Secret societies rule the world—or so the conspiracy theorists believe. Whether fact or fiction, the mythos of the behind-the-scenes machinations of the world’s power brokers and their hush-hush gatherings, from Skull and Bones to the Bohemian Grove to the Bilderberg Group to the Vatican, is a fascinating mystery story, its convoluted plotlines ripe for unraveling and revealing.
Based on the novella by Frank Moorhouse, The Everlasting Secret Family (1988) is a little-known Australian film that takes conspiracy theory to an imaginative new level, positing an elite Illuminati-like sex cult that rules behind a cloak of secrecy and respectability. As initiated members of the Family, influential men are free to sample the forbidden fruit of ecstasy as long as they remain bound in secrecy and obey the rigid rules of the hierarchy of power. In Moorhouse’s world, the key players are homosexuals.
In the Family, each has a role to play, hence the archetypal character names that Moorhouse (who also wrote the screenplay based on his book) gives his characters: The Youth, The Lover, The Senator, The Chauffeur, The Judge, The Pottery Woman, The Wife…
The occult and metaphysical nature of the group is evoked in the masked sword-stepping ceremony that is performed by initiates in an ancient chapel, who are told that ecstasy must be matched by secrecy—sub rosa, as it were, a nod to the Freemasonry’s Fraternal Order of the Rose.
The plot of Secret Family is simple: A Youth (Mark Lee) is procured by a Senator (Arthur Dignam) as his Lover, giving the boy entree to a world of wealth and privilege. When the Senator marries to further his political career, the Youth struggles to ensure his survival in the Family as the years go by.
This is a tale of clandestine sexual encounters by members of a power-hungry and hedonistic all-devouring Family that must be constantly replenished by fresh new faces and experiences. Yet the tone of this film is far from flamboyant or vulgar...its low-key pacing and intimate point of view are subtle and gentle, and only vaguely menacing.
|Mark Lee as The Youth|
Mark Lee, known to American audiences through his torrid hetero-bromance with Mel Gibson in Gallipoli, plays the character of The Youth from young teenager to mid-30s. Lee’s transformation from an innocent and naive schoolboy whose favorite cocktail is creme de menthe, to a cynical, world-weary Family veteran undergoing experimental anti-aging protocols to maintain his favored position in the hierarchy, is remarkable.
|The Senator (Arthur Dignam) and The Youth|
Unlike the Senator’s jaded chauffeur and henchman (Dennis Miller), who was once a young Lover himself but now trapped into a role of lifelong servitude, Lee’s character of the Youth is determined to maintain his physical appeal long enough to vouchsafe his future life of privilege. He finally succeeds, as the babysitter, constant companion and finally Lover of the Senator’s beautiful young son (Paul Goddard).
|The Chauffeur (Dennis Miller) and Pottery Woman (Beth Childs) tempt The Son (Paul Goddard)|
|The Judge (John Meillon)|
|The Wife (Heather Mitchell)|
Along the path of his anti-hero’s journey, the Youth gives his body to all who can help him along the way, from the erotic-maternal Pottery Woman (Beth Childs) who gives him occasional comfort and succor, to the elderly, once-powerful circuit court Judge (John Meillon) he presses for the secrets of the Family that entraps him. But we don’t blame the Youth...who is also forced by his benefactor the Senator to “give pleasure” to important friends and colleagues. In this world, sex is used as a bargaining tool, a commodity, and is the only card our protagonist can play. No wonder he wants so desperately to retain his fleeting beauty.
The performances are uniformly excellent, from Dignam and Lee to Miller, and especially Meillon as the masochistic Judge, Beth Childs as the voluptuary cougar and Heather Mitchell as The Senator’s brittle wife.
Recruiting new Youth to play the role of Lover is a recurring theme. A particularly subtle yet sinister moment occurs as The Senator tours a country grammar school, interestedly eying a beautiful blond child in the crowd and singling him out for special attention: “What is the difference between stars in the skies and stars in your eyes?” The Senator asks the little boy, eyes dancing flirtatiously. The implication is chilling...had Mark Lee’s character of The Youth been similarly groomed and singled out for his role in the Family years before puberty?