Out of the Celluloid Closet

This Australian Classic Introduced the World to a Hot, Young, Sweaty Eric Bana

After seeing a shirtless, long-haired Eric Bana in Troy years ago, I thought I’d reached the Eric Bana mountaintop. And sure, for those of us who love to see half-naked, gorgeous Australian men in period settings, that movie absolutely rules.

But for those who, like me, may have gravitated to Bana’s homoerotic turn as Hector in Troy for specifically horny reasons, I bring tidings of great joy. There’s an even more homoerotic Eric Bana movie out there, and it’s one of the first the “Full Frontal” star ever made.

The 2000 film Chopper is a few things at once: it’s a prison drama, a biopic, and an experiment in myth-making. The film tells the story of Mark “Chopper” Read, the larger-than-life serial murderer and author of Australian legend, who spent the majority of his time, from the ages of 20 to 38, in Victoria’s Pentridge Prison, where he managed to terrorize, and possibly delight, other inmates with his tall tales of his fabled life on the outside.

The prison film has always been an intensely erotic genre, and let me tell you, Chopper is no exception. Not only are some of Mark “Chopper” Read’s actions motivated by his love of other men. Witness, for instance, the time he busted into a trial and held the judge at gunpoint so that his friend could be acquitted.

That tactic didn’t exactly work, but points for solidarity. What it did do was sentence Chopper to 16 1/2 years in jail, where, during that time, he initiated a gang war, had his ears cut off a la Van Gogh, and hatched a plan to immobilize his fellow inmates by taking an icepick to their spines. This, thankfully, did not happen, in part because everyone around him agreed that it was utterly bonkers. It’s at this point that I should mention that Chopper is an incredibly violent movie that will definitely cause you to audibly gasp more than once. But bear with me here.

Chopper was busy making his own myth while incarcerated, and the film takes that myth somewhat seriously, despite embellishing a few aspects of Chopper’s story. So yes, the ear cutting happens, along with an extremely homoerotic stabbing scene that basically doubles as a sex scene. And it’s this scene that I want to talk about specifically.

Early on in the film, Chopper tells his friends, Patrick “Bluey” Barnes and James Loughnan—the aforementioned buddy that Chopper tried to hold a judge hostage for in order to secure his release—that he wants to basically attack the jail mafia, i.e. the Painters and Dockers Union. Knowing that this is a ridiculous idea, Loughnan and Barnes turn on Chopper. Loughnan shanks him, and the look in Bana’s eyes as this is happening is one of pure betrayal.

Chopper’s wet-eyed expression asks, “how could you?”

The men come together in an embrace, and then bring their faces close, as if they’re about to kiss.

I mean Jesus what is this, Brokeback Mountain? Not that I’m complaining.

Seconds later, Chopper has removed his shirt, revealing how deep the wounds have gone—and giving us an eyeful of his ripped, tatted chest. He still can’t seem to wipe that expression off his face. That “how could you?” look.

It’s a sad, weirdly tender moment that isn’t afraid to ask whether Chopper’s over-the-top machismo is stifling something deeper, something perhaps even romantic, in his feelings toward these men.

Throughout the film—and I must warn you, Eric Bana does not stay this hot all the way through—Chopper and his pals make plenty of homophobic comments. At one point, Chopper even calls one of his friends a “girl’s dress” for not going along with one of his psychotic plans. But the overwhelming sense one gets of this larger-than-life killer is that his feelings for men, if never totally explored, were at least latent. He doesn’t seem to care about the women in his life, other than as objects. But when it comes to the men he’d give his life for, no betrayal cuts deeper.

Chopper is far from a perfect movie: it’s pretty hard to watch in spots. But listen, if you like guys with tattoos glistening with sweat and maybe a little bit of viscera, I don’t know, give it a try, mate. It’s bloody hot.

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