Entertainment

10.16.13

Stop Obsessing Over Daniel Radcliffe’s Gay Sex Scene in ‘Kill Your Darlings’

‘Kill Your Darlings’ is a rousing and suspenseful murder mystery. But you probably only know it as that movie where Harry Potter has gay sex.

Daniel Radcliffe delivers his most nuanced performance to date, casting away all traces of a typecasting curse a certain Boy Wizard may have placed on his career, in Kill Your Darlings.  Or, as you may only know it as, “That Movie Where Harry Potter Has Gay Sex.”

Radcliffe, showing off impressive range in full bloom as a talented adult actor, plays famed poet Allen Ginsberg in his college years at Columbia University in 1944, where he develops his prodigious writing talents—and falls in love with gregarious classmate Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). While Ginsberg’s fascination with Carr provides Kill Your Darlings with its vivacious emotional throughline and his decision to lose his virginity is essential to the film’s climax, neither thing, really, is what the movie is actually—you know—about: how the perils of passion found three of the Beat Generation’s most talented writers embroiled in a murder investigation.

Not that you’d know that if you paid any attention to the coverage of the film. And that’s a shame.

The film premiered to rapturous reviews at the Sundance Film Festival in January, with the highest accolades reserved for Radcliffe’s transformative performance as Ginsberg. But the headlines, rather than focus on that reception, blared the news about Radcliffe’s explicit sex scene: “Sundance Stunned By Radcliffe’s Gay-Sex Scenes,” “Daniel Radcliffe at Sundance: Actor’s Sex Scenes Shock Audiences,” “Daniel Radcliffe Love Scene in ‘Kill Your Darlings’ Has Fans Excited After Sundance Premiere.”

There are exactly three scenes that this entire hubbub is being raised over. In one, Ginsberg receives oral sex from a woman in a library, but can only reach completion after locking eyes with Carr. Later, he shares one passionate kiss with Carr. And finally, and likely the scene receiving all of the attention, Ginsberg, heartbroken over being rejected by Carr, cruises a bar, picks up a stranger, strips, and loses his virginity.

The scene lasts about 30 seconds, but it’s remarkable. Unlike so many films that use sex unnecessarily as a medium for titillation, it’s not gratuitous—it’s necessary to set in motion the dissolution of Ginsberg and Carr’s relationship. While “explicit”—though certainly not any more so than any rudimentary Hollywood love scene—the scene depicts Ginsberg’s first time having sex with a man with an intimacy and vulnerability not typically (or ever) afforded to a gay love scene.

If only the coverage of it would be so delicate.

While on his press tour, Radcliffe has been dutifully selling the film, as he should. Kill Your Darlings on its own is a thrilling, challenging trip through a convoluted maze where its characters’ intellectual showboating intertwines with their moral self-discovery. The film is, in other words, so much more than a 30-second sex scene—making the hyper-focus on it so frustrating.

So why are we so obsessed with it? Radcliffe’s assessment of news outlets’ temptation to harp on the scene is pretty on point. “It’s an easy headline, and it will get attention,” he told The Daily Beast. He’s right—any writer for the web will tell you that it’s hard to resist headlining a piece like this “Harry Potter Naked Gay Sex Movie Shocker!,” for the allure of all the page views a title like that would win. I mean…I’d click on that.

While recognizing that the scene—as short as it is in the film—is the equivalent of a flashing neon “Read This!” sign when used in the headline of a news story, Radcliffe also recognizes that there is, at the very least, some value to be derived from that, cheap as it may be.

The scene depicts Ginsberg’s first time having sex with a man with an intimacy and vulnerability not typically (or ever) afforded to a gay love scene.

“Ultimately, I’m quite practical about it in that if people go see the movie because they were coaxed in by salacious headlines, fine!” he said. “They’re still going to see the movie.”

It’s a conciliation he’s familiar with, too, having gone full-frontal for an extended (not to mention disturbing) sequence in the play Equus, both on the West End and on Broadway.

“People came in to see Equus because they’d heard about the nude scene, but they still left having seen Equus,” he said. “And sure, there were probably people who just went in to see the nude scene and went out, but there were also people who went in and came out like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t know it was about this. This is really intense.’ I think the same thing will happen with this film.”

That doesn’t mean that Radcliffe doesn’t find the fascination over the scene to be a bit ridiculous. “It’s interesting that it’s deemed shocking,” he told MTV News at Sundance. “For me, there’s something very strange about that because we see straight sex scenes all the time. We’ve seen gay sex scenes before. I don’t know why a gay sex scene should be more shocking than a straight sex scene.”

And taken against the movie as a whole, shining such a blinding spotlight on the scene that it blurs out any coverage on how good it is, is depressingly reductive. It implies that nothing else about the film is interesting: not Radcliffe’s brilliant performance; not DeHaan’s continued emergence as one of Hollywood’s most interesting young actors; not its romantic depiction of the Beat movement; not the whimsical editing and invigorating pacing; not the murder mystery so juicy that you can’t believe it’s a true story.

Perhaps you are reading this story because of its mention of Radcliffe’s infamous gay sex scene in the headline. But perhaps you’ll finish it at least knowing the title of the film it takes place in is called Killed Your Darlings. And that the film, as it happens, is very good.