The Real Message of the movie, “I Am Michael”

“You want to go to heaven, don’t you?…You need to be heterosexual.” Who actually talks like that? Certainly no one who works with same-sex attracted (SSA) people rejecting the gay identity. But so opens the film billed as “the true story” of Michael Glatze, ardent gay activist turned intergendered married Christian pastor. In the scene, the converted Glatze (played by the always-up-for-adventure James Franco) tries to help a teen struggling in his desires and his faith, a teen who, the film later makes abundantly clear, safely rejects Glatze’s counsel and adopts his true self as gay.

 

Advertised as an even-handed account and praised as unbiased and non-judgmental, the movie presents over and over the above caricature of Christianity. Michael’s lines throughout his journey, “Choosing a gay identity will condemn you to an eternity of suffering,” “I just want to be with my parents in heaven, okay?”, and of course the tract he finds that so moves him, “Turn or Burn!”, trumpet the message, you must have straight desires to be saved from hell.  This decidedly non-Christian idea, essentially salvation by works, is supposed to have been responsible for Glatze’s change of life.

 

So when his new girlfriend asks Franco, “Are you still attracted to men?” He shoots back “No. That was all in the past.” Who talks like this? It is like asking a husband, do you ever experience attraction to someone who is not your wife? And then implying that answering ‘yes’ means that you are denying your true identity by being married.

 

The makers, described as “determinedly balanced,” eagerly show us the former life of Michael and Bennett (played to a tee by the talented Zachary Quinto) as idyllic, spending almost a third of the movie portraying a wonderfully contented couple, and then, committed threesome! Surely that happy, joking, caring arrangement was stable and satisfying to all involved. Threesomes work out that way all the time in real life, right?

But this makes all the greater contrast to Franco’s tortured character after his conversion to Christ, obviously anything but peaceful while claiming that he is. So when he makes his 2006 decision to leave this “shallow lifestyle,” they make sure we’ve seen a lifestyle anything but shallow, leaving us with no plausible motivation for Michael’s leaving except that he is a little loco. And his subsequent blog posts about how happy he is are interspersed with hard-jawed scowls of dark brooding.

 

Evenhanded? Determinedly balanced? Only if you like getting hit with a sledgehammer.

 

The story is further told by the camera angles and lighting. Every shot of boyfriend Quinto is front on and beautifully lit, displaying the open honesty of his gay life. His furniture is always nice and his hair is virtually sculpted. Post-conversion Franco gets the opposite treatment, his protestations of joy shot from strange angles and with dark greenish lighting, tastefully highlighting the ugly clothes and aging Danish modern furniture of his new Christian life.

Brainstorm Media
Brainstorm Media

While graphic gay sex scenes punctuate the former relationship, there is no such sensual—or even a long kiss—scene of Michael with his wife, just one shot of how Michael fails to get aroused with a woman he picks up at a bar. Christians don’t really have sex, I guess. Hey, would you choose this life?

 

All of this forms the backdrop to dialogue designed to force the same conclusion. Bennett’s patient, understanding, ever loyal words are contrasted to Michael’s rude, awkward, almost antagonizing exchanges with his former friends. Right up to his closing panic attack as a Christian, we are driven to ask, of course, who is the attractive person here? Which one is really in touch with himself? The answer in this movie is obvious.

 

So why was this movie made? It was not to tell the truth about Christian conversion. You can go find out yourself how much of it was accurate. The real Michael Glatze has said and written enough things one can pick out to shape an extreme narrative. But many things you don’t have to research-like whether Protestant Bible schools put crucifixes on their dorm walls or whether, after becoming a Christian, people wear mustard-colored pants.

And the ‘why’ of the movie had nothing to do with even-handedness. But this movie had to be made. Why? Because it is increasingly difficult to deny the presence of many SSA individuals who go on to intergendered marriages, even among those previously identifying as gay (I mean, really identifying).

 

Our Higher Ground ministry in New York City, for example, runs a Christian disicpleship group in Greenwich Village for those with unwanted SSA. Even though not large, the Village group has seen seven intergendered marriages (and five babies born) among attendees in the last three and a half years. This group is not unusual. So the cultural narrative insisting that people with SSA must be gay is being contradicted all around us. The myth that a Christian with SSA cannot be happy in an intergendered relationship is too often challenged by the real people in our lives to go unaddressed.

 

So what was this movie? Damage control.

 

 

 

Did you see it?

 

6 Comments

  1. JM

    If this movie, supposedly based on Michael Glatze’s life, inaccurately portrays him how are they getting away with it? Wouldn’t they have had to secure his written permission to legally produce it? Why is he not protesting if the movie undermines all he stands for?

    1. According to James Franco in an interview, ““We did have Michael’s permission and his relationship to this material is different than any of the real life people I have portrayed. Where we start in Michael’s life in the movie, is far from where he is right now.”” Pastor Glatze did say some extreme things starting out, that he might not say today, and these are what the filmmakers chose to build their story around. Glatze may be okay with the result, but then he does not see how the film intends to cast people who shed a gay identity as liars.

  2. Jason

    Thanks for the review.

    I think your conclusions about the film’s goals are accurate, but I was surprised that a movie could come out of Hollywood that was as even-handed as this was. There were times where they could have taken cheap pot shots at Christianity and didn’t. Perhaps this subtlety is more effective at achieving it’s goal. An obvious attack on Christianity would make it too easy to dismiss the film.

    From a technical standpoint, most of the acting was excellent, especially from the main characters. The framing of shots of characters that were experiencing an emotional distance subconsciously helped you feel it too. However, I don’t expect it to secure any Oscar nominations.

  3. Tj

    I’ve known people with what the real life person Michael had I believe he had panic attacks and the panic and anxiety attacks attacks maybe made him fearful and he tried to exit or pinpoint what was the cause of it or how to fix it maybe he figured the lifestyle and his previous life will be the cause of his death because that would be traumatizing because of what happened to his father that would make anyone may be fearful and run away

    at the end of the at the end of the movie you have another panic attack which looks like it really has nothing to do with his new chosen lifestyle or his wife that he picked

    it’s just flat-out black and white another panic attack that almost makes it look like he’s questioning his choice now when really it’s just another panic attack with wife he chooses

    panic attack has nothing to do with sexual orientation things might have been different if he never had any panic attacks and no heart issues it’s almost like he had trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder you see what happened to his father perhaps

    I’m wondering if the real Michael ever had counselling to dress any of this but there’s a lot of confusion the name saying they focussed on and from the perspective of someone who knew him in his previous relationship was he really was confused there’s a lot of confusion people can make wrong choices out of confusion but they can make right choices

    if they can learn from the whole experience I think there’s a lot of physical issues at play here

    He can really actually motivate someone to make choices in their life that may or may not be the right thing or not at the end of the day a person has to be happy with themselves and their choices and not give their partner any false hope either not hurt anyone in the process either

    it’s actually too bad they didn’t talk about the fact that Jesus hang out with sinners …fyi…

    A man Jesus, try to help people who committed sins back then and they kind of skipped the point of things teachings in the Bible such as Mercy forgiveness , non judgments what’s the saying don’t judge or you will be judged back

    it’s interesting how the movie didn’t mention the how scientists now approving chemicals in the brain can dictate how the brain grows and develops into what sexual orientation they might be the kind of leave the whole science act out

    but a person can still choose right ?
    people still have free will right?

    if people still have a free-will right ?
    and they can choose as long as you’re not hurting someone else in the process as well they should be learning from this right or wrong?

    1. TJ, I think you are wise to recognize that there could be other factors in the decisions that someone like Michael makes. Trauma from early life, especially regarding parents, can be a powerful influence in folks’ choices. I appreciate your thoughts.

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