Merger is the ultimate buzzword of 2000. But the modern
impulse to fuse two distinct entities doesn’t stop with big
businesses like AOL and Time Warner. These days — or, arguably,
once again — even genders are merging, especially in Hollywood.
It’s not just that movie and television stars all wear black, or
that they’re all going blond: They’re all actually beginning to
look the same. The men look like women and the women look
androgynous. Open up an airy, mainstream publication like
InStyle and you don’t know who you’re looking at. Is that
beauty at the blockbuster premiere Gwyneth or Brad? Angelina
Jolie or Freddie Prinze? It’s hard to tell. They’re all wearing
cargo pants, carrying purses (um, utility bags) and looking,
The gender-merge trend has steadily been gaining force since
post-”Titanic” Leo fever, right around the time Camille Paglia
noted that DiCaprio looked like “a teenage lesbian.” Since that
signal event, Hollywood women have adopted the tousled style that
comes so naturally to guys, and men happily pursue the waif look.
Products and services like CK1 perfume, universal hair wax and
the rise of unisex clothing are all symptoms. The odd thing is
that it’s either sexiness or sexlessness — and not actual sex –
at the center of the trend. Consider the most talked-about movies
of last year. They were all about identity and being
disillusioned with fixed identities. The idea of sex, or rather
the idea of sexual identity, lingered over href="/ent/movies/review/1999/09/15/beauty/index.html">“American
Beauty,” href="/ent/movies/review/1999/10/11/cry/index.html">“Boys Don’t
John Malkovich” and href="/ent/movies/review/1999/12/24/ripley/index.html">“The
Talented Mr. Ripley,” but not one of them bothers to include
a titillating sex scene.
Jude Law in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” personifies this modern
sexual fusion. Law’s ebullient character, the dashingly handsome
life of the most beautiful parties in the world, reduces women
and men — straight and gay — to drooling admirers. He’s the
essence of merger: kinda feminine, kinda masculine, kinda
straight, kinda gay, kinda tough, kinda sweet, kinda uptight,
kinda carefree, kinda foreign, kinda familiar, kinda wholesome
and yet, kinda dangerous. Quite simply, he’s everything, and boy,
is that now.
It’s no surprise that Law has Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt
Damon wrapped around his finger. He could probably go either way
and the audience would go with him. But in typical 2000 fashion,
Law’s character doesn’t get a chance to go either way. He can’t
really marry the girl. He definitely can’t make-out with the boy.
And he’s, ahem, indisposed before his character’s complex
tendencies are truly realized. Of course he’s missed as soon as
he’s gone from the screen. Even though it’s the Matt Damon
character who ends up searching for a new identity, the audience
still looks for Jude Law, wanting to bask in his easy manner, to
be impressed by his ability to be everything to everybody.
In an age when everything really is connected to — or merging
with — everything else, it’s an overwhelming task to define the
modern everyman. Is gender-blending the result of the working
woman? The stay-at-home dad? The break-up of the family?
Anonymity on the Internet? Genetic engineering? The booming
economy? It’s probably a combination, and the effects are clearly
popping up in all sorts of films. Talking about gender-merging
and sexlessness in movies, professor href="/books/review/1999/10/21/doherty_vieira/index.html">Thomas
Doherty, chairman of the film studies department at Brandeis
University, focused on href="/ent/movies/review/1999/07/13/blair/index.html">“The Blair
Witch Project.” “In what other generation would two boys a
girl go off into the woods, sleep together, but not mention sex
It makes sense that the sexless trend would go hand in hand with
gender-merge, which seems to be partly about the desire to do and
make sense of everything. Jude Law is that search in the flesh.
He’s Twiggy meets Rock Hudson in the year of the merger. Because
in 2000, it’s not enough to be both mother and whore. You’ve got
to be father, boss and pool boy too. No one wants to be locked in
the box, so to speak. Law is delicate, subtle — almost
presexual. He’s the sex symbol without the sex. The identity It
Boy. And everybody wants him.