Dec 20, 2016

The Eagle: When Gay Subtexts Aren't Enough

The Eagle (2011) is a gay-subtext romance set in Roman Britain in 140 AD.

The plot is rather convoluted, but it seems to be about a young Roman soldier, Marcus Flavius Aquila (Channing Tatum), whose father disappeared on an expedition north of Hadrian's Wall many years ago, along with his entire Legion, plus the bronze eagle that represents "the honor of Rome."

Marcus hears a rumor that the Eagle has survived, so he sets out in search of it.  He brings along his slave Esca (Jamie Bell), who is from northern Britain and can speak the Pictish language (Gaelic is used as a stand-in).


After many scenes of the two riding through desolate wilderness, they are captured by the Seal People, the most barbaric of the Pictish tribes.  Esca buddy-bonds with their Prince (Tahar Rahim) and settles among them, explaining that Marcus is his slave.

Marcus believes that he has been tricked.

But at the proper moment, Esca reveals that he has tricked the Sea People.  They retrieve the Eagle and head back to Roman territory.  They even find the lost Ninth Legion in the process.

All of the classic gay-subtext elements are here:
1. Minimal or no heterosexual interest.
2. Men who rescue each other from danger.
3. And who walk off into the final fade-out side by side.





I still didn't like it.  It was dull and plodding, with scenes of gore juxtaposed with scenes of...well, talking.  And no attempt to provide a standard English to stand in for Latin.  Hearing Roman soldiers speark colloquial American really grates on the ears, particularly after hearing the superbly done Latinate English of Spartacus.

Plus there's no chemistry between Marcus and Esca.  They're supposed to be in love with each other.  There should be glances, gestures.  But I don't even see much of a friendship.  Esca accompanies Marcus to the north because he has no choice, he's a slave; and Marcus uses Esca for his language skills.

At the end of the movie, as they're walking off together, Esca asks "What now?"  Marcus says "You decide."

It's a cute line, but it doesn't seem deserved.  Based on what we've seen, we expect them to say "Well, thanks for your help" and part.





There's actually more chemistry between Esca and the Seal People prince (Tahur Rahim).

The director and actors insist that the movie has no gay subtexts.  Channing Tatum states that there's love in the relationship, like in any relationship, but that doesn't mean that Marcus and Esca are a couple (even though, he jokes, he and Jamie Bell have been having sex for years).

Except in 2011, writers and directors usually take pains to ensure that their characters must be read as heterosexual by adding hetero-romance or at least some longing glances here and there.  If they weren't intending gay subtexts, why not add hetero-romance?

Maybe because the movie is based on a children's novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, published by Rosemary Sutclif in 1954, the glory era of gay subtexts, where men without women was an accepted literary convention, especially in juvenile fiction.

Sutclif wrote over 100 children's novels, many about two boys or two men together.

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