Jan 19, 2014

Equus: Nudity, Gay Symbolism, and a Religion of Maleness

Daniel Radcliffe made headlines when he moved from the sexless heterosexual wizard-in-training Harry Potter to the overtly sexual, gay-coded -- and fully nude -- Alan Strang in Equus.

We shouldn't have been surprised.  Hunky guys have been displaying their penises on stage since the play (by gay playwright Peter Shaffer) first opened in 1973.

But in a scene that's so breathtaking in its intensity that you forget to gawk at the beefcake. 

Equus is about Alan Strang, a British stableboy who sublimates his homoerotic desires into worshipping the hard muscles of horses (always portrayed on stage as hot guys in masks or headgear).

He develops an entire religion around the horse-god Equus, devotion to muscle, and power, and maleness.

Then a girl seduces him, in the stables while horses are watching.  Alan feels intense guilt over his sin -- choosing the feminine over the masculine, sex over passion.  He believes that the horses are judging him, and in a fit of despair he blinds them.

The gay but closeted psychiatrist Martin Dysart is assigned to cure him, draw him away from his homoerotic religion to heterosexual "normalcy":

"I'll give him the good Normal world...give him Normal places for his ecstasy...with any luck his private parts will come to feel as plastic to him as the products of the factory to which he will certainly be sent...hopefully he'll feel nothing on his fork but Approved Flesh...I doubt, however, with much passion."

Equus is staged quite often, perhaps because it allows the actor playing Alan a tour de force performance.

It was filmed in 1977, with Peter Firth as Alan and Richard Burton as Martin Dysart.  But they used real horses, which minimized the gay symbolism.

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