Directed by Andrew Haigh (2011)
by Ryan Smillie
The plot of Andrew Haigh's Weekend is simple enough - two men meet, hook up, and get to know each other over one passionate weekend. As in Richard Linklater's structurally similar Before Sunrise, the romance is constrained by an imminent departure - in Weekend's case, Glen's moving to Portland at the end of the titular weekend. Over 48 hours, the outspoken Glen (Chris New) and the more reticent Russell (Tom Cullen) meet, fuck, drink, smoke, argue, flirt, and finally, say goodbye - it captivates me every time.
When I first watched the movie, I was 21 years old, living with my parents in New Jersey, commuting to an internship in Manhattan. Between my first full time "real job" and two traffic-filled bus rides to and from the city, I could wind up feeling pretty lonely and isolated. I related to Russell almost immediately. We first see him taking a bath and getting dressed, both at the edge of the frame; then smoking behind a curtain, hidden from the bright window on the other side, and finally entering a party with his back to the camera, proceeding into the scene with little more than his profile visible, if even that. From the beginning, we get a sense of Russell's disconnection, only further supported by his quietness - at the party with his straight friends, on the noisy street afterwards, even in the gay club he makes his way to by the end of the night. It all felt identifiable to me, a fellow sensitive gay man (with a lot of straight friends) struggling to find a place to feel comfortable.
Glen, then, represented everything Russell (and by extension, I) was not. Confident, impulsive, frank, Glen serves as a stark contrast to the more withholding Russell. This comes off visually as well, with the first image of the two of them the morning after featuring a clothed Russell and a naked Glen, seemingly indicative of their relative openness. Over the weekend, Glen challenges Russell's views and thoughts - pressing Russell to be interviewed about their hookup for Glen's project (a series of interviews with men that he has slept with), and interrogating Russell's ideas of being out and being gay in general.
To me (and I assumed, to Russell too), there was something terrifying and alluring about Glen. He's pushy and insistent, forcing Russell out of his comfort zone in conversations about sex, but he also seems to have a clear idea of who he is, with the dogmatic and intellectual arguments to back it up. While Glen describes his project, confidently smoking a cigarette, Russell sits, listening intently and conspicuously chewing his fingers. Whereas Russell is often pushed to the edge of the frame, Glen often dominates it, occupying the center and even sometimes acting as the force that pushes Russell out to the edges. It was easy for me to see how Russell would wind up falling for Glen.
After my first viewing, the movie became one of my favorites. Over the past five years, I've wound up watching it at least once every few months. While I continue to see a lot of myself in Russell - I may have moved out of my parents' house to Brooklyn - I still relate to his uncertainty and hesitancy, plus I still have more straight friends than I know what to do with. But I've also been surprised by how differently I've come to understand Glen, and even relate to him too.
Some of Glen's complexities were obvious from the start. His friends are unsupportive. He has a bad breakup in his past. Hell, he's even about to leave the country. But it's the smaller tics and nuances that have begun to stand out to me. Glen wheezes (while smoking) as he and Russell walk up a staircase on their way home from Russell's lifeguarding job (an appropriate job for someone with such a guarded life). This gives us our first indication of any discomfort on Glen's part, any idea that he can be out of his element. At this point, he's even walking behind Russell, which he follows by hopping into the back of Russell's bike - hardly what you'd expect from someone who, so far, has directed much of the course of their interaction.
When Glen finally reveals to Russell that he is moving to Portland, around the midpoint of the film, he waits until he's out of Russell's apartment to reveal the news. However, he quickly crosses back over the threshold to invite Russell out with his friends that night, hiding his face in his hoodie as he makes the invitation. On a recent rewatch, it dawned on me - Glen and Russell aren't that different after all. Glen's brashness and Russell's passivity are two different approaches to the same feeling of uncertainty, the same search for your self and your place in the world. Watching the movie now, I see Glen as a reflection of anytime I've affected confidence when I had little, anytime I've been too loud to cover up what I didn't know.
Weekend is about the power of connection. Haigh's tight close ups of Russell and Glen in their apartments and in their beds serve as a contrast to the long shots outside their apartments, where the two are dwarfed by their surroundings. While in public they nearly blend in, in private, they can argue, relate, and be seen. Ultimately, though, the film is not just about the connection between Russell and Glen; it's about the connection between Russell, Glen, and the viewer as well. We are privy to the tight close ups, privy to their intimate conversations. I am able to take 21 (or 26) years of my own baggage and see it reflected through these characters. Just as Russell and Glen are changed for having met each other, I'm changed for having met them.