Poison (1991)

“A child is born and he is given a name. Suddenly, he can see himself. He recognizes his position in the world. For many, this experience, like that of being born, is one of horror.” With those words on a screen card in the first ten minutes of “Poison”, writer-director Todd Haynes clearly and succinctly establishes the thesis of his film, which is about the singular experience of homosexuality in modern society and its specific, interrelated symptomologies. Told in three concurrent, unrelated (albeit thematically connected) short stories, “Poison” focuses on the self-mythologizing of early childhood trauma that often accompanies the homosexual experience; the movie explores the idea that society is wired to punish homosexual men from early on, resulting in a subclass of children vulnerable to all kinds of physical, psychological and emotional trauma, and imprinting the future adult with permanent psychic injuries. The idea of being treated like a sexual leper is also addressed quite literally, presented through one of the stories as a 1950s sci-fi/horror hybrid not unlike “The Fly” that emphasizes the loneliness, isolationism and self-destruction of societal branding. Underneath the current, there’s also the persistent exploration of the intersections between masculine violence and sexual repression, not so much the gay experience per se but instead the desperate physical releases that arise when people unaccustomed to tenderness or insight are pushed outside of their comfort zones. As you can tell from the recap above, this is not a movie to be watched lightly; it’s heavy, often agitating and heavily symbolic, with an unmistakable-but-contained rage coursing through its DNA that makes the experience a striking, memorable and genuinely cathartic one for attentive viewers. It’s a short 85 minutes, but I spent almost as much time actively thinking about it after it was over, so I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of movies like “Lilies” or “Happiness.”

Rating: ★★★★★ (out of 5)

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