Biopics seem easier to enjoy when one is wholly unfamiliar with the subject. Which might make me the perfect audience for Tom of Finland. I will be the first to admit I know very little about the last century of art, and even less about the gay scene after World War II. Luckily, Tom of Finland is an engaging and affectionate portrait of one of the most influential creators of homoerotic art.
Touko Laaksonen returns home to Helsinki in 1945, having fought the Soviets in the Winter War of 1939-40, and then in World War II. Being a homosexual at this time wasn’t accepted or even legal in most of the world, and Laaksonen’s art seems to have provided an outlet for both his sexual urges as well as his post-traumatic stress.
In contrast to the passive and effeminate gay stereotypes, Laarksonen’s work is full of muscular men with exaggerated physiques (among other attributes), and often feature police officers, bikers, lumberjacks, and other hypermasculine ideals. The art provokes a sexual reaction, in a playful ceeky way, and there is a lot of other innuendo and code talk peppered throughout the film. It is a solid, easy-to-watch film that occasionally features men hitting each other with large foam penises.
The earlier portions of the film are the most effective, as seeing Touko Laaksonen become “Tom of Finland” is a much more interesting journey that his steady output and further confidence in the gay and art subcultures. Because of the struggles in his younger days, seeing “Tom” become so revered by the gay community, and his art mean so much to his fans, the film has a celebratory mood. It’s a welcome tone for a film about 20th century gay subcultures, but it makes portions of the film feel perfunctory as well.
Tom of Finland has just enough complexity to make it worth watching, but those familiar with the artist may find it lacking in depth.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.