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300 A.D. : the Roman Sebastianus is exiled to a remote outpost populated exclusively by men. Weakened by their desires, these men turn to homosexual activities to satisfy their needs. However, Sebastianus becomes the target of lust for a homosexual centurion, but he rejects the man's advances. Written by
Jonathon Dabell <J.D.@pixie.ntu.ac.uk>
The soldiers play with a modern Frisbee in one scene. When one soldier catches it, the logo appears. See more »
His eyes are so beautiful. He has sky-blue eyes.
What is this? What are you talking about?
His hair is like the sun's rays.
His body is golden like molten gold. This hand of his... will smooth away these wounds. Justin, he is as beautiful as the sun. This sun which caresses me... is his burning desire. He is Phoebus Apollo. The sun... is his... burning kiss.
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Not being overly familiar with Bible stories or Christian history (and the fact that the opening rolling titles are impossible to read), the factuality of this film will escape me. But Jarman is a visual artist, and his film has more in common with the many paintings of Sebastian than it does with factual storytelling. Jarman's ornate decor can sometimes feel dull and bland -- his films can seem lifeless, bogged down by the set decoration. This calls to mind "Velvet Goldmine," a complex film I didn't care for, even though I love Todd Haynes; I want to like Jarman -- I love his books -- and this is the first film of his that I've been actively enthusiastic about. It has much more to do with sex than history; and it's apolitical and political at the same time.
Consider the film's approach to homosexuality. No one is defined as being a homosexual, so that at first seems like a de-politicization of sex -- all there are are acts, and acts are not political. But at the same time, it's acts that are disdained and made illegal, and without the "political" approach to defining (and thereby defending) people as homosexuals, it leaves the acts open to censorship and condemnation -- politicization. As a film itself, though, it is not pedantic or accusatory -- in fact, Sebastian is killed, it seems, because of the lust of Severus, who he refuses. Like the Christian God who Sebastian loves and sees as more beautiful than Adonis, Severus wants Sebastian. But it isn't just condemning lust, either -- Anthony and Adrian are openly lovers, and the abundance of male nudity, and the eroticism of it by Jarman, could hardly be called prudish. In fact, there is a scene at night of the men grabbing each other, their dark-lit bodies, and the soldier pressing his near-naked, muscled body on his lover, that still seems shocking in its passion today.
It's more like a lyrical tone poem, and Brian Eno's New Age-y score goes well with that. Jarman isn't a bully, and when the crucifying comes around he doesn't bludgeon us -- first we see a close-up of his face, as arrows pierce through Sebastian's skin, silently with the exception of the wind, and Jarman gives us one final distorted image to meditate on the death of the one we can't have. 9/10
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