A lot of movies come out every year: good, bad, and everything in between. A lot of those movies slip through the cracks—they’re good, but not good enough to make much of an impression. Or they’re bad, but not in an interesting way. Or, if there’s something discussion-worthy, it’s a movie nobody cares about all that much, and you’re too busy arguing with TK about Top Gun to sit down and actually write the piece before the movie disappears from public consciousness entirely in a puff of smoke.
It’s time for me to make amends. Victor Frankenstein is a year old today, and I am done sitting on the knowledge that it’s the gayest not-actually-gay movie to come out (no pun intended) in the history of big-budget Hollywood cinema.
Now, when I say Victor Frankenstein is a “gay” movie, what I really mean is that it indulges in hardcore, heavy-hitting queerbaiting. “Queerbaiting,” for those unfamiliar, is a term for when a movie, TV show, etc. hea-vi-ly implies that two characters of the same gender are swapping bodily fluids in some side room between scenes. Key word here is “implies,” because for all queerbaiting is intended to fire up certain corners of fandom *cough* by hinting that a same-sex relationship du jour might come to fruition, a key component of queerbaiting is that the powers that be never actually intend to follow through and, you know, actually have same-sex representation. What used to be regarded as a fun little nod to fandom—“We know these ships exist, and we don’t mind! We’ll even reference them!”—has come to be recognized as a tone-deaf (at best) or exploitative (at worst) practice. Hey, people, it’s not 1950 anymore—you actually can make characters openly gay now. “Ha ha ha, isn’t it so weird and wacky that these characters could be gay and yet are still totally straight?”
The most blatant example of queerbaiting I have seen in my life—and I used to watch Supernatural, Teen Wolf, and Sherlock, three prime offenders in that arena—was Victor Frankenstein, this mediocre nothing of a movie that came and went without much fanfare last Thanksgiving weekend. Deservedly so. It’s bad. It also has an entire sequence that’s an obvious allegory for anal sex.
The movie, directed by Paul McGuigan (Sherlock) and written by Pajiba favorite Max Landis, posits the following: What if Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) were young and hot?
And what if they were fucking?
Let me set the stage for just how much this movie wants to imply Grown-Up Harry Potter and Professor X were bumping their flesh pickles in their free time between monster-building sessions. In this movie, Igor (Radcliffe) is a circus clown/physician (just roll with it) whom Frankenstein (McAvoy) rescues from his abusive keepers. Frankenstein informs Igor that he is not a true hunchback, but that he has an abscess on his back that’s filled with pus. Frankstein tells Igor he’s going to “slip into something more comfortable,” then comes back and shoots him the patented McAvoy Face of Deranged Seduction:
Frankenstein says “this is going to hurt just a little bit” and then…. uhhh… pins Igor face-forward against a pillar and rips off his shirt. Stabs him Igor the back with a syringe and draws out a milky white fluid, which he then proceeds to suck out through a tube and spit onto the ground. Igor yells: “It hurts, it hurts!” Frankenstein’s response: “Yes, I’d imagine it does. Though you’d be surprise how often I hear that. Three… two… one… and pulling out.” Frankenstein then plasters the newly hunch-less Igor against the pillar in an attempt to straighten his spine. The whole bit is shot in medium close-up.
Just in case you thought I was exaggerating about the anal sex thing.
Frankenstein sets Igor up in his bachelor pad as his assistant, complimenting Igor on having “the most gifted pair of hands I’ve ever seen” and gifting the emotionally overcome former-hunchback with his extensive library, Beauty and the Beast-style. Later, Frankenstein takes Igor to a party and proceeds on a drunken rant about how you don’t need women to make babies. Men can do it themselves! With science!
Frankenstein: BABIES. GROWN. IN VATS. Fertilization needn’t take place inside the female body. SPERM. SPERMS. CAN SPERM MOVE? Why can’t it move independently towards the egg in day a—a—a bucket?
Incredulous woman: Where does the mother fit in?
(Side note: James McAvoy chews scenery in this movie like he has never chewed scenery before. He’s all flying spittle and playing every scene like he’s 25% drunk at an absolute minimum.)
It is bizarre how blatant the homoerotic subtext is in this movie. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before. I say subtext and not text because, as far as anyone in this movie actually says, Frankenstein and Igor are just really good friends. In fact, Igor has a female love interest, an old circus companion named Lorelei, played by Jessica Brown Findlay, the only ginger in New York. Findlay gets the short end of the stick here: With the film being absolutely focused on the relationship between Frankenstein and Igor, all she really gets to do is stand around, act sweet, be Igor’s conscience, and incite Frankenstein’s jealousy. (“She’s very nice… uneducated, superstitious. Distract you from our work! Tonight was not about meaningless frivolity. It was a celebration of our work together.
Why did you flirt with someone else on date night?”) It’s a thankless role.
And Lorelei’s other purpose: Provide plausible deniability that Victor Frankenstein isn’t really about a homosexual relationship—look, Igor just had sex with Sibyl from Downton Abbey! Heaven forbid they go that extra one percent and actually, canonically pair their two male leads together romantically. While they’re at it, they could give Lorelei anything resembling agency or a character arc! Look, I know “Hollywood blockbuster with two gay leads” isn’t exactly an easy sell in some parts of the country, but fuck, it’s not like the rest of the movie—aside from McAvoy’s positively unhinged performance—isn’t dull as hell. Just embrace the gay. You don’t have much to lose.
If anyone still doesn’t get it: In Victor Frankenstein, Lorelai is someone’s beard. No, really. As in, she is in the movie.
Lorelai: That’s Baron Bomine. He recruited me to be in his cabaret… and his consort in public.
Igor [somewhat worried]: Right.
Lorelai: He.. uh… prefers the company of men.
Lorelei’s job is never mentioned again. Her employer: never mentioned again. Victor Frankenstein just wanted to make really sure you made the connection between “Lorelai” and “keeping someone who is gay from appearing to be gay.” It’s very subtle.
What is this movie?!?!?! There’s more: The bad guy (Andrew Scott) is a religious fanatic whom Frankenstein calls out as being “infatuated” with his “unnatural” experimentations. (Repressed homosexuality trope: check.) At one point, Frankenstein and Igor have an honest-to-God weepy breakup scene, Igor having been convinced by Lorelei that Frankenstein is fucked in the head, while ol ‘Frankie has taken up with Dandy McHitlerYouth, who’s willing to fund his work.
Actual line of dialogue from the scene where Frankenstein and Igor design the monster: “Bigger with the arms. Biceps!” And when the monster shows up? He’s like a grubby, steampunk grandfather to Rocky Horror. His sole item of clothing is leather booty shorts.
And finally, anyone who’s seen the recent X-Men movies should be not at all surprised to learn that, though some of the queer subtext was in Max Landis’ script, which was heavily fiddled with by the studio (you can see an early draft here), a lot of the more, er, explicit stuff came from McAvoy. Frankenstein sucking pus out of Igor’s body, for example, was McAvoy’s idea, as was the “pulling out” line: “Oh, that was all me. There’s a lot of made-up shit in every movie. You don’t necessarily talk about it. … For every one line you make up that gets in it, there’s like 15 that get cut because they’d be terribly over-egging the pudding. But sometimes you need to add those things — even if they’re wrong — to kind of land what is right about the script.”
You’re fucking batshit, but OK.
Victor Frankenstein: Watch it this Thanksgiving weekend with your family!