Confession Scene (River)
Color photograph and 3 screenplay pages on A4 recycled paper, framed
In a pivotal scene in My Own Private Idaho (1991) directed by Gus Van Sant, Mike Waters, played by River Phoenix, confesses his love for his best friend Scott Favor, played by Keanu Reeves. The two friends sit beside a campfire off the road in the desert of Idaho. Mike’s longing at this moment is existential. The world presses in on and crushes him—as it does us all—and he utterly lacks the armour of self support, the sword of self love, with which to defend himself. Here, revealing his fragility to Scott, it is a yearning to be held, to be seen and to be accepted*.
There is a staggering delicacy and tenderness in Phoenix’s performance: he hugs himself as he speaks, tucked inwards, his position foetal. He exudes such vulnerability that we almost feel intrusive eavesdropping on this intimate moment. Making a strong critique of the homophobic ideals that are associated with masculinity and what a man is suppose to be, the scene, originally planned to be much more casual and shorter, was rewritten entirely by Phoenix himself. It was also the last scene to be shot for the feature film, per Phoenix’s request.
To this day, I relate to the way the scene, with its fragile yet powerful dialogue, depicts an inability to belong in a way that feels adequate. It resonates with my experience of having to navigate a queer identity that has been sometimes at odds with my environment, education and peers. These extinguished campfires that I’ve documented over the years specifically symbolize one's perceived late arrival in life; the feeling of sacrificing one’s identity by fear of taking someone's more legitimate place in the world.
Coupled with the words of the film, I wish that each of these photographs conveys the hope of a secret shared, the evidence of a connection made. Each photograph of the series is framed along with the dialogue transcript of three pages, hand typed on a typewriter.
*On the Unflinching Sadness of My Own Private Idaho, Rob Parker, 2020.