SOUTHERN COMFORT

4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2001
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 90 minutes
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In a lot of ways, big city liberals are often just as judgmental and narrow-minded as the types of people they often look down upon with their conviction of their own moral superiority. Though most vibrant, thriving cities are home to a large number of different ethnic, racial, and religious groups, too often you find that such “enlightened” people socially stray from their own narrow demographics about as often as their reviled, conservative counterparts. A human being is defined by many details of his or her appearance, physiology, history, and culture, among other things. Too often when they encounter an individual different from themselves, people only bother to register a single defining aspect: they’re black; they’re Mexican; or they’re gay. Or, it could be they’re from the South.
As Kate Davis’ gripping new documentary reveals, people just aren’t like that. Once there was a Southern girl who tried to be what she was expected to be. She married an abusive man and bore him two sons. However, she always remained unhappy and came to believe that she should have been something else. After years of soul-searching, she finally realized what that was, and later underwent part of the transgender process to live as a man, Robert Eads. Robert didn’t really fit in with the urban transgender community, though. By preference and temperament he came to live in the very private surrounding of rural Georgia. This doesn’t mean he had to be alone. Largely rejected by his biological family, another one formed around him. Two other female-to-male transsexuals, Maxwell and Cass, looked up to him as a father figure. Later Maxwell would in turn come together with his current male-to-female girlfriend, while Robert himself fell in love with the glamorous male-to-female Lola Cola. Together the group develops the sometimes dysfunctional dynamic of other families, but they always help each meet the challenges of their lives.
Then irony steps in. Robert, appearing every inch the hillbilly gentleman, develops cancer in one of the only female parts not removed: the ovaries. Then, upon hearing of his transgender status, every doctor for miles refused to treat him out of admitted bias or fear of the bigotry from their other patients. Soon enough, it’s too late and Robert doesn’t have much time left. It’s at this point that director Kate Davis begins her record of what remains of Robert’s life until its end. His health rapidly diminishing, he uses the time he has to lecture at a major transgender conference in the South, known as Southern Comfort, and to make piece with Lola, his new extended family, his sons, his parents, and finally himself.
The nuanced portrait Davis paints of this group is one of individuals that are flawed, like anyone else, with the same needs, desires, and responses to others. The final portrait of Robert is one of a proud, stubborn, flawed, and loving father figure who asked little of others but willingly gave much of himself. In the end he dies much in the way he lived, noblely and peacefully. Davis has produced a stunning document that might actually change the minds of those from any other group that might have dismissed them as nothing more than white trash, transgender freaks. The best way to change opinions was the method chosen here: to demonstrate that they’re just like everyone else. They’re just as human and their lives are just as valuable. Robert’s death is probably sadder than most, simply because his loss could have been so easily avoided.



Posted on June 14, 2001 in Reviews by
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