Sunday 28 July 2013

Henry & June (1990)

So for my first review, I picked Henry & June – mostly because I hadn’t seen it before. I found it referenced on this list, and the IMDb description piqued my interest.

Henry & June
Vital Stats
Director: Philip Kaufman

Stars: Fred Ward, Uma Thurman, Maria de Medeiros, Kevin Spacey, Richard E. Grant.

Language: English

Length: 136min

Ratings: UK 18, USA NC-17 for scenes of a sexual nature.

Bisexual Characters:  Anaïs Nin, June Miller, Eduardo Sanchez.

Description: In bohemian 1930s Paris, writer Anaïs Nin (de Medeiros) is in a stable, but ultimately unfulfilling relationship with her husband Hugo Guiler (Richard E. Grant). When she meets struggling American writer Henry Miller (Fred ward), who is working on his infamous novel Tropic of Cancer, and his captivating wife June (Uma Thurman), she begins expanding her sexual horizons and creates a love triangle between the author and his wife.

Overall Thoughts

I really enjoyed this movie. If you’re getting a little tired of the 1920s pastel shade obsession brought on by The Great Gatsby this summer, then rich, dark 1930s sleaze might be the perfect antidote. It actually reminded me in tone of another movie set in Europe during this period; and one of my favourite movies about bisexuality – Cabaret. Visually the movie is striking and beautiful, with references to Brassaï, Dalí and surrealist cinema (perfect for an arts and culture geek like me). It is also incredibly erotic, with numerous heterosexual and lesbian sex scenes.  

While I thoroughly enjoyed the indulgence and the casting (Maria de Medeiros and Uma Thurman, later to work together again in Pulp Fiction are a stunning pair, with unusual faces enhanced by the gorgeous ‘30s makeup), at two and a half hours, this film is LONG, and some parts may be a little dull. I would recommend it if you were interested in either of the two writers (and really, if you aren’t, you ought to be!), or just interested in erotic cinema. 

Presentation of Bisexuality (spoilers)

June Miller is perhaps the most prominent bisexual character in the movie. She is a figure of obsession for her husband, Henry, and later Anaïs. She demonstrates extreme passion and sexual attraction for Henry, and yet also moved her girlfriend, Jean, into their New York apartment, and flirts heavily with Anaïs. This is a stereotype that is all too familiar for many bisexual/pansexual people – the assumption that because of your sexuality you are unable to be monogamous, or remain faithful to your partner; that bisexuality is some kind of ‘hyper’ sexuality. June is also portrayed as manipulative (she often uses her sexuality to get money from people), a drug addict, an alcoholic and mentally unstable.

I’ve done the vilest things, the foulest things, but I’ve done them superbly
- June

Anaïs Nin is here presented as bisexual, although in real life she claimed not to be. Her interest in women is generally limited to June, and her sexual awakening mostly involves men. This is another stereotype – I’m not sure how prevalent it is, but one I’ve been faced with. If you are in a same-sex relationship and bisexual (especially as a woman) it is often assumed that your main interest is the opposite sex, and you will ‘go back’ to men (for example). This is actually said out loud in the film at one point, when Anaïs confesses her love for June (though she has been sleeping with Henry), June responds:

You make love to whatever you need, you just want experience!

And for the most part, that seems true of Anaïs’ character.

Anais, Henry and June

In Conclusion…

I think this was a pretty good movie to kick off with. Bisexuality was definitely there, I didn’t have to search for it, and while it wasn’t the most positive portrayal (though to be fair, none of the characters are all that likeable) it was based on real characters (however loosely) with real flaws, so I could get on board with that.

Favourite line:

Beware, Anaïs, these abnormal pleasures kill the taste of normal ones.

Amen to that!


  1. Hello, welcome to BiBloggers, I'm so excited to read about bisexuality in films! Will you be doing TV at all?

    This review is a great start. One note though; I would strongly suggest that when referring to couplings in your future posts, use the descriptors MF or FF or whatever is relevant, to communicate the genders of the characters involved, as many if not all of the bi activist community will be worried by your terminology of "heterosexual and lesbian sex". Some would go a far as to class it as biphobic, which I know you certainly don't want to be!

    Looking forward to more reviews! :)

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  4. I've never seen the film, although it is one of my favorite books. In it, Anais showcases the duality of loving and feeling loyalty to more than one person at a time. She lives the moments figuring out how that's possible and what that means to her sense of self. She tries to figure out love and possession. Desire and self control, and finally, letting go completely. The fact that the prose is actually her diary makes it even more amazing. Thanks for reminding me of a bi character for the ages! I have a short film I'd love for you to write up (once it's finished!) which includes a realistic portrayal of sexuality fluidity and the questions it raises. Let me know how I could get it to you: