sleeping with yourself
love at first sight
by Douglas Messerli
Florian Gottschick and Denise Langenhan (screenplay), Florian Gottschick (director) Zwillinge (Twins) / 2010
Gay men—I honestly have no idea whether or not it is true of lesbians as well—have long been fascinated by the sexual allure of the identical twin. One might immediately jump to the conclusion that this attraction has something to do with the Narcissus complex that underlies so much of gay mythology; for many decades psychiatrists attributed homosexuality as being a manifestation of a severe condition of narcissism which explained the attraction to the same sex. I think, given the crippling self-hatred experienced by so many gay men throughout history, however, that we can quickly dismiss that notion.
Perhaps it is just the possibility of finding someone of the same sex who shares so very many things in common without having to go through the difficult process of finding a compatible other in a world in which, given the LGBTQ minority, there is so much less possibility of selection that attracts us to the twin: someone who knows and loves you completely from birth makes everything else so easy. And if you like your own appearance, that makes it even better. It is certainly the most succinct example of the metaphor of falling in love with someone “at first sight.”
And then, identical twins are themselves born outsiders, a minority that seems queer to the normative world simply because of the deep bond and interconnected thinking of brothers unavailable to others. As I’ve often written, the idea of doubles and doubling have long been intertwined with gay consciousness.
And finally, since a 1980 study of twins and homosexuality—as I have noted elsewhere in these pages—found that 65.8% of monozygotic twins (identical twins) were diagnosed as having a homosexual orientation, while only 30.4% of dizygotic twins showed that orientation, there is not only evidence “supporting the argument for a biological basis in sexual orientation,” but some statistics arguing that identical twins “have a shared genetic predisposal to same-sex sexual behavior.” In short, identical twins not only seem to prove that homosexual behavior is genetic but that monozygotic twins themselves are prone to same-sex desires.
Certainly gay porn, with its many famous twin sexual performers, might seem to argue for their gay appeal: from the early Bruce Weber shoot of the Carlson twins (who later claimed not be sexually active with one another), and the numerous porn films featuring the Peters, Mendez, Goffney, Fischer, Studding, King, Aston, Boston, Stax, Mercury, Odyssey, Rosso, and Otov twins, as well as the Visconti triplets, twins are a staple of the gay-porn diet.
Several films have approached this topic, but in 2010 German director Florian Gottschick rather straightforwardly took on the subject in his Zwillinge (Twins), not to be confused with Ivan Reitman’s 1988 comedy of the same title which improbably paired Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, about to be, so I read only today, revisited in a sequel.
When he answers the doorbell, dressed in a bunny rabbit costume, he is shocked to see his brother, whom he almost hints is not welcome at the event. Nonetheless, he cannot resist inviting him in, and over a night of partying that extends evidently to a local nightclub, he ends up inexplicably handcuffed to a pipe in the women’s bathroom, his brother sitting at his side, who releases him only after a deep kiss.
Although apparently they have invited no one to witness their private ceremony, she dresses, with only Jan in attendance, in her bridal gown while, soon after, again with his brother at his side, Daniel begins to dress in his blacks and whites, wondering out loud whether he’s made the right decision in agreeing to marry.
Jan says it probably is for the best, but as the two lock eyes, Daniel suddenly undresses as they engage suddenly in a quick act of coitus. Daniel redresses—at least we presume it’s Daniel—and heads off to the marriage ceremony, the other sitting on the bed in contemplation of their obviously unresolved sexual relationship with each other
Surely, Sophie has married both of them, and Jan and Daniel may now not even attempt to live apart.
Los Angeles, June 4, 2021
reasons for a death
It begins mid-way through a funeral, evidently being held of the UCLA campus in Los Angeles, although that simply may have been an available space for Tyree to film his work since it no way plays a role in the film itself.
We also recognize the brother of the dead man, James (Jake Brown), who we quickly perceive was a twin to the man who apparently has committed suicide. And we are just suddenly introduced to the man who was the dead twin’s former lover, Travis (Adam Bucci), who has evidently attended the ceremony uninvited. The other figures are never identified with regard to their specific relationships to the dead boy, but we presume one of them is his mother and others are family friends and other relatives.
When Travis attempts to introduce himself to James, he is quickly dismissed with a snarl, “I know who you are.” And others in the background also show their hostility to Travis. One, in particular, a black man named Sam (Kim Estes) seems to blame the brother’s death precisely on having had a relationship with Travis, as well as being gay, attended with what he presumes means drugs, diseases, and a destructive lifestyle.
Travis, having overheard Sam’s homophobic comments, immediately speaks out for James, but whatever sympathy he might arouse in that defense is almost immediately muted when he rather violently accosts Sam, James being forced to pull Travis away from the confrontation by taking him outside the chapel, reprimanding him for behaving that way at the solemn occasion.
Whatever judgment we might have suspended about Travis’ behavior is quickly dismissed, moreover, when all he can do in response is to offer James a joint, make light of the situation, and, skateboarding around the troubled brother of the dead man, accuse him of being the opposite of all the good qualities the brother represented while in the very next moment asking if he can “crash” at James’ place for the night since his current lover—yes, we discover, he had broken up with the brother over some vague notion that it was “time to move on”—lives in Pasadena.
There, he further makes himself uncomfortably at home, prodding James even further in an attempt, evidently, to break through his shell of apparent heterosexual normative behavior. In the process he does, however, manage to convey just how full of life James’ brother was and how much he loved James. Indeed, he finally reveals that he knows just “how close” the twins actually were, insinuations that result it a near violent reaction from James—which ends in a crying jag on Travis’ shoulder, the two embracing and kissing, and ending up together in bed.
Obviously, the twins did have a very close relationship involving sex, and we can now well understand James’ fascination with Travis in his attempt to get closer again to his brother to find, after they had broken off their relationship, how he felt and how he loved.
Yet, Tyree’s film offers no rational solutions to James’ deep loss. The next morning, after Travis leaves, he goes to Sam’s house, knocks on his door, and makes sure Sam watches him from his bedroom window, as he puts a bat through Sam’s car windows and runs off. If we might applaud James’ return to the righteous fold of LGBTQ life, we certainly cannot admire his way of attempting to solve homophobia or come to terms with his own deep loss.
I can’t say as I admire this short work about gay twin love that refuse to not only explore the roots of homophobia, its possible solutions, or the reason for James’ brothers early death, leaving us only with the characters who, in their own failed behavior in life, may represent some of the reasons for the latter.
Los Angeles, September 13, 2021
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (September 2021).