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Film Review: Tom of Finland Celebrates A Gay Icon In Need of Remembrance

Directed by Dome Karukoski and written by Aleksi Bardy, Tom of Finland, is a rich dive into a gay icon that is not as known as his work, nor as thanked for turning his life and vision into another step for LGBT equality. Touko Laaksonen was a prominent, homoerotic cartoonist whose leather-clad drawings of bulged men popularly swept the gay community in the 1970’s. Ever heard of Mr. Leather or seen a guy like this?

From the beginning, Karukosi and Bardy want to present “Tom” as a man frustrated into subverting his sexual desires, and oddly motivated by WWII to fulfill his hidden “needs”. Laaksonen did serve with the Finnish army, which sided with Germany and combatted against Russian soldiers. Laaksonen did not believe in Nazi Ideology, but his fetishizing of their uniforms inspired his art and photography. This point is fascinating, especially when you think of the hatefulness of Nazism and compare it to the good humor and happiness of Mr. Leather. To know a character of sexual liberation was beaconed by the most repressive figures, Nazis, is a shock, but Karukosi’s flashbacks help you understand how war confines and liberates minds. There is nothing like seeing life and death battle before you to make you decide how you fight for yourself, which is witnessed in Pekko Strang’s stellar performance as Tom of Finland.

Strang makes the 40 years we go through of Tom’s life feel like an ocean of emotions he gracefully swims. His relationship with partner Veli (Lauri Tilkanen) is a noble, sweet dynamic amongst a film the grazes darker notes.We see “Tom” go from hiding his sexuality to celebrating it, of which the film beautifully shows time can be a draining, best friend. The film is gorgeously shot to make even the most tragic instances have an artistic feel like, a painting. From Tom waltzing through a park in search of a “one-night stand” to his entrance into a gays-only, California beach party dedicated to his work, the cops play a heavy presence in showing uniformed authority/ acceptance of the LGBT community. Karukosi, like Laaksonen, uses cops and soldiers as inadvertent forwarders of oppressed cultures. For some reason, when “higher powers” try to block “deemed lesser groups” like, the LGBT community, from empowering themselves it does not work. This is something the film constantly displays, but leaves off in its highest opportunity to do so: the 1980’s, AIDS epidemic.

Through the characters of Doug (Seumas F. Sargent) and Jack (Jake Oftebro) the film gets a surprise breath of fresh air. Their characters’ love, loyalty, and sheer gratefulness to Tom’s work helps the audience understand how big of an impact he had. When you are a gay boy growing up in a small, narrow-minded home, comics like Laaksonen’s Kake feel like a spiritual hug saying, “You are not different. You are not the same. You are you, and that is great!”. Still, the film leaves off just when the AIDS epidemic begins, and “Tom” begins kind campaign to promote safe-sex, despite many printing presses’ refusal to work with him. Still despite allusions and knowledge of great loss, including Veli’s death, Tom of Finland does everything to keep this tale of struggle also one of hope. Despite all backlash and vitriol, against Tom and the LGBT community, Tom of Finland is about realizing you can still live an admirable life if you live it in love.  Tom of Finland Comes To Theatres On October 13.