In the last twenty years society has made dramatic leaps forwards in terms of equality - marriage equality being one of the most notable achievements of the LGBT community in recent memory. This generation can indeed define itself as a colourful one driven towards the equal rights of all minorities. Unfortunately, beyond this PC optimism lies a quiet truth - that discrimination does still exist and thrive underneath the surface. The Pass is an acknowledgement of this truth, one that lies most prevalently on the surface of the UK’s National League, where homosexuality is responded to as a threat, to football fans as well as their idols’ careers.
Nineteen year-old Jason (Russell Tovey) and his teammate Ade (Arinze Kene) are gearing up for a football game that will define the rest of their lives. The night before that game, the pair joke around, mock each other and watch their teammates sex tape. That same night, one of the two young men kisses the other. This kiss lays the foundations for the rest of the film, turning the tables for both men and changing them for better and for worse. Set in three different hotel rooms over the course of ten years, with each room representing one of the films three acts, The Pass makes no real effort to distance itself from its source materials grounding in the conventions of theatre. But it goes beyond utilising an obvious, static-location, three-act structure; the narrative is driven forward mostly by what is said, not what is done. Similarly, character is built through dialogue rather than action. But these aspects of the film make for a very realistic, intimate exploration of a subject that has been waiting to be tackled (no pun intended) with an explicit, overt approach. In the first act Jason and Ade are established as contrasting individuals; the macho, testosterone driven male (Ade), with Tovey playing the secure, bleach-blonde, borderline-flamboyant Jason. These contrasting characteristics lay the groundwork for the dark, heart-breaking impact of the reality that plays out over the following ten years of their lives.
Act two takes place five years later in a luxury hotel overlooking London’s city centre and re-introduces Jason as a grown, married successful individual - gone is the playful, flamboyant nature of the blonde-haired character seen before. It isn’t until around half-way through the second act that the true extent of Jason’s transformation becomes apparent. ‘I thought you’d be less vulnerable’, observes a stripper who is trying hard to keep Jason entertained. This repressed vulnerability that Jason tries desperately to keep hidden beneath the surface, defines his character and culminates in a downward-spiral of self-loathing and longing. ‘I’m not gay… Look at me, I’m a footballer’ he responds sourly, when the stripper comes to the conclusion that Jason is gay.
Throughout the second act, the reality of contemporary football's one-dimensional representation of modern masculinity, is harshly brought to light through Jason’s self-defence; ‘Whatever I need to do to get my head in the right place. If I need a wife and a kid, if I need to fuck a woman or a man… then that’s what I do.’ It is when Tovey’s characters’ powerful, testosterone-driven performance settles and the macho veneer is lifted, that the true extent of Jason’s damage comes to light - revealing an individual that has been hollowed out by the pressures and superficialities of fame.
If The Pass is anything, it is a parable of disconnection driven by a self-repressed love that throws its protagonist into a downward spiral. Jason and Ade come together again in the film's final act, mirroring the film's first as contrasting individuals, except this time, the tables are turned. Here, Tovey's character seems trapped in a constant devastating battle between what he truly desires and what the world expects him to be. Ade, the once insecure, overtly-macho teammate, stands at the opposite end of the spectrum as a man who has let go of his insecurities and embraced acceptance of himself. The final act is a tense, brutal climax that exposes the damaging repercussions that males face in contemporary society - a world that idealises the repressed male as an aspirational figure.
The Pass is no visual feast but it doesn’t have to be, but what it is, is a tense, character-driven film about the devastating repercussions of male repression and its ability to provoke the darkest aspects of the male psyche. Russell Tovey is enough as the male at war with himself, jumping from hotel room to hotel room, mesmerising and terrifying in his depiction of the repressed male and the complex fluctuation of identity that can follow that repression. It is an intimate, heartbreaking depiction of male suffering in a multi-billion pound industry that relies on a shallow, superficial ideology of what it truly means to be a man.
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