A Very Natural Thing is a poignant but ultimately enigmatic film by Christopher Larkin in that portrays that halcyon pre-AIDS world of middle-class gay men in the freedom that NYC allowed in those days. A review by Bob
Set against the broader free-love movement of the early 1970s, the hero’s yearning for a traditionally bounded committed romance between two men that parallels heterosexual marriage, seems ultimately unachievable and he himself finally seems to rebuff his perfect man, just as his first lover did to him. While the film finishes with no definitive answer to this question, the use of slow-mo nude beach frolics shot in golden sepia tones seems to indicate something of an unachievable halcyon too perfect to endure. The 1974 film originally carried the title “For as long as possible” which captured nicely the reoccurring themes of transience in relationships, quick “tricks” of easily available anonymous sex, the rapidly cycling seasons, juxtaposed against his yearning for a permanent relationship, the clear moral influence of his time as a monk and the time-honoured tone of the marriage vows taken by his housemate and his wife.
As much as their romance seemed “very natural” half a century ago in 1974
Perhaps most poignant of all, his obvious delight at interacting with children and signs that he may indeed have wished to be a father (the lake boat scene). Amidst this, his own unsustainable youth seems transient with warnings from older friends of getting bored with the bar scene and the sepia toned fountain of youth beach frolics that finish the film. This thoughtful film still somehow speaks to our own time where marriage equality has become a prosaic reality. As much as their romance seemed “very natural” half a century ago in 1974, is it any easier to produce an enduring commitment between two men in our own day? Or have we learned that by their very nature, human relationships based on the fulfilment of one’s own needs encounter intractable difficulties when they inevitably collide with one’s partner’s needs. His first lover said “love means never having to say you are in love”, while ultimately our hero’s last line is to say to his second, and arguably more tender and loving partner “commitment is wanting to be together, not having to be together”. Does this mean he has learned the secret of a successful semi-permanent relationship, or would a more cynical view be that he has now become to his new partner what he did not wish for himself?
50 years on, the film demonstrates an enduring tension that seems to influence the plot of many of our own live
Either way, the film speaks to an inherent restlessness where our hero never finds true peace in life and now seems destined to break another man’s yearning for permanence. In many ways the film is true to the general discussion on all types of relationship that were part of discourse during those years of social change. 50 years on, the film demonstrates an enduring tension that seems to influence the plot of many of our own lives; that all men experience an irresistible sexual drive that is frequently irreconcilable with our need for permanent relationships. This has nothing to do with the labels we place on our sexuality. Do we indulge one and deny the other? For tame one to pursue the other? Set amongst real footage from the 1973 gay pride marches in NYC, I suggest true liberation is when each man can answer this dilemma for himself without fear.