By Daniel Garrett
The Dying Gaul
Director: Craig Lucas
Starring: Campbell Scott, Patricia Clarkson,
And Peter Sarsgaard
The Dying Gaul (play book)
Samuel French, 2002
The Dying Gaul is a film directed by Craig Lucas, based on his own play, and in it a white gay male writer is paid a million dollars for a script about a love affair between two men, in which one of the lovers dies of the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS); and as part of the writer’s payment, it’s understood that he will change the story from focusing on two men to being about a man and a woman. He’s induced to betray his play and the real life love on which it’s based by a producer who is bisexual and married to a former screenwriter.
It’s interesting that in the published play by Lucas, the producer’s wife knows that her husband is bisexual and has affairs with men, so the producer is not sexually immoral, but in the film she’s surprised by his affair with the writer (that sophisticated aspect of the play is dumped for cinematic and social cliché). In the film, the bisexual is aesthetically amoral, professionally dishonest, and sexually predatory; and the woman is deceptively kind and emotionally manipulative (she takes on the persona of the writer’s dead lover on the internet when she engages the writer in a chat room) and she is finally cruel; and the white gay man, though not forced to do anything he doesn’t want to do (he chooses to sell his script; to have an affair with a married man, the producer; and to engage in a strange internet dialog with someone claiming to be his dead lover), the white gay man is presented as a victim; and the life of the bisexual man is destroyed and the woman is killed, leaving the white gay male writer alive with a million dollars to spend. Peter Sarsgaard as the writer, Campbell Scott as the producer, and Patricia Clarkson as the wife give performances that are etched with believable emotion—whether concern, desire, grief, or anger; and the people in the film seem civilized in manner—articulate, intelligent, informed by culture, while acting in duplicitous ways; and this is a uniquely vicious film—indicating a dishonest, immature, malicious, and narcissistic sensibility.
Daniel Garrett is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, AllAboutJazz.com, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Muse-Apprentice-Guild.com, Offscreen.com, Option, PopMatters.com, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, WaxPoetics.com, and World Literature Today. He has written fiction, poetry, drama, journalism, and criticism; and his comment on The Dying Gaul previously appeared as part of his long piece entitled “ICONOGRAPHY: Ideas, Images, and Individuals in Film, Books, and Life” (Offscreen.com, 2006). Daniel Garrett’s web log at Blogger.com, focused on culture and society, is called “City and Country, Boy and Man.” His e-mail addresses are D.Garrett.Writer@gmail.com and firstname.lastname@example.org