How do we talk about homosexuality? Christians are caught on the horns of a dilemma: if we do talk about homosexuality we are told that we’re sex-obsessed and irrelevant; but if we don’t talk about it at all, the sex-obsessed culture takes silence as approval–consider the 59 percent of American Catholics who support same-sex marriage. So how do we escape the horns of the dilemma? A filmmaker working with Courage has proposed a stunning new answer: it’s called Desire of the Everlasting Hills.
The basic drama of this sixty-four-minute documentary is simple: three people with same-sex attraction talk about their lives, the choices they’ve made, the paths they’ve wandered, and the desire that brought them to God. Dan, Rilene, and Paul spend much of the film speaking directly to the camera, simply telling their stories. They don’t theorize, generalize, or abstract. They just reveal themselves, the mystery of who they are, the life they live, what God has done in them. Rilene sums up her intent for the film in her first speech:
For me, this is my journey. Nobody else is going to have the identical experience. And so you can choose to believe or not to believe that my experiences are true and valid. That’s okay. I just ask you to keep an open mind and consider that it might be possible that this is a genuine, authentic experience, and that it’s possible for more than just me.
That disarming humility resonates throughout the film, as the three narratives course and eddy through the events that have defined their lives. This film is not an ideological tool or a political vehicle; it is a true work of art, taking up the challenging proposal from Benedict XVI that opens the film: “Look at the face of the other… discover that he has a soul, a history, a life, that he is a person, and that God loves this person.”
So what happens when we look at three individuals who have lived openly as homosexuals, who still experience same-sex attraction, and who have left everything to follow Christ? We get what Pope Francis called for in his interview last year for various Jesuit magazines: “When we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context.” We get the whole context, the pain, the joy, the loss, the friendship, the yearning, the desire: we get the person. And we see how God loves him.
Erik Van Noorden, the director, did a superb job selecting his interviewees. Dan, Rilene, and Paul are each lovable, personable, and powerful storytellers, comfortable and emotional in front of the camera as if seated before a close friend. Beyond that, each lived a very different kind of life, sexual and otherwise: Paul lived in high glamor as an international male model, cruising through New York, San Francisco, and all over the world in the ’70s and ’80s; Rilene discovered her attractions somewhat gradually and lived monogamously with a woman for twenty-five years; and Dan struggled to hide his desires with pornography and the Internet, eventually finding a year-long relationship with a man, followed by a slightly longer relationship with a woman. By hearing all three voices simultaneously, we hear a polyphonic perspective on the complex reality of same-sex attraction, unified in its most exalted and desolate moments by the same low thrum: a half-heard longing for something more.
In the end, Desire of the Everlasting Hills is not really a film about homosexuality–the word itself only appears once, as far as I remember. It is a film about desire. About discovering that the opposite of love is not hatred, but loneliness. About discovering that the way out of lust is not indulgence or frigidity, but chastity. About discovering that man is his own worst slavedriver. About discovering freedom in the desire for God. Dan puts it best in his last comment:
We’re made for better stuff than what we settle for. I realized my whole life I’ve settled. I don’t want to settle anymore. And even if that means living a life that’s single, I can do that. I don’t want to go back. But I wouldn’t rewrite the past either.
So how do we talk about homosexuality? I think it might look something like this film. We talk without fear, without anger, without reproach. We speak of courage, of love, of happiness, of companionship, of loneliness, of sorrow, of desire. We speak as a person, to a person. And we never lose hope that, however late we have loved him, Christ is the Beauty ever ancient, ever new.
Image: John Frederick Kensett, Snowy Range and Foothills from the Valley of Valmo