One Good Thing is Voxs recommendations feature. In each edition, find one more thing from the world of culture that we highly recommend.
The Old Guard, Netflixs newest blockbuster, is actually multiple love stories in a big action flick coat.
Based on the 2017 comic book written by the indomitable Greg Rucka and drawn by Leandro Fernandez, The Old Guard is ostensibly about a group of killing machines who can never die. But its really about the aching loneliness of being a killing machine who can never die.
Andy (Charlize Theron), a.k.a. Andromache of Scythia, has been alive to know this better than anyone. The story is set in the present day, but Andys birth predates the Ancient Greeks. She has over time learned that the only way to survive forever is to never let mortals get to close to her. Booker, another of Andys fellow immortals, tells Andy from personal experience that watching your kids die isnt something you want to reckon with. And it becomes one of the first things Andy teaches Nile (KiKi Layne), the newest addition to her chosen family of immortal soldiers.
Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli), the couple that rounds out Andys never-dying family, are the lucky ones among the group because they have each other, forever and always.
Joe and Nicky arent the main protagonists in director Gina Prince-Bythewoods film, but since the films release on July 10, theyre the characters who have garnered a lot of attention because of how rare it is that gay men are featured in action movies. Even rarer is that were allowed to watch Joe and Nicky share a passionate kiss and other physical moments of affection throughout the film.
And The Old Guard takes their love story a step further. Straight people are regularly part of myths and legends but LGBTQ people rarely feature in them. The times that queerness does pop up in popular, mainstreamed ancient histories, myths, and legends, it can sometimes come across like its written in code, or is found buried in footnotes, or is glossed over as brotherly love or friendship, not romantic affection.
That The Old Guards Joe and Nicky are unapologetic about their love allows queer people, and gay men in particular, the opportunity to see that throughout all of history, weve been there all along and in such a mainstream, typically heteronormative medium, no less. That representation in itself is not just thrilling, but revolutionary.
Since the movies Netflix premiere, theres one scene in particular that viewers have discussed over and over, rising above the battle axes and bullets. Midway through the movie, the villains who are seeking to steal the secrets of immortality capture Joe and Nicky after an all-out assault on Andys team. While transporting them to the lab where scientists plan to poke, prod, and experiment on them, a security guard mocks Joe and Nicky, asking if theyre boyfriends. Its likely that to some queer people watching, the mocking isnt unlike stuff weve heard on playgrounds or even in adulthood.
Youre a child, Joe snaps back. Hes not my boyfriend. This man is more to me than you can dream. Hes the moon when Im lost in darkness, and warmth when I shiver in cold. And his kiss still thrills me even after a millennium. His heart overflows with a kindness of which this world is not worthy. I love this man beyond measure and reason. Hes not my boyfriend. He is all, and he is more.
Joes response is equal parts snappy retort and love poem. At its heart is a simple message: that straight people might not ever fully understand what its like to be gay and to find love. Their love is not better nor more profound, but innately different. Their love is forged from generations of being taught that its unnatural, forbidden, and wrong by a society that, for many centuries, has relegated queer people to the margins and encouraged us to be people we arent.
The Old Guard gets at this adversity through Andys own broken love story, another queer romance. Andy and Quynh fought together through thousands of battles, and its implied that the two womens love is more than just platonic. When captured and tortured for being witches, Quynh is separated and thrown into an iron coffin at the bottom the ocean.
You are too powerful together, the guard tells Andy, as Quynh is pulled away.
The guard could have meant that their combined immortality was too frightening. But he also could have meant that that these two women and their love for each other is something to be feared, too. From then on, Andy lives every day carrying the weight of losing Quynh.
Its so clear that neither the guard who separate Andy from Quynh nor the one who taunted Nicky and Joe can even begin comprehending that queer love is just as powerful as any other kind. It may not immediately look like a heterosexual romance, but it is no less meaningful.
Joes declaration of passion for Nicky also invites the viewer to imagine the 1,000 or more years theyve seen and spent together. I, for one, hope they got to see spectacular, silly, beautiful things. We learn that they met fighting on opposite sides of the Crusades, have been by each others side for so very long, and will ostensibly continue to endure even after all of us turn to dust.
Thankfully, Joe and Nickys mythic queerness is far from the only foray into the genre in fact, The Old Guard has a perfect complement in the novel The Song of Achilles.
A week before Netflix released The Old Guard, I was on vacation at home, because that is how we vacation now and finished reading Madeline Millers The Song of Achilles. I was already a fan of Millers after reading Circe, her retelling of the immortal witch and temptress from The Odyssey.
The Song of Achilles is Millers first novel, from 2012. She gives life to the myths of Achilles from his companion Patrocluss point of view, telling a story about love that endures when forces of nature, fate, and war are determined to tear you apart.
Growing up, I knew Achilles had that pesky foot thing and played a part in the the Trojan War, but all I really knew about Patroclus was that he was really good friends with the very heterosexual Achilles in 2004s Troy.
Beyond that not-great movie, Achilles and Patrocluss homosexuality has been debated over and over, usually coming down to dissecting Ancient Greek culture and the semantics of gay. Miller sees it simpler than that.
I would also add, more specifically, that I think the culture is ready for the kind of love story that transcends gender and time, Miller said in a Q&A about the book on her website. I did not deliberately set out to tell a deliberately gay love story; rather, I was deeply moved by the love between these two characterswhose respect and affection for each other, despite the horrors around them, model the kind of relationship we all can aspire to.
Miller has an uncanny ability to make you nostalgic for voices youve never heard, places youve never been. Her novels leave you wistful for true love youve never had the chance to lose.
The Song of Achilles is something you should read if you think that The Old Guard, which spends most of its runtime on focused on Andy teaching Nile about life, should have been about Joe and Nickys infinite love above all else. It expands on the themes touched upon Joes speech and the supernatural aspect of immortality thanks to gods, goddesses, and deities.
But The Song of Achilles is easily beautiful enough to stand on its own. Though Miller says she didnt deliberately set out to create a gay love story, its a fantasy that unravels and justifies the feelings and vulnerability of the LGBTQ experience, gay men in particular. Just as The Old Guard does for new Netflix viewers or long comic book fans, this novel indulges the desire to want and be loved, no matter your sexuality. And The Old Guard and The Song of Achilles both reassure queer readers that weve always existed even when we havent always been seen in the ancient history books.
The Old Guard is streaming on Netflix.
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