Film noir has become one of the most recognizable genres of American film because of its distinct characteristics. Rope is in many ways a representation of such characteristics– the urban setting, the darkness of the visuals and theme and the mysterious demeanor of the film throughout. While queer representations may not be one of the characteristics that comes to mind, it is one of the traits that sets Rope apart from other films of this genre at the time. However, because these queer representations are not denoted, queer stereotypes and our heteronormative state of mind are what directs this film and help the audience discover that the theme of Rope is indeed homosexuality.
When initially watching Rope, the only character that seemed to characterize homosexuality was Phillip, which was based purely on stereotype. Philip was the more compassionate of Brandon and him when coping with the aftermath of killing David. Philip was submissive and someone that Brandon could dominate and manipulate–traits that could be characterized as effeminate. Philip also played the piano which meant he was an artist and his line of work is more “feminine” than other professions. While his homosexuality was never explicitly depicted, based off the stereotypes that we associate with homosexuality, it was safe to say that Philip was homosexual. Like Dyer explains, “both male and female queer stereotypes assume that homosexuals are a particular kind of person.” Because we associate people who are “mannish” or effeminate with homosexuality instead of gender, a film like Rope, which did not explicitly state anyone’s sexual orientation, depends on stereotypes to illustrate what is not being said (Dyer 94).
Janet also played an important role in the queer stereotypes perpetuated throughout the film. The dialogue that took place around Janet suggested that she was heterosexual and had engaged in romantic relationships with both Brandon and David. Since Philip was kept out of this romantic entanglement, this was also an indication that Phillip was homosexual. However, after reading arguments about Brandon’s homosexuality as well, it seems Janet played a bigger role in this film. Janet could be interpreted as an “experimentation” for Brandon. In many ways this is a very heteronormative idea– the idea that before someone comes to terms with their homosexuality, he/she abides by social norms and “experiments” with the sex that is “appropriate” by society’s standards. Furthermore, the dialogue between Brandon and Janet that takes place in secrecy illustrates the idea of “the gay best friend” made popular by television. Janet questions Brandon’s intentions when he invites Kenneth, Janet’s ex-lover, but Brandon simply appears to be the meddler and looking out for his friend, Janet. Although the idea of a “gay best friend” is recent and has been made popular with the inception of homosexual male characters on television, looking at Rope from a 21st century lens allows us to imply that Brandon is gay because of this stereotype.
After reading arguments about Brandon’s homosexuality, his actions reflect those that are stereotypically correlated with homosexual men. Brandon’s insistence on being so involved in Janet’s love life is a trait that is more directly linked with women. In reality, Brandon is the ultimate meddler because he took his actions as far as murder in order to have Janet and Kenneth together. A short exchange between Janet and Brandon where Janet comments on how “dreamy” Brandon smells is also an indication of Brandon’s homosexuality. Brandon is clearly wearing perfume which is associated with femininity and as Dyer further explains, manipulation (Miller 125). Dyer discloses the idea that perfume is insidious because it can’t be seen, touch or controlled and is used as a piece of manipulation and seduction (Dyer 96). The description of perfume sounds similar to a femme fatale but since Brandon is obviously not a women, the closest he can come to being a femme fatale, is being a homosexual man.
While Rope’s focus was on the stereotypes that surround homosexuality, neo-noir films still depend on stereotypes to carry their story lines through. Mullholland Drive, a neo-noir film from 2001, is based around the story of aspiring actress Betty Elms who befriends and amnesiac in Los Angeles, California . Like Rope, this film has a mysterious aspect to it, partly because it was first written as a television pilot and its ended was left open ended for the purpose of more episodes. However, after the pilot was shut down, director David Lynch chose to keep parts of the pilot and to add on parts to make it into a feature film. In the same way that Rope is a series of stereotypes that reflect the way that society thinks about homosexuality, Mullholland Drive is also a lens through which the public can see how it views Hollywood and its allure.
Dyer, Richard. “Queer Noir.” Queer Cinema: The Film Reader. Harry Benshoff & Sean Griffin. New York: Routledge, 2004. 89-104. Print.
Miller, D.A. “Anal Rope.” Representations. 32. 1990. 114-133. Web. 12 Apr 2011.
VanillaFlava. “Mulholland Drive (2001) – Trailer.” Youtube. Web. 2006 Sep 1.