“Rites of Passage”
“Rites of Passage” is a provocative look at family conflict. Not exactly a gay movie, it does have a gay sub-plot and deals with coming-out issues and the struggles between sons and sons and sons and fathers. Filled with conflict, plot twists and turns, deception, secrets and excess baggage, we watch as a father and his two sons come to terms with themselves and each other. The director, Victor Salva, handles everything with sensitivity and a great deal of meaning. For whatever reason, the conflict between father and son will hit home to most of us and watching it makes us remember that painful time when we had to come to terms with whom we are.
Del (Dean Stockwell) is the father who has to deal with the mistakes he has made with his gay son, Campbell (Jason Behr). Past goings-on are revealed via flashbacks and through them we learn that Del is very tough man’s man who once saw his son hugging and kissing another man. As the father and his two sons are at a hunting cabin, a psychopathic killer and escaped convict and his pal are hiding out in the area near to where they are. As the plot goes through twists and turns, secrets are exposed and we begin to look at the characters quite differently.
The setting for the film is beautiful and the actors are good looking in this character driven thriller which exposes family issues between a father and his two sons. Del is going through mid-life crisis and is having an extra-marital affair, one son is gay and the other has become part of suburban mediocrity. All of the drama takes place on one night and as we watch we see the men tear each other down with a great deal of tension and truth. The movie keeps you guessing all the way to the end. There are character revelations that constantly crop up and this is a painful movie to watch and there is a great deal of suspense here.
The theme is not new—the estrangement between a father and his gay son. But this is only part of complex issues that are revealed. We do not deal with sexuality in the movie but we do deal with relationships. Campbell has been hurt by the abuse that he has received for being gay and needed to express himself combatively. Growing up gay in a straight society, living in an all-American family made his life a living hell. He tried to conform but failed. His father tried to “straighten” him out and when he was a young adult. His dad beat him after finding him with his boyfriend.
What I love about this film is that it is so unusual. The treatment of the relationships between gay men and their families is dealt with in a sympathetic way and with complete realism. Jason Behr as Campbell portrays a tormented and courageous character that despite all of the abuse he has endured refuses to lose his humanity and emerges as the most positive person in the film. The ending of the film is extremely emotional. Each of the men has a story to tell but it is the gay son’s story that ties the entire movie together.
The screenplay is intelligent and very skillful. This is a movie that is filled with integrity and acted brilliantly. As you are drawn in, you realize that you are watching a film that deals with love in all of its forms and deep personal crises, about illusions and betrayals, and about forgiveness and new beginnings. As we look at family values among the three men in the movie, we begin to understand desire and relationships.