Ah, bromance! What else (other than romance) can make one’s heart long for spring, for flowers and a cool breeze, for a warm hand to hold — but not in a gay way — in a “hey, man, good hustle!” sort of way. That greatest art form of our time, the cinema, is full of great examples of these deeply intimate but non-sexual friendships between men, most of which are from films made long before anyone ever thought up a word as stupid as “bromance.” Below, in no particular order, are a few of my favorite items belonging to a certain category which we might label . . .
Great Bromances in Cinema
Butch and Sundance
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
There’s something about westerns that make them fertile ground for hot, strictly platonic man-love. Butch and Sundance over there are an obvious example, but I could have filled this whole article with cowboy duos. As it stands I’ve only selected a representative few; there are so many I had to leave out — Pike and Dutch from The Wild Bunch, Chance/Thornton and Dude/Harrah in Rio Bravo/El Dorado, Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes in fuck only knows how many movies. Still, of all those possibilities, I think Butch and Sundance best embody the ideal western bromance: they help each other in and out of trouble, they face life and death together, they court the same girl, all while coming tantalizingly close to — but always stopping short of — the love that dare not speak its name. Though how Sundance was able to resist those Newman blue eyes I will never know.
Rick and Capt. Renault
Sometimes a bromance is just a close friendship between guys, a partnership, a brothers-from-different-mothers type deal. Other times a bromance is a roiling cauldron of unspoken desire and sexual frustration, where the only thing keeping a full-blown romance from breaking out is the caution of one or both bros, and the absence of anatomically compatible genitalia. The relationship of Humphrey Bogart’s Rick and Claude Rains’s Capt. Renault in Casablanca is the latter. Their scenes together are so rife with sexual tension that it’s a little disappointing when the movie fades to black without a scene of Rick sweeping clear a table and getting what he needs from Renault right there in his fucking café. Think I’m making this up, or reading too much into it (or acting a little too defensive)? Don’t take my word for it; take Capt. Renault’s, who tells Ilsa, “If I were a woman, I should be in love with Rick.” Poor Renault; if only he and Rick had been born thirty years later. Alas, the world was not yet ready for their love.
Jules and Jim
Jules and Jim (1962)
Here we have cinema’s quintessential bromance. Jules meets Jim and they become close friends. Then they both meet and fall in love with Catherine, a beautiful, free-spirited girl who eventually marries Jules. After being separated by the First World War, they come back together and Catherine falls in love with Jim. Jules, remembering that the most important rule of life is “bros before hos,” invites Jim to live with them so that Catherine and he can be happy. Jules and Jim is a film by Francois Truffaut, so of course nobody winds up happy in the end, but still, it’s a nice gesture, very magnanimous on the part of Jules. Here we get one of the most common variations on the theme. Bromance is often tested by the bros in question falling for the same woman. A true bromance, like that of Jules and Jim, should be able to withstand the disappointment and jealousy that results from the woman choosing one bro over the other, or the disillusionment that follows the woman deciding to fuck both bros, thus revealing what a ho she truly is. It’s a complicated world we live in.
Dante and Randall
Clerks (1994) and Clerks II (2006)
Bromance can blossom out of mutual interests. A couple of guys might bond over a game of pool, or during a pickup softball game, or fishing on the bank of a river. Then there are the bromances born of necessity — lifelong connections forged in the heat of war, or in the face of a looming natural disaster, or . . . say, operating the cash register at a convenience store. This is how we find Dante and Randall. Their love lives are either a total wreck (Dante) or nonexistent (Randall), their jobs suck, but at least they have each other. In fact, each other seems to be all they have. No wonder they end up such close friends. Switch one of their genders (I’m thinking Dante’s always been the woman of the relationship anyway) and you’ve got a classic romantic comedy couple — two people who are always arguing, who seem to hate each other’s guts, yet who you just know are destined for each other. Think Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby. Dante gets married at the end of Clerks II, but how long do you think that’ll last? Becky will only put up with so many “I’m going over to Randall’s to play Guitar Hero, don’t wait up”’s before she packs her shit and hits the bricks.
Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday
My Darling Clementine (1946), Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993), Wyatt Earp (1994), and a shitload more
The other great platonic couple of the western, and another example of a typical romantic formula used to define a male/male relationship. Check this out: you’ve got Wyatt Earp, the lawman, the marshal, the guy charged with keeping the peace and protecting the innocent, the guy with the whole world on his shoulders; and you’ve got Doc Holliday, the gunfighter, the charming outlaw, the antithesis of everything Earp stands for, and yet the one person on Earth he’d do anything for. These two could have had a love affair so torrid its legend would have stretched from New York to California, from Texas up to North Dakota, with a lot of stops in between. The only thing wanting was a slight adjustment of sexual orientation or, failing that, a vagina. Alas, neither materialized, and Doc died of tuberculosis alone in a hotel, while Wyatt went on to become a notorious exaggerator and inveterate self-promoter, the Stan Lee of the Old West. The movies usually leave those last parts out.
Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist
Brokeback Mountain (2005) — Act One only
What is it with westerns and homoeroticism, anyway? The guns? The ropes? Is it the horses, the huge fucking dicks on the horses? Whatever it is, most bromantic cowboy couples are able to resist its pull, to keep things strictly outside the bedroll and above the waist. But Ennis and Jack, though . . . once it got hold of them, they couldn’t get away from it. That’s why they make the list, but with the qualification that their bromance ends with their first rendezvous in the tent. After that, the word “bromance” no longer applies. You need a more accurate description, like “fucking.” It’s interesting to consider Ennis and Jack in context with other great western duos who opted not to initiate anal sex with one another. What was holding back Butch and Sundance, for instance? What stopped Dunson from jumping on Groot in Red River? Of course, Walter Brennan never spooned up next to John Wayne and grabbed a handful of cock, either — at least not where anyone could film it — so maybe that was it.
Kirk and Spock
Star Treks I-VI (1979-1991)
They met on TV, but it was in the movies where the true depth of their bromance was revealed. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we get Kirk jumping into a spacesuit and flying out into the unexplored recesses of the V’Ger probe to rescue Spock, who has gone out to mind meld with the thing. In Star Trek II we get the beautiful death scene, with Spock’s touching final words, “I have been and always shall be your friend — just your friend. Certainly not anything more than that.” In Star Trek III, Kirk steals the Enterprise in order to bring Spock back from the dead — now, you’ve got to really give a shit about somebody to go through all that. In installments IV and V we see them bickering like an old married couple (another common feature, especially of bromances that span many years), and in VI we see Spock risking his own neck to return the favor and save Kirk’s ass this time. It’s an epic tale of friendship, of brotherhood — dare I say, of bro’hood. And for some Trekkies it’s still not enough, judging by the disturbing amount of Kirk-on-Spock slash fiction floating around the internet. Wasn’t Kirk’s aborted hug and Spock’s “Please, not in front of the Klingons” in Star Trek V enough for you fucking people?