Steven Soderbergh is an astonishing filmmaker. Each movie he made, was kind of unpredictable, as long as he’s experiencing every type of film (from Ocean’s Eleven to Magic Mike). And once again, I was surprised to know he was the one directing Behind The Candelabra, recalling the hidden love story between Liberace (Lee) and Scott, starting in 1977 and in a time where the pianist was not assuming his homosexuality. The paradox of the character is that, he gives a lot of importance to appearances, yet he disguised himself, just like drag queens do.
If Soderbergh is using the camera as a tool to remind the spectator of the atmosphere and colors of the 70’s/80’s, he’s also perfectly remodeling the extravagant costumes and luxury decors of Liberace era. Everything’s glamorous and fabulous, and it’s not even a little bit “too much”. The icing on the cake is surely the breathtaking performance of Michael Douglas as the glistening pianist, plus, this collaboration with Matt Damon as he’s young lover Scott Thorson. Who knew that those two manly actors could play convincing divas?
Glitter and fur, fancy jewelry and furniture, wig and plastic surgery Lee embodies the typical stereotype of the homosexual. However, he’s known, among only a small circle, as being gay and having a little preference for well built younger boys. Thus, when he met his Adonis, he directly get rid of his previous toy and gave Scott, the title of “protégé”.
Now, this is going further than just a love story. Because of the tough childhood of Scott (moving from a foster home to another), and the considerable age gap between the two men, Lee is seeing in his protégé, the son he never had and will never have, and wants to be in turn, the father Scott never really had. Therefore, he positioned himself as his father, brother and lover, and even think of adopting him. He wanted to be everything to him. This disturbed me a lot; it raised the question of incest, and to how far the the frustration of hiding his homosexuality, or at least the relationship his having with Thorson, might have led him to.
Starting from here, Scott entered a transformation process, under the commands and pressure of Lee, in order to look like him, and looks like he could be his son. The stake is Thorson’s identity. His old lover already owns him morally, and financially, now, it’s about physical ownership. Lee set his trademark on him and we realize that the extravaganza doesn’t limit itself to eccentric houses, and clothes, the extravaganza comes first, from the pianist virtuoso’s brain.
Little by little, as the years passed, Scott is feeling like he’s trapped in a cage, they don’t go out, they don’t see people, unless during Liberace concerts, and this one is getting bored of his winnings. He finds a new target, and Thorson will soon be experiencing what his predecessor lived. The same scheme is repeated.
The issue raised in the movie could be “how far would you go, for love?”. Scott, chose to completely dedicate himself to Lee, and accept everything from him. Now, when he’s put apart, no wonder he went mad. However his love lasts, and I believe Lee’s too.
If a lesson can be learn in this movie, is “do not push away the person who could do anything for you”, because at the end, he’ll be the only one there to not let you die alone.