I love that Montgomery Clift would star in Suddenly, Last Summer. Just like the main characters of the film, Clift’s sexuality seemed to be very fluid, plus he traveled through Europe with his mother as a child. To star in a movie where the main character fits this profile and then is ripped apart by Greek savages by the end of the movie was probably a little hard.
Suddenly, Last Summer is a really weird movie. On the surface it seems to be trying to make a positive statement about classism, and prejudice based on sexuality. Like, “don’t beat up gay guys” and “sometimes rich people are really selfish.” But underneath those overt meanings, there is a weird, Fruedian ideology behind the whole thing that I couldn’t quite make out.
Sebastian is the gay (unstated), poet son of a wealthy widow named Katherine Hepburn. They do everything together, including going on elaborate trips all over Europe. When his mother isn’t well and Sebastian is accompanied by his cousin Elizabeth Taylor, he dies a brutal death that sends her to the mental hospital. Here is an Oepidal complex gone horribly wrong. Sebastian’s attachment to his mother, his mother’s devotion to him, and the absence of a father in his life has led him to have no desire for his mother as a sexual object. He has no reason to be jealous of his father, because his father’s out of the picture. Instead, Sebastian has his mother fully to himself, no need to mimic his father in order to be near her (and women like her). Instead, the forbidden object that Sebastian is kept from – in his insulated family life – is a man. Thus: homo.
And I know the film ran up against censorship problems and could never actually say that Sebastian was gay (could only imply that he was getting blow jobs from young boys in the bathroom. much more appropriate for American audiences) but the exclusion of Sebastian’s explicit homosexuality makes his sexuality seem dirtier, something to be ashamed of, more closeted than the film implies Sebastian actually was. Because while Katherine Hepburn never tells anyone that Sebastian is gay, he clearly puts himself out there on his travels.
Which brings up another problem. Sebastian has no control over his sexuality. He forces his mother and his cousin to attract men for him (men that would be, I guess, equally attracted to him as they are to scantily clad, hott ladies). This contributes to Elizabeth Taylor’s madness: Not only is he a gay; he’s a selfish gay!
As for class, the rich seem to be secretive, closeted, selfish, and elitist…but they are also way more bearable than the middle class. Elizabeth Taylor’s mom and brother are said middle class and they’re just as selfish as the rich, but whiney about it since they don’t have anything to show for it. It seems like the only way to be classy in this film is by being the adorable beneficiary of a gay cousin and an overbearing aunt.
And the movie is completely racist. He’s torn apart by a bunch of Poor Savage Greeks. (who may or may not like giving him blow jobs.)
What sucks is that Suddenly, Last Summer is awesome. I don’t quite know how to evaluate it based on implicit pscyhoanalysis. I know that it’s entertaining, the acting is really really great, and each monologue is riveting. I don’t know what to do with that.