After seeing a long-haired, shirtless Eric Bana in Troy years ago I thought I had reached the top of Eric Bana mountain. And of course, for those of us who enjoy seeing gorgeous half-naked Aussie men in period settings, this film absolutely reigns supreme.
But for those like me who may have been drawn to Bana’s homoerotic turn as Hector in Troy for particularly exciting reasons, I bring great joy. There’s an even more homoerotic Eric Bana movie out there, and it’s one of the first the “Full Frontal” star has ever directed.
The 2000 movie Chopper is many things at once: it’s a prison drama, a biopic and a myth-making experience. The film tells the story of Mark “Chopper” Read, the larger-than-life serial killer and author of an Australian legend, who spent the majority of his time, from the age of 20 to 38, in Pentridge prison in Victoria, where he directed to terrorize, and perhaps delight, other inmates with his tall tales of his legendary life on the outside.
The prison movie has always been an intensely erotic genre, and let me tell you, Chopper is no exception. Not only are some of Mark “Chopper” Read’s actions driven by his love of other men. Witness, for example, the time he rushed into a trial and held the judge at gunpoint so his friend could be acquitted.
That tactic didn’t exactly work, but points for solidarity. What he did was sentence Chopper to 16 and a half years in prison, where, during that time, he started a gang war, had his ears cut off à la Van Gogh and hatched a plan to immobilize his fellow inmates by taking an ice pick from their spines. Luckily, that didn’t happen, partly because everyone around him agreed that it was completely bonkers. It is at this point that I should mention that Chopper is an incredibly violent film that will certainly make you gasp more than once. But bear with me here.
Chopper was busy creating his own mythos while incarcerated, and the film takes that mythos somewhat seriously, despite embellishing a few aspects of Chopper’s story. So yes, the ear snipping happens, along with an extremely homoerotic stabbing scene that basically doubles as a sex scene. And it is this scene that I want to talk about specifically.
At the start of the film, Chopper tells his friends, Patrick “Bluey” Barnes and James Loughnan – the aforementioned pal Chopper tried to hold a judge hostage for in order to secure his release – that he basically wants to attack the Mafia of the prison, that is to say the Syndicate of Painters and Dockworkers. Knowing that’s a ridiculous idea, Loughnan and Barnes turn on Chopper. Loughnan punches him, and the look in Bana’s eyes as it happens is one of pure betrayal.
Chopper’s wet-eyed expression asks, “How could you?”
The men gather in an embrace, then bring their faces together, as if they are about to kiss.
I mean jesus what is it, Brokeback Mountain? Not that I’m complaining.
Seconds later, Chopper removed his shirt, revealing how deep the wounds were and giving us a glimpse of his torn, tattooed chest. He still can’t get that expression off his face. This “how could you?” look.
It’s a sad and oddly tender moment that’s unafraid to wonder if Chopper’s over-the-top machismo is stifling something deeper, something perhaps even romantic, in his feelings for these men.
Throughout the film – and I must warn you, Eric Bana does not stay this hot throughout – Chopper and his pals make plenty of homophobic comments. At one point, Chopper even calls one of his friends a “dress girl” for not going through with one of his psychotic plans. But the overwhelming feeling one gets from this larger-than-life killer is that his feelings for men, if never fully explored, were at least latent. He doesn’t seem to care about the women in his life, other than as objects. But when it comes to the men he would lay down his life for, no betrayal runs deeper.
Chopper is far from being a perfect film: it is quite difficult to watch in places. But look, if you like guys with shiny sweat tattoos and maybe a little guts, I don’t know, give it a try, man. It’s damn hot.
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