Living out our lives online perhaps means that we all nurse the contradictions in our personalities in sharper contrast than before. We have the freedom to present a version of ourselves online that is paradoxical to how we may behave in daily life. Beach Rats is a lament on this divided identity, from the perspective of Frankie who is attempting to reconcile with his sexuality.
Directed by Eliza Hittman, Beach Rats creeps through its protagonist’s story. He lives in Brooklyn, his father has terminal cancer, he spends his time getting high at the beach with his three best friends (occasionally using Oxycontin borrowed from dad), he also might be gay – he isn’t yet sure what he likes.
In the small hours of the night, Frankie seeks for connection and intimacy in the same disembodied way as many – online. Hiding himself in his basement, only partially lit by the light of his computer screen, he trawls video chatrooms. In these shots, the cinematography by Helene Louvart and her masterful use of 16mm film is the narrator. The beautiful cinematography does so much of the work in this feature. As the narrative is more visual than vocal, Beach Rats is haunted by a silence: the abundance and secrecy of all which cannot be articulated.
Watching Frankie fall into the dangers that disproportionately affect young gay men – depression, drug use, dangerous sexual behaviours – is painful, but this movie does not demand our engagement. Much of the empathy for the character’s frustration and sense of yearning comes from the viewer’s own itch to be gripped by something.
For all of the beautifully shot lucid sequences of Frankie’s angst, this film is perhaps a little too existential in its outlook. The plot doesn’t lack ongoing developments and denouements but the script tends to fall a little flat, or the viewer is held at such a distance from the action that the characters become blurry figures, their words falling on deaf ears.
Beach Rats possesses a lot of beauty in unexpected places. It deals with complex themes, and is at its best when it resists the temptation to simplify them. It finds humour in the tragic, or love amongst degradation, and at these moments it is poignant and challenging. This is an important and singular tale, and where it holds off judgement on any of its characters – including Frankie’s thuggish friends – it is a contemplative piece on the nuances of sexuality and masculinity.
Beach Rats is released nationwide on 24th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Beach Rats here: