Parallel Sons (1995)
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The basic themes of this film are so subtle as to be almost imperceptible, and I will leave the individual to draw their own conclusions. Arguably, its primary message may be a simple morality tale on the consequences of both internal and external homophobia, but, like any good film, there are other lessons and conclusions to be drawn, depending upon the viewer's own opinions and experience. The script is extremely lean, and although we are presented with enough information to make the plot crystal clear, I was thankful to the end that it avoided the clutter of too many details. The characters are drawn so skillfully, and the story told so plainly, that I was amazed at the amount of story, drama and conflict that the filmmaker was able to squeeze into 93 minutes of screen time. By the end, I was exhausted, exhilarated, outraged, moved and thoroughly satisfied. I had to think about what it all meant, but after replaying the film in my head after it was over, I sat back completely astonished at the talent of all involved in this extraordinary film.
Many of the scenes depicted in this movie would have been totally unbelievable in the hands of less skilled filmmakers. Too often films that credit both writing and directing to the same person wind up as a narrow opinion piece or worse; the sharing of both writing and directing duties frequently signifies an amateur production. Even if well produced, the result all too often comes off at best as a narcissistic indulgence. Occasionally, a film is enriched by one person assuming the dual role of screenwriter and director, as any film can indeed benefit greatly from having a director who wholly appreciates the writer's vision. Happily, this is the case with Parallel Sons. Many times during the unfolding of the story, I caught myself musing at how ridiculous many plot points were, and at the same time, marveling at the utter believability of it all. It is also easy to misinterpret the climax as standard melodrama; it took a minute for me to realize that the tragic ending had more to do with intent than accident, and it was almost as an after thought that I managed to reconcile seemingly unimportant revelations from one key scene with the shattering climax. Suddenly the meaning of the title became clear, and my satisfaction with this gripping piece was complete. There is the danger that many will be unable to appreciate this timely and innovative story, but those who do are in for a thought provoking experience.
If I have one quibble with this picture, it was not with the film itself, but the DVD packaging. Once again we have a film that is being marketed aggressively to a gay male audience, and once again the distributors have found it necessary to place a photo of a naked muscular torso on the box, as if gay men could not consider purchasing a film for its dramatic intensity unless it also offers a naked hunk or two. In Parallel Sons, it's absurd; there is no one in this film who remotely resembles the beefcake on the cover. I didn't expect that there would be, and having read reviews and a synopsis of the plot before I bought it, I had no expectations of any erotic content. One more time I would like to point out that I buy comedies to laugh and documentaries to learn and dramas to be emotionally and intellectually stimulated. It's an insult to assume that I would not purchase a film in any of these genres unless it included a generous helping of eye candy.
Seth Carlson (Gabriel Mann) lives in the Adirondacks in a little town closed off form progressive society. He is a gentle soul, a closeted gay out of necessity, a budding artist and a young man infatuated with African American culture, so much so that he wears his blond hair in dread locks and paints muscular Black men and African American symbols. His father barely tolerates his oddities, his little sister shares his secrets, and Seth longs to leave the choking little town for New York City.
Seth briefly views a Black man in custody in the sheriff's car: an eye to eye connect occurs. That night in the diner in which Seth works the Black man Knowledge Johnson (Laurence Mason) sneaks into the diner and robs Seth at gunpoint, only to collapse from a wound inflicted during his escape from a correctional facility. Seth is drawn to Knowledge, and when Knowledge faints, Seth sequesters him in a little cabin where he nurses him back to health. In the process of the healing the two men bond and become sexually committed to each other. Knowledge sees his only hope for survival as an outlaw being an escape across the Canadian border and the two plan for this adventure, Seth suffering setbacks from a town turned against him, and it is in the escape attempt that the tragedies occur that leave the story with many subtexts.
The film is beautifully shot by Matthew M. Howe and scored by Emile Menasche, but it is the acting skills of Mann and Mason that allow director Young to make this understated film work so well. The supporting cast is also very good, each underplaying roles to the benefit of the progression toward the devastating ending. By remaining to a sensitive story, economically written for the screen, Young is able to bring the audience to face some frighteningly real issues about bigotry and prejudice that tangentially includes color and sexuality. Highly recommended, Grady Harp
I will not try and categorize Parallel Sons as a character study or put it in any other genre. All the characters had soul, with the revelation of Seth and Knowledge being the most developed, and occurring much like when one gets to know real people in real life. The story revealed a lot about the world too, and particularly about race relations in the USA and the moral dilemmas it breeds for it's citizens.
A picture paints a thousand words. I could watch this one again straight away. Obviously for all this to work the acting, music, sound and production design have to be top notch. A lot of love went into making Parallel Sons.
I think I could end up in the same situation as Seth did (well... 35 years ago...). Yes, I do think so.
Forget about the "black music/culture/people fascination" of Seth, this is just a love story, as it could happen everywhere.
The 2 main characters did a very, very good job, very intense. I also liked the little sister...
The story is very believable, the circumstances also.
This is just a beautiful story, in which the 2 protagonists happen to be gay, and in which one happens to be black, the other white...
A very entertaining movie, well worth your time.