At the 2019 Melbourne Queer Film Festival, a friend and I were discussing the work of the Texan-based, Malaysian-born filmmaker Yen Tan. Having just seen his latest film, 1985, I was struck by the subtle power of the film. Aesthetically, it might have been made in 1985. As with all his films, there is a non-sensationalist sadness that gradually builds. His two most recent films to tour the queer film festival circuit were Ciao (2008) and Pit Stop (2013). These films deal with the melancholic loss people feel at the end of a relationship, be it through death or break up.
In 1985, Adrian Lester (Cory Michael Smith) returns to his small Texan hometown after living in New York City for several years as a successful advertising executive. His ultra-religious father, Dale (Michael Chiklis), dominates the household, while his endearing mother, Eileen (Virginia Madsen), fawns over Adrian. The family exudes fear that they might lose their son to a disease they don’t really understand. Adrian’s much younger brother, Andrew (Aidan Langford), is angry at him for abandoning him. Andrew seems like a junior version of Adrian: effeminate and just as uncomfortable in the house. Their father destroys his Madonna record collection because of the local church’s war on ‘sinful’ pop music. Adrian manages to bond with Andrew over music, steering his younger brother towards The Cure. Adrian’s childhood friend Carly (Jamie Chung), another figure from his past, long estranged, is also in town. Eileen is excited at the prospect of their reunion.