Not a lot makes me happier than lesbian nuns, and Rose Glass’ Saint Maud concerns just such a person, except also not at all. My girl Maud may not be a nun, but i assumed she was one from a glance at the movie’s poster, plus she showcases the austere, demure and grandmotherly authoritarian presence I associate with the cloister life. In actuality, she’s a sketchy at-home caregiver and religious visionary.
Some viewers will probably say she isn’t really a homo either. Such people probably think gay sex is the apex of gay, when in fact a gay apex is weird shit like, oh i don't know, levitating in the throes of overwhelming desires that cannot be acted on or even acknowledged. And yearning obviously, a gay apex is the act of yearning itself.
As far as the audience sees, Saint Maud’s only relationship is with the woman she cares for, Amanda, a dying dancer who openly romances another woman. She assigns herself the mission of converting her heathen patient, displaying a suspicious amount of interest in her charge’s life. Justifying her self-appointed quest, she tells herself an entire soul is at stake, but i think that’s a convenient excuse for a motive.
To me, her real motive becomes clear in the scene where she confronts Amanda’s lesbo lover. Believing she convinces her to leave them in peace, satisfaction radiates from our saint’s face. Undeniably chipper, she immediately approaches Amanda about maybe going out to a dance performance together, which sounds an awful lot like a date. What a coincidence that Amanda’s salvation requires the exile of the other woman competing for her attention. I have to wonder what Maud’s angle is, like exactly how would checking out a dance performance together help her convert Amanda? Are we to believe that Maud is buttering up Amanda to earn her trust and more effectively sneak god stuff into their conversations? I don’t buy it, Maud! Girl wants a date.
All is not well in this gay yearning. Maud seems dogged by a mean god. Spooky cyclones appear in pints of beer, transforming the beverages into unholy yanic symbols (or maybe I just see vaginas in everything). She fully floats during a Joycian firework show. Apparently at any given moment, her face might contort going oogly-boogly bug-eyed while she groans unearthly noises. Interpreting these unpleasantries as punishments from a wrathful god, she practices creative self-injury in attempts at appeasement, harkening back to the golden era of flagellation. Textbook repression, translating a forbidden crush into an asexual and aggressive supernatural force. What gay hasn’t been there?
Early on in their relationship, Amanda’s a bit flirty with Maud. She gifts her a William Blake book, inscribing it with a cute nickname for her strange care-giver, i think it’s “my angel.” My angel! No wonder Maud’s god gets pissed. The Christian god is a self-professed jealous asshole. So the threat to this god’s power isn’t only from Maud’s repressed desire; the bigger threat is the alternative vision of divinity offered by Amanda. Instead of a patriarch sadist who’s into body-horror play, Amanda shows Maud the possibility of shifting worship onto a bemused, flirty woman.
Of course, given this movie’s genre, Maud and Amanda’s relationship inevitably results in violence. Maud’s violence only makes her seem gayer to me. She won’t allow herself to be Amanda’s service top, so what other kind of carnal interaction can she have with her?
Without this homo explanation, Saint Maud wouldn’t make much sense to me. I don’t know, without gay the whole world doesn’t make sense to me.
But what else is causing Maud’s visions to escalate? What else inspires her god’s ire so brutally? Sure, we could say Maud is the victim of a horribly violent patriarchal deity, aka the Christian god, and/or she is the victim of hallucinogenic madness, but i’m here to tell you she is the victim of heteronormativity. If Maud isn’t a closet/basket case lesbian, why does her attempt at a het hookup inspire a nauseating flash-think of maybe the movie’s most disturbing image? She clearly associates het sex with gruesome death.
You know who else associates het sex with gruesome death? Edgar Wright i guess! In his movie Last Night in Soho, the boyish filmmaker is serving a surprisingly lesbian experience (probably due in part to his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns). First of all, there’s time travel, and way back in 2019 Amal El-Mohar claimed time travel for the girls who like girls, pointing out all the newly released lesbo time travel books*, including her gorgeous novella This is How You Lose the Time War (cowritten with Max Gladstone). She relates this specific literary bounty to feminist anxieties of historical erasure. Two years later along comes this movie, in which a fashion school student, Eloise, crushes on Sandie, an aspiring singer she shadows during nocturnal time warps to the 1960s. Eloise learns Sandie’s history is doubly erased: Sandie’s intermingled victimhood/criminality and subsequent evolution into stability are both lost. By the way, i’m going to out the movie’s twist, but i thought the twist was kinda telegraphed anyway.
In the time travel sequences, our entirely alive protag is set into the position of a ghost. She voyeuristically haunts Sandie’s life, appearing as an apparition reflection. In one of my favorite moments, the Eloise reflection-ghost, disturbed to see Sandie mistreated, bangs against the mirror barrier until she breaks out for a short embrace. It’s an affecting image that put my mind into a trippy place, because it’s like an audience’s desire to break through the screen and comfort suffering characters, and then i thought about the audience as like a ghost before the reality of a movie, witnessing events without the ability to enact agency over them, and aren’t movies more alive than us in many ways, i mean they’re more widely seen…trippy, right?
When Eloise, entranced, watches Sandie perform the song “Downtown,” it feels like an expression of what it’s like to be the enthralled viewer of a good movie, who is also a gay girl. Like, the girl’s crushing! All besmitten, Eloise goes on to copy Sandie’s looks, most noticeably her hair. Gay!
Sandie wants to be a PG-rated singer, but, as a psychedelic backstage sequence emphasizes, she quickly learns show business is a scummy world of blowjobs and heroin. It all leads to sex work, which leads to serial homocide volunterism. Sandie’s johns/victims pester Eloise as glitchy, blurred shadow people, the movie’s most frequent equating of het sex with terror. Sometimes, the john ghosts even re-enact their final bedside come-on moments.
Then there’s the moment Eloise tries fucking a nice flirty guy in her haunted boarding house room. The mood is killed when she starts living through the moment Sandie was seemingly murdered in the very same room. Lost to a horrified fit, Eloise flaunts an oogly boogly face to make Saint Maud proud. When Eloise learns Sandie wasn’t murdered, but had in fact pulled an Aileen Wuornos, she concedes all the guys that Sandie killed deserved it. Being chill with the mass murder of men might be Eloise’s gayest characteristic.
I like the twist that Eloise’s landlady is Sandie all grown up, this allows for cool ambiguities with the supernatural logistics. Maybe older Sandie is reliving the sixties flashbacks as Eloise lives through them, and maybe she's somewhat aware of Eloise’s tagalong presence. Perhaps the explanation for the time travels is Eloise entering the memory infested dreamscape of her landlady. I appreciate withholding explanations for the magical happenings, and there’s a lot of mysterious stuff going on. Like, Eloise can see (or hallucinate) her mom’s ghost, kinda gratuitous since this ability never impacts the plot at all, but I like that. Touches like this gave the movie the feel of a YA-novel, especially considering the first act is fully a coming-of-age, first-year-of-school story, a lighter take on the themes of Julia Ducournau’s Raw.
I haven’t really gone into how Eloise is afraid of going crazy because her suicide mom did, and the movie toys with the possibly that all the spooky stuff is is aspects of a nervous breakdown. I could try relating her mental crisis to her closeting, the fact she’s terrorized by het sex and doesn’t open up to the idea maybe she wants to make love with Sandie, but eh, i won’t do that beyond this sentence.
To sum up, i view these movies as having the same important moral: be gay or be more scared of life.
*shout out to Casey McQuinston's One Last Stop, a hot and wholesome lesbian time travel romance novel published two years after this article