There have been plenty of “gay” movies in the last few decades. Philadelphia comes to mind, as does Brokeback Mountain. But none—neither those two, nor Milk, nor A Single Man, nor any other major American title anyone could name—focus on a realistic depiction of what it’s like to be a contemporary gay man. The typical Hollywood idea of a gay man is a fallen one; a hero, for sure, who can conquers many obstacles, but one who ultimately meets his demise at the hands of either others (as in the case of Brokeback Mountain or Milk), or nature (as in Philadelphia). To be gay in a mainstream movie is to be sad, alone, or doomed to die. All that has changed with the brilliant Keep the Lights On, directed and co-written by Ira Sachs.
“I had never seen a film that I felt conveyed what it’s been like for me to live in New York as a gay man, as an artist, as a filmmaker, as a part of both the subculture and also mainstream culture,” Sachs told me a few weeks ago when I asked him if his film, which chronicles the relationship between a documentarian named Erik, played effortlessly by Danish actor Thure Lindhardt, and his lawyer boyfriend Paul, portrayed by Zachary Booth, had any sort of specific agenda. “That was the agenda. I wanted to make a film about the destructive nature of shame, but to do so shamelessly. I think gay people have created a lot of nocturnal behavior that they keep in hiding, and I tried to talk about that but to do so openly.”