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In a 1974 newspaper article entitled, "When Boy Meets Boy, What's a Girl to Do?" film critic Kathleen Carroll wondered, "Why, all of a sudden, does Hollywood seem so intensely interested in exploring man-to-man relationships? Not that movies haven't done it before. We have had Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable in Boomtown, Sydney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones, and many more, but never so many movies on the subject at one time." Citing Papillon, The Sting, Scarecrow, and Bang the Drum Slowly, among others, Carroll observed that, "Hollywood seems to be leaning towards the idea, first espoused by the ancient Greeks, that a friendship between two obviously virile males is the most desirable of all human relationships, and that it can be a far more fulfilling experience than the love relationship between a man and a woman" (Carroll 1974, 7).(1) Then, in a casually homophobic remark intended to be approving, Carroll told her readers that "Men are learning what it means to care about another man, not in the homosexual sense (for none of the movies we are talking about have even the faintest suggestion of homosexuality), but in a very real sense."
Carroll's phrasing betrays a shallow understanding of homosocial desire(2) (it is simply not true, for example, that the films she mentions haven't "the faintest suggestion of homosexuality"), but her glib observations signal a shift in popular perceptions of how the affective element in male homosocial relationships might be acceptably represented in mainstream cinema. If anything has changed since 1974, it is the presumptuous certainty that allowed Carroll, writing in the spirit of heterosexual entitlement that characterizes the mainstream press, to use the phrase, "in a very real sense" (as opposed to "the homosexual sense" , and assume her readers would know what she meant. Indeed, only two years later, writing in The Villaqe Voice, Andrew Sarris declared that, "Above all, there is now a disturbing confusion about `normality' where once there seemed to be blissful certitude. Or was there?" (Sarris 1976, 16). He went on to observe that, "What is most fascinating about most movies is their virtually infinite capacity for reinterpretation. We think that we see everything at the time, but we never do."
A genre that has come in for complex rethinking is the buddy film, not because we can look back at old buddy films and reinterpret them as love stories between men, but because the genre itself is undergoing a crisis of self-consciousness.(3) Some recent developments in the evolution of the genre have been monitored by a number of critics. For example, Vincent Canby in 1979 sounded a defensive alarm in a New York Times article bearing the title, "Male-bonding? Now Wait a Minute!" He argued that "It's men who are being condescended to and patronized by moviemakers, most of whom, it should be emphasized, are men. Brothers, it's brothers not sisters who are shattering our egos, making us uncertain about our identities and persuading us to question something called `male-bonding,' which used to be known simply as friendship. Male bonding? Even the jargon is pejorative" (Canby 1979, 17).
In 1982, Molly Haskell noted irritably that, "Just when we thought the buddy-buddy film was finished--no more Paul Newman and Robert Redford riding off into the sunset--male bonding resurfaces in a new form. The latest twist is fathers and sons or, to use the currently fashionable term, `male parenting.' Kramer vs. Kramer. Ordinary People. Carbon Copy. Paternity. On Golden Pond. The upcoming Missing. They all show busy or repressed fathers learning to love their offspring, usually male. The man-to-manness of the bond certifies the virility of the new parenting" (Haskell 1982, C2).
Walter Goodman put in a good word for "boys' movies" in a 1987 New York Times article entitled, "Prankster Pals: the Appeal Never Ages." The pull-quote echoed his title: "From Gunga Din to Stakeout, buddies involved in good-natured mischief have proved an irresistible mix" (Goodman 1987, H19).
In 1988, Haskell identified another variation of the buddy film in a magazine article entitled, "The Odder Couples: Is Being a Misfit the New Precondition for Male Friendship?" Haskell obligingly pointed out that "Male bonding is nothing new in the movies: Edward G. Robinson and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. loved each other more than any woman in Little Caesar (1931), and Paul Newman and Robert Redford were boys together in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. But men onscreen usually have shied away from displays of emotion that some of them associate with wimpishness. Taking their cue from women, men are starting to open up to one another, and going public in confessional forums like the "About Men" column in The New York Times Magazine. Recent movies like Dominick &Eugene, Patti Rocks, and the classic Birdy reflect this new glasnost, but the tortured fraternal relationships in these films suggest that conditions still have to be very special for men to express their feelings of love for one another" (Haskell 1988, 66).
Robin Wood takes the view that within their social context, seventies buddy movies are "more interesting than is generally recognized." He writes in Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan that "the basic motivating premise of the seventies' buddy movie is not the presence of the male relationship but the absence of home" (Wood 1986, 227). He identifies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider, and Midnight Rider (all released in 1969) as the three films that effectively launched the cycle, and he makes a case for the later films, "of which Thunderbolt and Lightfoot , Scarecrow , and California Split  are the most distinguished and idiosyncratic," as being variations on the principles established in 1969.
By 1987, the year Innerspace(4) was released in the United States, the American buddy film seemed to be on the verge of admitting that the homosocial desire which has always fueled the genre refers to a continuum of relations between men that includes mentorship, rivalry, "male bonding," and homosexuality. Whereas historically the collaborations of the male characters in the buddy film have been articulated in ways that "separate homoeroticism from the sanctioned male bonding that upholds patriarchy" (Koestenbaum 1989, 3), Innerspace riskily invests the relationship of its two main characters with a degree of homoeroticism that deconstructs the genre.
Innerspace is an adventure-comedy about a man who is miniaturized in a scientific experiment to the size of a nearinvisible speck. Instead of being injected into a rabbit, as planned by Ozzie the scientist, Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) and his diving pod are accidentally injected into a supermarket clerk, Jack Putter (Martin Short), when industrial spies raid the miniaturization laboratory. The villains make off with the re-enlargement chip, which is useless without the miniaturization device now inside Jack, and of course Tuck cannot return to normal size unless Jack can retrieve the re-enlargement chip from the villains.
But Innerspace's unconscious is more interesting than its subtext. The film is driven by a pretended sexual anxiety that turns out to be real, and it attempts (impossibly) to regain confidence in some of the old epistemological certainties that governed the making of a film like Fantastic Voyage (Richard Fleischer, 1966)--the certainties that have been eroded in what has come to be called postmodernity. The film in the end seeks to confirm the validity of "Hollywood" narrative; the space of Renaissance perspective; and the reassuring "rightness" of patriarchal culture's heterosexual paradigm. In so doing, the film's cocky confidence wavers, and it offers an overdetermined and contradictory discourse on the repression of homosexuality. The results are problematic for the spectator. One is presented with the postmodern difficulty of how to read a film that is so self-consciously ironic and knowing in its mode of address that it offers no stable position from which to properly gauge its ironies and transgressive effects.
Innerspace introduces both Tuck and Jack as characters with un-heterosexual tendencies, and the film's half-hearted ideological imperative is to make them into "normal," well-adjusted, heterosexual men. The film understands sexuality in Freudian terms of a narrative of successive phases moving towards sexual maturity, and it posits that Tuck is arrested in an autoerotic/latently-homosexual phase, and that Jack is neurotically asexual. And yet there is an exuberant homoeroticism in the film's preoccupation with their relationship that exceeds the prohibitive function of dominant ideology.
A Repressed Desire
Tuck's "problem" is suggested in the film's opening scenes--even in the very first shot following the credit sequence, of an extreme close-up of some whiskey being poured into a glass filled with ice cubes. This unusual image not only establishes spectacularly the magnification/miniaturization theme, but launches the ever-present themes in the film of repression and sublimation (Tuck drinks too much). While it is never explained explicitly why Tuck drinks too much, it becomes obvious soon enough, and when his girlfriend, Lydia (Meg Ryan) tells him that their relationship is over, Tuck's pained response suggests the nature of the repressed desire that the film will treat more elaborately later on: "I don't get it. I get a little drunk; I make an ass out of myself. What's the big deal?"
The big deal, of course, is that "real" men do not make asses out of themselves. At the formal Air Force dinner at which Tuck causes an embarrassing scene, a fellow officer tells him to stop being ironic about the heroism of their public image as test pilots. Tuck's response refers in a very direct way to the film's core obsessions: "Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, Rusty. Really, you're right. But at least when my `moment of truth' came, I didn't take a dump down the leg of my flightsuit!" While Tuck's remark may seem to be about human frailty, or a lack of courage, he means it to provoke specifically masculine anxieties about homosexuality/ (as sodomy) -- the passivity it implies to these men, who can only understand passivity as a negative and feminine mode; and the ancient memory of infantile dependency and helplessness that reference to a loss of control of the anal sphincter evokes. Since the masculine norm of society is committed to independence, …