Tom of Finland: Not Everyone’s Cup

DATELINE: Movie with Message


To review a movie for a highly limited audience is risky business when you know the vast majority of readers will blanch at the subject.

So, we come to Tom of Finland, an extremely well-produced and well-acted movie in both English and Finnish (subtitles here) about the homoerotic artist who altered gay culture in the years after World War II.

He was a Finnish war hero suffering form post-traumatic stress from his experiences, but was attracted to muscle-bound men in provocative poses and uniforms. Pekka Strang plays Tom who is nothing physically like his fantasy models.

As hinted at in the movie, to blame Tom and Robert Mapplethorpe for the AIDS epidemic is almost as ridiculous as claiming they are in the league of Michelangelo.

However, all that aside, the movie is important as cultural history—and provides an interesting insight into repression and police brutality against gay men in the 1950s and 1960s.

Seumas Sargent is the American named Doug who brings Tom to the American scene where he finds his fantasies have come to life in California in the 1970s. Of course, the AIDS crisis victimizes most of these sexual pioneers. Gay clubs had long lines waiting to enter before 1980, and after 1985, the same clubs were shuttered.

Is this movie for you? Probably not even all gay men will find Tom’s work more than hyperbole of manliness. He seemed to have a big audience in the leather-clad gay lifestyle. Tom’s art is almost a satirical look at male sexuality, stylized and provocative, erotic and blatant.