary-pushing film compellingly depicts a number of difficult topics. One of the darker subjects addressed by Gerontophilia is the frequent cruelty of institutionalization—in this case, the retirement home where Lake works. The bleak life that these senior citizens are forced into is highlighted by the dehumanizing attitude of many of the home’s staff members and by the many short clips of the home’s patients looking listless in whatever activity they are going through. The only time that any life at all seems apparent is when Lake is present, contrasting the general disinterested aura with his vibrant energy and deep empathy. It is also Lake who points out—and in Melvin’s case, actively fights against—the over-medication of the patients to make care less labour-intensive. It is in this unconventional setting that Lake comes to accept and explore his sexual identity, both as a gerontophile and as a gay man.
As a rule, the idea of an 18-yearold and an 82-year-old engaging in a romantic relationship is thought of as taboo, even disgusting. However, through masterful shot composition and sound editing, LaBruce manages to portray the relationship that blossoms between Lake and Melvin as quite tender and engaging. The gentleness is always present whenever Lake is acting on his unusual sexual impulses, but that is not to say that it is always totally comfortable to observe. There is one particular scene, before Lake and Melvin have begun to develop any sort of relationship, in which Lake is sent to give him a sponge bath. This task, cringe-worthy to most people, is eroticized through the soft lighting and sweet music, creating a certain feeling of unease in some viewers but also helping the audience understand Lake’s fascination with his elder counterparts. The fact that ‘eroticism’ and ‘sponge-bath’ are even found in the same train of thought is a testament to LaBruce’s skill.
Lake’s attraction is a powerful subversion of the youth-obsession of today’s culture. Although we may not see Lake’s sexual preferences as normal, we sympathize with his struggles. This could largely be due to the fact that among the multiple relationships touched upon throughout the film—Lake and his girlfriend Desirée, Melvin and his estranged son, Lake’s mother and her multiple men, Desirée and her boss, etc.—that of Melvin and Lake seems to be the only one which is truly genuine.
As LaBruce himself has indicated to the Montreal Gazette, Gerontophilia can be thought of as an updated (and queered) Harold & Maude meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The film’s messages are effectively transmitted; the overall result is touching—though slightly disconcerting—and surprisingly relatable story of love, personal growth, and rebellion against societal institutions.
Gerontophilia is set for release in select Montréal theaters, on Feb. 14 2014.