i'd like to point out that the positioning of McAvoy and Fassbender makes it look as if they could be holding hands.
I had the pleasure of seeing X-Men: First Class in theatres last night – and it has been my most giddily anticipated comic book movie of the year. Thanks to the 90’s cartoon, I’ve been a nearly lifelong X-Men fan, and the relationship between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) is the crux of everything X-Men.
Frankly, the film was easily read as a story of two gay fathers raising their adopted children.
First Class is more or less an origins story of Professor X and Magento’s relationship, as well as the formation of Professor Xavier’s School for the Gifted, and hence the X-Men team itself. Additionally, the film shows the start of Magento’s Brotherhood – an organization/team that, although not directly opposing Xavier’s X-Men, has a different and competing philosophy.
When Erik and Charles are shown as their older selves (in most of the X-Men universes), they have a tense relationship that is laden with undertones of being romantically involved in the past. They both care a great deal for one another and are responsible for saving one anothers’ life many times over, and even continue to sporadically (if begrudgingly) work together to achieve common goals. Their history with one another is a rich one, and it is clear the men have a great deal of love for one another. It is true that due to a lack of overt sex scenes or very clear romantic affection shown onscreen, that one could argue that they are simply very close friends.
I’m of the opinion that that is laughably simplistic horseshit. Charles and Erik were a couple and very intimately involved on every level (physically, intellectually, emotionally) for a long time. They belong together. Had their personal philosophies and dedication to a higher cause not diverged so much, and had their personalities not both been stubborn, their trajectories as characters in the X-Men universe probably would have continued together.
I’ve been told, already, that I am just arbitrarily saying the two men are gay because they are close and that not all men who love each other are gay.
This often seems to be a blind assessment of people who are uncomfortable with the potential sexuality of the characters. Yes – Erik and Charles went on to father children and both men had relationships with women – but that doesn’t mean it is impossible for them to love one another and be sexually attracted to one another. Nor does that mean they could not have shared an intimate relationship in the past. Nor does that mean they are gay characters – being gay is a label one should take on for themselves, and as far as I know neither Erik nor Charles in any X-Men universe has come out and said they identified as gay. So sure, they are ‘straight’ characters. Nothing is cut and dry. The point of this isn’t to tell everyone that Erik and Charles are gay – because they are not. It’s simply about analyzing their relationship within the film, and not labelling that relationship under some arbitrary sexuality header. Frankly, their relationship is more complex and subversive to that. To simply label them gay would diminish the complexity of their intimacy and love for one another.
The X-Men universe functions fairly overtly as an allegory to discrimination of all kinds in society, whether it’s sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia – the list is endless. Mutants, despite their gifts, are feared by society, and often violently pursued. In some plot lines, a mutant genocide is attempted or desired.
X-Men: First Class begins with a young Erik Lehshnerr and his mother being taken to a concentration camp during the holocaust. When they separate him from his mother, his power (to control metal via magnetism) manifests and he bends a gate back trying to rescue her.
This, of course, piques the interest of a Nazi official, another mutant apparently interested in eugenics, Sebastian Shaw. Shaw himself is a mutant, capable of absorbing energy from, say, a bomb, and then re-releasing that energy. Shaw, after killing Erik’s mother in an attempt to force Erik to use his ability, becomes Erik’s father figure and nemesis.
Erik and Charles meet after Charles becomes involved with the CIA and manages to track down Shaw at the same time Erik does. Charles saves Erik from suicide when Erik refuses to let go of his grasp on Shaw’s submarine, which would have drowned him. The first words exchanged between the two men (once Charles manages to calm Erik down) are “I thought I was alone.” The conversation they have can very easily be read as being about their (potential) homosexuality – or at least those desires. It’s worth mentioning that Erik did experience life in Nazi Germany, where those who were gay were persecuted just as all other groups were. The overtones of persecution because of a difference are what X-Men is all about, so it would make sense that within this paradigm there was something more to hide from the world.
Erik sticks around with the CIA initiative because of Charles. Charles helps Erik overcome a lot of his past anger and pain by using his telepathy. Being “inside” Erik’s mind is intimate on levels even more than the obvious sexual metaphor. Notably, Charles waits for Erik to give him permission before accessing sensitive memories, after which both men are in tears and Erik manages to exude more power than he thought possible. It is quite likely the most intimate scene between the two men in the film, and they even show some physical affection afterward (although nothing that would cross any eyebrow-raising lines, unfortunately). The potential physical sexuality between the two men is only expressed in “appropriate” circumstances (Charles embracing Erik to hold him back from certain death, Erik laying on top of Charles to save him from being tossed to his death from a crashing jet). This is usually the case in cinema where there are two close male characters – and no, this kind of physical contact is not always gay.
There are several scenes of Charles and Erik working together and speaking together in intimate environments. They play chess in a sequestered room – a scene that is potently that of a romantic couple. Perhaps the most “gay” imagery of the two is a shot of them, from the back, sitting on the steps of the Lincoln monument in Washington, with America’s most phallic monument between them. There’s no mistaking that it is a giant erection – the ultimate phallus – and they share a quiet and reflective moment staring at it. Obvious, but hilariously brilliant.
Watching the relationship between Erik and Charles bloom is interesting. Charles is a young idealist who uses cheeseball scientific pickup lines on girls he meets in bars (which we never actually see working), and is usually cock-blocked by his “sister”, Raven (Mystique). Raven even asks Charles if he would ever date her, and he refuses on grounds of “feeling responsible” for her. Charles further rejects a potential sexual relationship with her when she confronts him, nude (in her natural blue form) and he reacts with disgust. It’s highly unlikely his shock and mild revulsion are due to her blue skin – he’s lived with her for years and presumably would have grown used to her unconventional looks (not only that but upon meeting her for the first time he is far from disgusted by her) – but to her form as a sexual being: he is not attracted to her because she is not Erik – because she is a woman. When he is confronted with a svelte and otherwise culturally ideal female form (aside from the blue skin), he doesn’t even partially rise to the occasion.
Charles and Erik both reject romantic relationships with women, and are even aggressively against potent displays of female sexuality – except for the scene with Angel – but this was an exception as they “shared” her – it is important to note that Erik and Charles were on the bed together, reclining like lovers. Angel was simply for ‘display’. Of course the strip club scenario normalizes the scene, but why was having Erik and Charles in bed with one another whilst sharing a sexual experience necessary? It seems to be a technique of displacement of their transparent desire for one another. Also, Angel’s “fairy” appearance in this scene can be analyzed, since “fairy” is a slang used for members of the gay community – often in a derogatory sense. It is also important in this scene that neither Charles nor Erik is interested in Angel in a sexual capacity. Later in the film, Erik violently ties Emma Frost to a bedframe after pursuing her and finding her in a sexual situation with a Russian officer, and although the scene itself is incredibly sexual (just as Emma Frost is another idealized female character), Erik ends up nearly killing her. Emma is the object of desire for many males throughout the film, and although she is the right-hand woman of Erik’s nemesis, it is interesting to note that she has no sway over him: he either lacks the sexual weaknesses of other men or he simply is not drawn to her sexuality. It’s also worth mentioning that Emma is a telepath, like Charles. This aligns her as more or less a female alternative to Charles, which Erik still rejects.
Charles rejects the advances of Raven, as well. This is a tricky one since he and Raven essentially operate as siblings. It is alluded to that Erik may have slept with Raven, but when he gets to his room to find her in his bed, he engages in a brief conversation with her and then the scene is cut. I find it far more likely, given Magneto’s character, that he simply spoke with her and, having satisfied her desire for approval (he tells her she is perfection when in her natural blue form), she simply leaves. Early on in the encounter Erik expresses that she is too young for him and does so in a way that doesn’t even show a flicker of sexual excitement having found her, naked, in his bed.
In the end when Charles suffers the accident that will leave him partially paralyzed, it is worth noting that Erik immediately blames the female CIA agent (who operates with them as a secondary character throughout the film), Moira. She is not a mutant, she is an “idealized” version of the feminine, and she is heterosexual. When Xavier is crippled by a gunshot, Erik immediately runs to him, blaming Moira (who shot the gun with no intention of hitting Charles), saying “you did this” and attempting to choke her (a violence towards an ideal that was also demonstrated when he tried to strangle Emma earlier on). Erik’s aggression towards Moira is not towards her character, but to the status quo – the expectation of a “normalized” heterosexuality that neither Erik nor Charles adhere to. He is, in short, attacking the very idea of desirable femininity and the pressure to be in a heterosexual relationship. The pressure exerted by the outside forces (anti-mutant, society’s collective fear of mutants – and ostensibly Erik and Charles’s relationship) is what cripples Xavier.
Ultimately, Erik and Charles have somewhat divergent goals and completely divergent philosophies. Erik is jaded, cynical (understandably so – his character is fantastically sympathetic in this regard throughout the film, and I was left championing his view), while Charles is a young idealist, untouched by the same persecution and abuse that Erik suffered. Despite being able to access Erik’s memories and suffering with him, Charles still can’t completely grasp and understand his pain.
But although they differ in this way, their qualities balance one another and make them an incredibly realistic couple. One really gets the sense that they belong together. As Erik is holding his wounded friend, he even says they belong together; that they are “brothers.” It’s quite a stretch but I would encourage considering the similar sound of “brothers” and “lovers”. And in their case, the two terms of partnership are interchangeable.
The beautiful part about their on-screen relationship is that neither Erik nor Charles are stock characters. They are both incredibly full and real, complex and at times unpredictable characters. They are very human. This complexity and dedication to not having “stock” stereotype characters (for the most part) has been one of the major advantages of the X-Men comics and franchise. Most of the characters are extraordinarily well-written and real. In this sense, Charles and Erik really do defy labels in terms of their personal relationship. As stated before, I would not say that they are simply gay – the nature of their relationship defies that in its complexity and incredible intimacy. Their shared intimacy goes beyond a sexual relationship, although I do think there is ample inference that they are romantically and sexually involved with one another. There is passion between them, and on a level that is not purely idealistic or philosophical. Their complexity also, thankfully, makes them difficult to categorize and pin with a label – they are too subversive and subtle to simply be “a gay couple”.
James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender had great on-screen chemistry, and it was a shame that popular hollywood restrictions forbade even a simple kiss between them. A friend told me that the director of the film, Matthew Vaughn, intended to direct it as a romantic tragedy. I think he achieved his aim. If Vaughn did indeed state this as his intention, I think that it is a reasonable reading of the film to see a relationship between Charles and Erik that is romantic and sexual. They had sexual tension, but they were also very comfortable with one another – a sense that there is desire but not an unfulfilled one.
Of course, nowhere in the mythology of the X-Men do Charles, Erik or any other character state that Magneto and Professor X were at one time romantically involved; simply that they have a past as close friends and colleagues. So yes – it is also a reasonable contention to state that I just see dicks everywhere and am reading too much into their on-screen relationship.
I don’t see, however, how the possibility of a sexual relationship between the two beloved characters would change anything about them, or about how one would view them. Sure, it adds another dimension to their relationship, but it should not diminish them as amazing characters. If anything, I think it adds another layer of tragedy to Charles and Erik’s broken relationship. I don’t understand why anyone would feel revulsion or even threatened by this reading. It literally changes nothing. Just as the lack of this relationship would.
Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Caleb Landry Jones (Banshee), James McAvoy (Prof. X), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggart), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique), Lucas Till (Havok)