Monday, July 6, 2020

Maurice Contrasts Societal-Ingrained Loneliness With Romantic Unity

Maurice begins on a highly amusing note. An eleven-year-old version of the titular protagonist is talking with a schoolteacher on the beach. The teacher begins to explain to the youngster that he's about to underdog the process of puberty. To illustrate this point, the schoolteacher proceeds to grab a stick and use it to make a variety of drawings of human genitalia in the sand. Now he's got a visual aid for his overall point. After their conversation, the two characters begin to walk away only for Maurice to realize that the drawings are still etched into the sand. Just as the schoolteacher hopes the tide has washed them away, a family comes upon the doodles and becomes aghast.

From there, we flash-forward to the future and catch up with adult Maurice (James Wilby), a college student attending Cambridge. One night, he has a run-in with the roommate of a friend by the name of Clive Durham (Hugh Grant). Though at first, they begin to talk just to pass the time until Clive's roommate returns, a romantic spark begins to flicker between the two of them. Of course, this being England in 1909, they can't be public about their affair. People are put in prison and ostracized by families & friends for this kind of behavior. Thus, Maurice and Clive proceed to try and put this love behind them and embrace "traditional" heterosexual lives. What follows for Maurice epitomizes the phrase "You can take the man out of the gayness, but you can't take the gayness out of the man"!

From the get-go, Maurice had an aura to it that I found captivating and not just because its a British period piece that begins with sand drawings of dicks. Much of this riveting nature stems from the rapport between Maurice and Clive, which is executed with such compelling warmth under the direction of James Ivory. Though they have to keep their romance a secret from the rest of the world, Maurice the film never shies away from showing these two characters as the passionate lovers that they are. This chance of getting to know the two leads of Maurice and why they fall for each other lays the great groundwork for the story ahead.

Said groundwork is in service of a story that looks at the complexities of balancing personal fulfillment with basic survival in an unaccepting society. Maurice, Clive and eventual third lead character Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves) are all closeted gay men walking a delicate tightrope. That balance entails fulfilling their personal desires with the fact that doing so is a death sentence in then modern-society. The screenplay, penned by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, ingeniously has this struggle manifest in different ways for each of the three different queer characters of Maurice. Clive, for example, may have been the one to urge Maurice to embrace his queerness in college but he ends up being the person who most stifles his queerness by the end of the story.

While human sexuality is indeed fluid and a person whose sexually attracted to men can be sexually attracted to women as well, the specific case of Clive makes it clear his heart doesn't lay with his eventual wife. That final of Clive looking out the window and quietly reminiscing about days where he could be himself cuts to your bone. In a single shot, every aspect of Maurice (particularly Hugh Grant's performance) beautifully conveys how much Clive has gained yet lost. He's ensured his survival and maintained a high position in society. But at what cost? His life is now a bunch of hollow trinkets and massive rooms shared with a person he doesn't connect with. Meanwhile, Maurice has struck up a romance with Scudder in a lowly shack. Their surroundings are more humble than Clive's But they're happy and they get to be themselves.

How do you balance survival with personal fulfillment? That idea gets explored to such a fascinating effect all throughout Maurice while it also delivers a steady supply of appropriately powerful romantic sequences. These scenes vividly convey the passion Maurice feels with lovers Clive and Scudder, but even more importantly, they convey a sense of unity between Maurice and his bedroom companions. To be queer in this society is to be alone, to be isolated. In these scenes, Maurice and either Clive or Scudder are able to finally break apart that feeling. As they put their hands over each other's bodies, the truth is revealed: nobody is alone, especially in a moment like this. That element beautifully informs the romantic spirit of Maurice and helps to make James Ivory's romantic drama as utterly enchanting as it is.

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