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Film / Holding the Man

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"On the far side of the crush I noticed a boy. I saw the body of a man with an open, gentle face: such softness within that masculinity. He was beautiful, calm. I was transfixed. He wasn't talking, just listening to his friends with his hands in his pockets, smiling. What was it about his face? He became aware that I was looking at him and greeted me with a lift of his eyebrows. I returned the gesture and then looked away, pretending something had caught my attention. But I kept sneaking looks. It's his eyelashes. They're unbelievable."
Timothy Conigrave

Adapted from a Memoir of the same name, Holding the Man is a 2015 Australian drama that retells the relationship between the memoir's writer, Timothy "Tim" Conigrave, and his lover for 15 years, John Caleo.

The story was divided into three parts; High school period (the book includes Tim's middle school period), College period, and Sydney period (when they move together to Sydney after Tim finishes drama school). The book was published in 1995, several months following Tim's death in 1994. The book itself won United Nation's Human Rights Awards for Non-Fiction in 1995 and was listed as one of "100 Favorite Australian Books" by Australian Society of authors in 2003. It was adapted into a stage play in 2006 and later, into this movie directed by Neil Armfield with Ryan Corr as Tim and Craig Stott as John with supporting performances from Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Anthony LaPaglia, Sarah Snook, and others.


In all-boys Xavier Catholic High School, Melbourne, Tim, who was an aspiring actor, and John, who was captain for the school's football team (hence the title of the work which is taken from a transgression that incurs penalty in Australian rules football), fell in love with each other. Their love stayed strong in the face of multitude life adversaries; Families and school's disapproval, separation due to pursuing different careers, temptation for promiscuous lifestyle, discrimination, until a problem love can't solve tried to separate them...

A feature-length documentary about Tim and John titled Remembering the Man was also released in 2015, premiering on 18 October, on the 21st anniversary of Tim's death.


This story and its film adaptation contain examples of:

  • A Date with Rosie Palms: There are several times the trope is in play in the book. The only ones that make it into the final cut were during their high school days when John refused to develop their relationship into something sexual yet. As a result, Tim resorted to satisfying his desire with this.
  • Affectionate Nickname: John sometimes calls Tim "Timba" in the book. In the movie, it's only been said once.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous: Tim and presumably most friends in Tim and John's college gay circle are this. Tim in particular is depicted to have a rather wild sexual life starting in college (this trait is hinted at since he was in grade school in the book), constantly having sex with men he meets be it at the bar or sauna and some of his drama schoolmates despite having John as his lover (his love for John remains strong, however). This time period is implied to be the moment he contracted HIV and later infected John with it.
  • Compressed Adaptation: There are a lot of details omitted from the book when adapted into the movie, which is justifiable considering the amount of content that had to be put in 128 minutes. What probably stands out is the omission of Tim's pre-high school period, the period when he learned he was gay.
  • Childhood Friend: Pepe is one for Tim.
  • Closet Key: In the book, it's said that Tim was one for John when the latter admitted that he'd never had a feeling toward another guy, his past date was a girl, and he had always dreamt of having a family with kids.
  • Downer Ending Since this is a story of two people contracting HIV when it's still a not-well-known territory, this trope is expected to happen; John dies from complications of the disease on 26 January 1992 and Tim follows suit on 18 October 1994, 10 days after finishing the memoir. It's shown in both the book and the film's epilogue how deeply he missed John after his death.
  • Epilogue Letter: The book and the movie ends with Tim's letter to the already deceased John, telling about Tim's trip to Italy and how much he misses him.
  • First-Person Perspective: The book is written entirely from Tim's point of view. The movie also uses mostly his perspective with some added scenes like the time John's father discovered Tim's apology letter which later reveals their relationship to their family.
  • Foreshadowing: For those who haven't read the book, John's demise is hinted at a few times during the movie.
    • The movie begins with Tim calling his Childhood Friend Pepe, frantically asking where John sat during a high school dinner party because he can't remember. He doesn't, however, ask John for the information This is because John is already dead.
    • Early in the movie and the book, there's a scene where Tim, playing as Paris in a Romeo and Juliet rehearsal, has to imagine Juliet as someone whom he loves in a deathbed because he has trouble acting sad. He uses John's image for it. The movie and book's climax ends with John in his deathbed with Tim on his side. It is possibly put intentionally in the book by Tim.
  • Gay Guy Seeks Popular Jock: Tim (gay) is in love with John (jock). Tim was not aware of John's jock status when he first saw him though.
  • Gayngst: Tim and John's life is not smooth. Their relationship didn't receive much approval from their parents (Tim's were a bit more accepting though). They received discrimination outside their social circle during their college years and they were diagnosed with AIDS shortly after Tim finished his drama school and they moved to live together in Sydney.
  • Gratuitous Italian: The movie begins and ends during Tim's trip to Italy as a part of his personal pilgrimage. Obviously, those who are supposed to be Italian (workers for the hotel Tim stays at) speak in Italian with Tim also speaking the basic language in some scenes. Tim's last line in both the book and the movie is also in Italian.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: During a study break in one of their friend's houses, Tim and John were about to have sex when their three friends interrupted them after fishing for dinner.
  • Intertwined Fingers: What they did after knowing both of them were diagnosed with AIDS.
  • Justified Title: "Holding the Man" is a form of infringement in Australian football. It was made into a title of the memoir by Tim in honor of John who was the captain of their high school football team and an avid supporter of Essendon Football Club. The movie then adds a scene where said infringement happens in one of the football game scenes.
  • Long-Distance Relationship: At some point in college, Tim enrolls himself to study in NIDA in Sydney while John has to continue his chiropractic study in Melbourne. They seldom meet each other with John coming to Sydney a few times when Tim invites him for a stage play he performs in.
  • Love at First Sight: From the opening quote above, it's safe to assume that Tim's attraction to John is this.
  • Poor Man's Porn: Tim used his mom's Cleo magazine to jack off in his room several times during high school.
  • Real Person Cameo: During Anna's wedding reception scene, Tim's real mother Mary Gert Conigrave, Tim's real sister Anna Davison and one of her daughters appear briefly sitting on a table acting as one of the guests.
  • Rose-Tinted Narrative: It was hinted several times that John's character in the book is an idealized version of the real person. Many suspected that it happens out of Tim's love for John and guilt for infecting him with AIDS, in turn making his own character look worse in comparison.
  • The Stinger: There's an excerpt of an interview with the real Timothy Conigrave and a picture of the real Tim and John as teenagers after the credit sequence.
  • Straight Gay: John doesn't show much of typical gay characteristics and mannerisms. There's also the fact that he won the Associated Public School of Victoria's Best and Fairest in 1976, an award given to the best performing player of a given sport in a season.
  • That Came Out Wrong: During a dinner party with Pepe and other girls from the drama club, when asked about the play, John said he didn't come. Tim then said that he should have tried harder to make John come. Cue the girls chuckling with Tim cluelessly asking if there was a problem.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Tim and John's story ends with both of them succumbing to complications of the disease. All involved are miserable; John whose physical body deteriorates rapidly, Tim who feels guilty since he's the one who infected John with HIV and suffers gradual dementia from toxoplasmosis, John's parents who have to witness their favorite son's suffering... The movie and the book also tell their reader/audience a bit about the sufferings of other unnamed characters infected with AIDS.
  • Voiceover Letter: Aside from the letter Tim wrote to John in 1993, there's an apology letter Tim wrote in high school about the previous day's "going too fast too soon" incident with Tim's voice narrating it. The narration for that letter happens twice; the first one read by John, the second one by John's father.
  • Your Days Are Numbered Basically Tim and John's fate near the end of the movie and book since they already suffer complications of AIDS, especially John.

"I guess the hardest thing is having so much love for you and it somehow not being returned. I develop crushes all the time, but that is just misdirected need for you. You are a hole in my life, a black hole. Anything I place there cannot be returned. I miss you terribly.

Ci vedremo lassu, angelo"