Berlinale: I am Michael

Directed by Justin Kelly
Starring James Franco, Zachary Quinto and Emma Roberts

by Joanna Orland

LGBT activist Michael Glatze was a voice of the Queer youth in 1998, San Francisco.  As the magazine editor of a popular LGBT magazine, documentary filmmaker and advocate for gay rights, Michael was seemingly comfortable in his sexuality and openly so.  I am Michael is the true story of how Michael Glatze went on a journey of self-discovery in a struggle to go back in the closet as a heterosexual Christian.

The film begins with Michael (James Franco) preaching to a young gay boy about the sins of homosexuality, how it is a choice, and how he should choose his faith over his sexual desires.  Flashback to 1998 when Glatze is open, free, and romantically involved with Bennett (Zachary Quinto), his partner with whom he chooses to settle down.  They move to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a more domesticated life with their third partner Tyler.  Life is far from domestic bliss as Michael begins to fear his own mortality, having lost both of his parents, feeling alone, obsessing over the lack of meaning in existence.  Through his recurrent panic attacks, he ponders, soul searches, and goes on a journey of self-discovery leading to the ultimate conclusion that he no longer identifies as gay.

Michael hurts not only Bennett and Tyler, but the entire LGBT community, particularly the youth, who viewed him as an inspiration who spoke up for their mutual rights.  This is the ultimate betrayal as not only does Michael no longer identify as gay, but he is claiming the identity of heterosexual, of Christian faith, now an advocate for homosexuality being a choice that we must not make.

For Michael, it is impossible to balance his sexuality and his faith.  He begins his journey exploring the possibility of their mutual exclusivity, but realizing that impossibility, his identity as Christian prevails over his one as part of the LGBT community.  This portrayal of Michael’s story is naturalistic, gradual and frustrating as Michael seems desperate for something to believe in.  The concept of identity is prominent throughout this film, and the idea of reversing a cliche to tell the story of an openly gay man struggling to come out as Christian, is the perfect approach for Michael’s story.

While the real Michael Glatze has stated his approval of this film, it does depict doubt over Michael’s motives, beliefs and relation to his identity.  Director Justin Kelly has stated that Glatze has taken this film as an opportunity to soften his anti-gay preaching as having now had a mirror held up to himself,  he can realize his harsh views are hurting those he once valued as friends and lovers.  The film casts doubt over Glatze’s true state of mind once his transition is complete.  If Glatze is truly happy with his decisions in life, this remains something that no film, but only the real Michael Glatze, can answer.


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