Star Trek Nemesis is the tenth and final film in the pre-reboot franchise, starring (duh) Patrick Stewart as Cpt. Picard and Tom Hardy as Shinzon, his evil younger doppelganger. (Shinzon is a clone created by Romulans to replace Picard; the plan was abandoned, and Shinzon sent to some concentration camp-style mines to die. When Nemesis begins, Shinzon has just seized the Romulan government in a slave coup d’etat.) In all fairness, this film is much less stupid that it looks: the pacing is okay, the plot is more-or-less coherent, and the classic Star Trek themes of crew as family, duty vs. personal attachment, and negotiation vs. violence are all there.
It’s also extremely gay.
This is probably unintentional. Star Trek TNG‘s official cannon is infamously closeted: in 7 seasons, 3 spinoff shows, and 4 feature films there is never a single straightforwardly queer character (though there are a handful of bizarro-world-type setups, e.g. androgynous aliens). In its abdication of LGBT issues, Star Trek resembles X-Men: both were originally conceived within the context of American racial apartheid as pop culture social justice critiques (the original Star Trek cast went so far as to sabotage production in order to force the airing of an interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura), and both failed to carry that critique forward after the 1980s brought homosexuality to the forefront of American controversy. I guess it’s easy to be gutlessly uncontroversial when you’ve already got a progressive reputation.
Fortunately, straight people can write gay characters by accident—in this case, gay clones. Star Trek Nemesis has three scenes in which Picard and Shinzon are alone together, and all of them drip with homoerotic subtext.
Gay meeting #1: the seduction
The first is a private dinner in the Romulan senate, in which latex-clad twink Shinzon tries to melt Picard’s cautious heart. As the pair gazes longingly into one another’s eyes, Picard says to Shinzon, “I cannot allow my personal feelings to unduly influence my decisions.” Shinzon replies, “All I have are my personal feelings!” He approaches Picard, staring intently: “I want to know what it means to be human.” The candlelight flickers around them. Shinzon and Picard begin finishing each others’ sentences, as in a duet. Their eyes meet for a long moment, until Picard looks away with what can only be described as the body language version of “I want to sex you, but I can’t, dammit.” Picard retreats into the Senate’s main chamber, and Shinzon pursues him, stopping at the chamber’s edge to lean against a giant marble phallus while staring at Picard. Picard: “Nothing would make me more proud than to take your hand in friendship.”
(The duet begins at 3:08, and things just get gayer from there.)
Later, Shinzon kidnaps Picard and ties him to a chair; this pretty much speaks for itself. By this time we’ve learned that because of his sketchy clone DNA, Shinzon needs Picard’s blood to survive, meaning that Shinzon must literally pursue Picard’s heart or perish—or, in the immortal words of Leann Rimes:
How do[es Shinzon] live without [Picard]?
[Shinzon] want[s] to know,
How do[es Shinzon] breathe without [Picard]?
If [Picard] ever go[es],
How do[es Shinzon] ever, ever survive?
How do[es he], how do[es he], oh how do[es he] live?
Gay meeting #2: the offer of hetero redemption, rejected
Picard and Shinzon’s second solitary meeting is in Picard’s office on the Enterprise. Shinzon (via hologram): “It’s just the two of us now, Jean-Luc. As it should be…Lower your shields and allow me to transport you to my ship.” In response to Shinzon’s increasingly rapey overtures, Picard tries to defuse the scene’s sexual tension by acting like an inspirational Dad. “Buried deep within you, beneath all the years of pain and anger, there is something that has never been nurtured: the potential to make yourself a better man.” One suspects Picard has homosexuality-recovery counselors waiting outside the office, ready to help Shinzon pray the gay away at a moment’s notice. Then we enjoy the following exchange:
Picard: “There is a better way.”
Shinzon: “It’s too late.”
Picard: “Never, never! You still have a choice. Make the right one now.”
Shinzon: “I can’t fight what I am!”
Picard: “Yes you can!”
Shinzon (angrily): “I’ll show you my true nature!” (Shinzon’s hologram disappears.)
Immediately following this exchange, a pair of Romulan ships show up to help the Enterprise battle Shinzon’s super-ship. Picard briefly banters with the hot lady captain of one of the Romulan ships, apparently relieved to find some heterosexual flirting with which to wash the taste of Shinzon out of his mouth. Shinzon, enraged that his objet d’amour has been diverted, neutralizes the Romulan ships.
Gay meeting #3: pole impaling
Picard and Shinzon’s 3rd and final solitary meeting is mostly fisticuffs—this is the climactic finale of the film, in which Picard attempts to defuse the MacGuffin-gun that’s about to blow up the Enterprise. Shinzon’s motivation in this scene is ostensibly to stop the unarmed Picard by killing him—but, significantly, he walks past a floor that is littered with guns and instead tries to stab Picard, repeatedly, with two consecutive knives that he for some reason has concealed within his latex suit. Picard finally defeats Shinzon by—wait for it!—impaling him on a spear. Shinzon, only mildly surprised, drops his own knife, grasps the pole upon which Picard has impaled him, and pulls it deeper inside, shimmying his way toward Picard until he can cradle the elder captain’s face in his hands. Shinzon: “I’m glad we’re together now. Our destiny’s complete.” He dies, and his head pitches forward into Picard’s lower chest.
Disclaimer and discussion
Again, probably none of this homoerotic subtext was intentional on the writers’ part. I’m not suggesting that Shinzon was ‘really’ gay; indeed, questions about what’s ‘really’ happening in a film beyond the story that’s explicitly presented are, to some extent, incoherent, since the film itself is an illusion.
Rather, I’ve tried to accomplish two things in this post. First, I just want to draw your attention to the sheer volume of gay-sounding and gay-looking happenenings between Picard and Shinzon. This is basically a hermeneutic game: it doesn’t matter whether my thesis is true, it only matters whether I can marshal enough evidence and strong enough argument to convince you. (If you don’t like this game, don’t play it. There are plenty of other blogs you can read instead.)
But the second thing I’m trying to accomplish is about truth-claims. It seems to me that the subtextual gayness of Shinzon functions in pretty much the same way as the subtextual gayness of Disney villains. They’re not gay per se, in the sense of explicitly (or ‘really’) having homosexual relationships/desires/etc. But they do have many of the symbols of gayness, such as lisping and mincing among male villains (Scar, Jafar, Hades, Professor Ratigan, Cpt. Hook, Shere Khan, Prince John) and butchy dominance among female villains (Ursula the Sea Witch; also, see the near-gang-rape of Snow White by her stepsisters at 2:55, below.)
Shinzon, like most Disney villains, is a ‘coded gay’—covered in gay symbols like a faint lisp and sexually ravenous stares—because these symbols trigger disgust among viewers who have been socially conditioned to homophobia. Presumably nobody in the production of Star Trek Nemesis cared about the actual sexuality of Tom Hardy’s character. Rather, they looked for subtle ways to make the the audience instinctively dislike and distrust him as the villain, to facilitate the larger catharsis of good Picard triumphing over evil Shinzon.
And one subtle way to do this was to make Shinzon a coded gay. Consequently, his character and subtext provide a great example of how homophobia can function within a culture without any conscious intent. We don’t need to know that we’re being homophobic in order to do it.