Unable to repress her identity any longer Laurence Aila comes out as a transgender woman to her colleagues, family, and her girlfriend Fred following her 35th birthday. The year is 1990 and throughout the following decade Fred and Laurence struggle with who they were, who they want to be, and how society responds to their choices. This is the premise of Laurence Anyways, Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan’s third film.
This stunning film is epic in scope, length, and thematic content. The visual style goes from one extreme to another. Some scenes are shot handheld giving the film an uncanny realism while others are hyper-stylized representations of the protagonist’s inner lives.
Through the employment of various filmmaking styles and techniques Dolan is effectively guiding the viewer into the emotional worlds of Laurence and Fred, making the viewer feel what they Fred feel. By focusing so heavily on visualizing the inner lives of these characters Laurence Anyways express’s, more accurately and authentically than many films, the process of coming out of the closet in all its exhilarating joy and intense difficulty.
Laurence Anyways central struggle is the romantic relationship between Laurence and Fred. After the initial shock and confusion following Laurence’s coming out the two decide to stay together believing that their love is stronger than any challenges they’ll face. Of course, neither can predict how Laurence’s transition will affect the two of them nor how much of a burden societal prejudice will weigh them down.
Dolan subtly exposes many societal prejudices such as transphobia, classism, and sexism as they all conspire to break them down as individuals and as a couple. Each individually are going through many changes that it eventually becomes clear that it is impossible for them to take care of each other.
For Laurence, and for many LGBTQ people, coming out means that the state of her world (relationships, vocation, identity) drastically changes. This kind of “death” of her old world, of how things used to be, does not mean she starts afresh with a clean slate. Rather her old world transforms into something new. Laurence’s own acceptance of her true identity is only the first step towards liberation and no one ever takes those subsequent steps alone.
When Laurence comes out she hopes that she will be able to be herself and keep what she loves. She wants to stay with Fred, to continue to be a high school English teacher, and have a loving relationship with her mother. However any revelation of truth always provokes change and Laurence faces tremendous pain as she tries to keep everything the same way it was before she came out.
Change is scary especially when it seems like an end. We humans often don’t see how transformation leads to new life, to resurrection. We think in dualities of good and bad, life and death, often overlooking how life is a dance of sorrow and joy.
This idea of change or an end leading to resurrection is reminiscent of the story of Jesus Christ. Mystic Henri Nouwen writes, “Jesus shows, both in his teachings and in his life, that true joy often is hidden in the midst of our sorrow and that the dance of life finds its beginnings in grief." In the Gospels, Jesus proclaims that “the grain of wheat" needs to die before it can "bear fruit" and that we must be willing to lose our lives in order to find them.
If the Christian narrative tells us anything it is that resurrection is just around the corner.
What seems like an end to us is sometimes really a beginning of something new. Of course the Christian narrative also demonstrates that transformation doesn’t mean we come through unscathed. Just look at how the body of Jesus is described after he returns from the dead. He has scars.
In Laurence Anyways, Laurence’s world falls apart as she tries to keep life the way it was before she came out. She wants to avoid the scars. Yet it is only in allowing life and relationships to change that both she and Fred are set free becoming stronger and more self-assured individuals.
Through its script, incredible performances, and its bold aesthetic style Laurence Anyways is a reminder of the many ways that the process of coming out is full of anguish, pain, rejection, but also liberation, joy, and embrace. It is an unforgettable cinematic experience that displays how the changes that stem from this radical act may seem like endings at first, but ultimately reveal themselves as authentic transformations.