Giant Little Ones (Behrman, 2018)

Following on the heels of LGBTQ+ coming-of-age stories like Love, Simon from last year, Giant Little Ones is another film that highlights the struggles queer teenagers face in toxic environments like high school, where latent homophobia and bullying make coming out an almost Herculean task. And so some choose to hide in fear, pretending to be people they’re not in the hopes they can ride out the storm without losing their carefully-built reputations. Such a dilemma is front and centre here. Two best friends are celebrating one of their birthdays. They party hard and goof around as they’ve done for so many years. At the end of the night, both end up in the same bed, and one makes a move that, under sober circumstances, he wouldn’t have dared to make. The problem is: he’s petrified of the consequences. He knows he will be tormented without mercy. His girlfriend will surely dump him. His parents will probably freak. The world will be an unending nightmare that cannot be stopped. So he takes the coward’s way out. He tells everyone that it was his friend who did the deed, foisting the nightmare on him so his own façade will not crack. It’s a horrible thing to do to a friend, and we think badly of him for it. But we also understand that intolerance and small-mindedness have fostered these kinds of defensive measures. Such pain is inflicted not because one friend hates the other, but because one friend has been taught to hate himself. Taught to believe that he will not be accepted or loved. In his moment of panic, he caves because of his fear, doing far more damage than would’ve occurred had he been truthful. He just didn’t know that.

Giant Little Ones is like a wake-up call and booster shot of empathetic engagement wrapped into one engaging film, asking us to judge the wider picture in which this conflict occurs rather than the people involved. We quickly realize how quickly walls are built when meaningful dialogue is needed, and how that lack of dialogue only enlarges the suffering of these characters. But when a listening ear is extended, and both parties begin to seek common ground on which to communicate, there is maturity and growth. The protagonist, Franky, takes the kind of journey that the friend who betrayed him, Ballas, ought to be taking here, which is an interesting detour from what you’d normally expect from stories like this. The victim here is the one growing in his friend’s place, taking time to seriously contemplate the mysteries of human sexuality and how desire does not necessarily always run in a straight line. He also finds a new girlfriend and learns the virtues of patience and compassion when she tells him about her own struggles. His friendship with a butch classmate, too, is a source of comfort and levity. All of this begins to erode his estrangement from his queer father, who now lives with a husband and who repeatedly tries to bond with his son. Before, Franky’s stubbornness and ignorance built needless barriers, but as he matures, he finally takes them down and allows a father who’s always loved him to re-enter his life. He only needed to listen and not judge out of instinct.

It would have been edifying for Ballas to have tagged along on Franky’s path to enlightenment. It would have made for a warm and fuzzy film, to see this self-loathing gay teen finally understand that he will be loved no matter what. Unfortunately, not every Ballas has the privilege to walk in a Franky’s shoes. I really like that Giant Little Ones understands this, and refuses to give firm resolutions to its conflicts, choosing rather to imply that Franky’s growth will inspire Ballas to make amends and ultimately accept himself. It is a terribly arduous process that will require time and motivation from all corners of his life—a process, no doubt, a different film could depict. This one, however, is about striving for a broad-minded view of life. It is about ridding the air of the poisons of hatred, ignorance, fear and belittlement that have ruined the safety of public spaces and turned people against each other without cause. But it also wants to rid the poison from us. We are the polluters of intolerance, and our poisons maim and kill sources of life we sometimes don’t even notice. It is as much about realizing our involvement as it is about stopping the pollution at its source. Many have already done so. Others continue to pollute indiscriminately, choking the air with hate so that, in the end, we will all die from it. It is our duty, as well as the duty of art, to begin reversing course, for otherwise there will come a point where it will be too late. The damage will have been done.