Hugo Weaving and Russell Crowe in Proof (1991)I first saw 1991’s Proof on the little television in my first all-by-myself apartment in Bangor, Maine. I had caught it by happenstance, the way one did with movies on TV in those days. I enjoyed the unexpected treat very much. Some recent reading jogged my memory of it, and today being today I queued it up for an on-demand rewatch immediately. I hoped that I’d still like it, decades later — and I did, though for very different reasons than I remember!

My main recollection involves the poisonous and mutually manipulative relationship between a cranky blind photographer (Hugo Weaving) and his cruelly sardonic housekeeper (Geneviève Picot). Their bizarre relationship thrilled me, and in retrospect I see how it would inform the cartoon fiction I experimented with in my twenties, which often focused on this sort of twisted pairing. With my first experiments in dating still in the future, I probably envisioned myself in a situation like this, bound to a captivatingly horrible snake-woman.

Look, I read a lot of Updike novels during these days as well, all right? I had to work through all this.

Returning to today: I found every bit of all that still in Proof, just as I remembered it, and had fun seeing it all again. I did not expect to find that movie does not at all center on that messed-up relationship, however! Instead, it concerns the unlikely friendship that Weaving’s photographer strikes up with a kitchen worker (Russell Crowe), after rescuing his alley-cat pet from an accident. The film centers on the rapidly flowering bond between the two men, which survives various disasters and obstacles — the venomously jealous housekeeper chief among them — and ultimately lets the photographer let go of a self-punishing weight that had stunted his own emotional growth.

Proof provides an honestly simple and sweet story of friendship, trust, and growth between two adults, with just a couple of slightly larger-than-life dramatic twists for flavor. Though “buddy films” constitute a genre unto themselves, this one seems to fall outside the tropes, what with the protagonists embracing almost immediately and unhesitatingly. Furthermore, it treats the genre’s ever-present question of homoeroticism uniquely: even after bullies casually queer-bash them at a drive-in theater, the two at no point voice any kind of concern that their deep relationship — their love, as the housekeeper correctly names it, despite the lack of literal romance — is strange in any way, and neither does the movie.

My total amnesia for the film’s actual plot, versus its spicy added flavoring, reflects the appropriately half-developed priorities that my much younger self held in the realm of desired interpersonal relationships. I suppose that I can take some measure of relief that they’ve shifted enough since then to let me appreciate the whole picture.

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