Features and Columns · Movies

How ‘My Own Private Idaho’ Broke Boundaries for Queer Cinema

“I love you, and you don’t pay me.”
My Own Private Idaho
New Line Cinema
By  · Published on June 28th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the groundbreaking representation of queer sex and love in My Own Private Idaho.

Gus Van Sant has never strayed away from queer subject matter. Right out of the gate, Van Sant’s feature film debut, 1986’s Mala Noche, portrayed the unrequited love between a gay liquor store clerk and a Mexican immigrant. Van Sant, himself openly gay, would use the positive reception of his first feature, coupled with its even more successful follow-up Drugstore Cowboy, to pitch a film that is, arguably, his masterpiece: My Own Private Idaho.

Loosely adapting Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the film tells of two gay hustlers: the disenfranchised, narcoleptic Mike Waters (River Phoenix) and Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves), the rebellious son of a politician. The pair travel from Oregon to Idaho to Italy, turning tricks and taking drugs along the way.

From the rearview mirror of 2021, it can be difficult to impress My Own Private Idaho‘s significance with respect to the representation of gay men on-screen. Twenty years ago, the film marked a landmark moment in Hollywood’s reckoning, not only with same-sex intimacy but same-sex love. The video essay below lays out why, exactly, My Own Private Idaho deserves its reputation as a groundbreaking moment in Queer Cinema, a story of two men navigating love, grief, and youth, rather than merely being victimized or villainized.

Watch “Sex and Love in My Own Private Idaho”:

Who made this?

This video on how My Own Private Idaho broke barriers for queer cinema was made by Ciara Johnson. It was created as a part of the “Practice of Film Criticism” module at the University of Warwick Film & TV Department. You can check out the UoW Film & TV Department’s other content on Vimeo here.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).