The Quest for Intimacy in Lonesome (2022)

Lonesome doesn’t create a world to get lost in, but it is a movie to look at lovingly. A welcome addition to queer narratives surrounding the cowboy, if you’re willing to move past a few stumbles.


There is something almost mythologically masculine about the practice of being a cowboy. A cowboy is stern, stoic and labours in an environment that celebrates brutality. Perhaps that is why it can be such a good vessel to explore queerness in a heteronormative world: there is an inherent isolation in the cowboy. He is a single figure in a wide landscape of dried-out grass, making it a visual dream to strip the figure bare, to find intimacy in the privacy of a vast open space.

That is how Lonesome, directed by Craig Boreham (Teenage Kicks), begins, a singular cowboy walking across the familiar outback setting of cattle country in remote New South Wales. The horizon is behind him, the road is empty and the flora seen is dried-out grass and wheat. As if this wasn’t enough, he is even wearing a red flannel and a cowboy hat (not an Akubra), and there is a close-up of him walking in his RM Williams. The cowboy is Casey (Josh Lavery), a queer man who is running from his past self all the way to Sydney. There he meets Tib (Daniel Gabriel), a Grindr hook-up who becomes a housemate. The film follows their blossoming relationship.

Lonesome is refreshingly and unabashedly queer. It is unapologetic in its inclusion of queer sex. The romantic interests meet via Grindr and join a threesome. Their first conversation, merely small talk, is done in the kitchen, entirely naked–the male form on full display. Their physical chemistry is undeniable–thanks to intimacy coordinator Leah Pellinkhof–almost making up for the stilted and awkward dialogue between the two.

Boreham’s visual mastery showcased in Teenage Kicks is at the forefront again. When Tib asks Casey “why Sydney?”, he responds, “I’ve never seen the ocean”. And he does see it, making his own way there the next morning. Casey is centre-frame, the calm, blue waves stained with the colours of the sunrise before him, his back to us. He enters the ocean, full body under, letting the water close in on him. The next shot is two men pulling a body out of the ocean, the sea dominating the shot. The body is Casey, and the two men perform CPR on him. It is an obvious metaphor–as he enters Sydney, he commences a baptism, dies and comes back to life again, an acceptance of the new Casey. The lack of subtlety is forgiven–only because of the lovely view of the waves lightly crashing behind.

Herein lies the contradictory viewing experience in watching Lonesome. It is all at once beautiful and obvious. The chemistry between the love interests is both undeniable and jarring. The performance of Casey is both a believable performance of a queer man from outback Australia grappling with his masculine identity, but also comes across as a performance where the actor is reading off a script. In a conversation at the beach, Casey shares with Tib his affair with a married man from back home. It ended tragically: the man drove to his death after his wife left him and Casey considered ending his own life. It is a traumatic backstory, one that would be more emotionally resonant if the line reading wasn’t stiff and unnatural. The performance is sometimes an exaggeration of personality trait associated with the masculine cowboy than a full-fledged person who survived suicidal ideation.

That is not to say that Casey’s character is shallow, nor is it to say the relationship between Tib and Casey is unbelievable. It just doesn’t come through in dialogue, only in physicality and visual metaphors. Every moment of Casey’s development, whether it was his first sexual encounter with Tib, a phone call with his mum, or experiencing Tib’s polyamorous lifestyle, we return to a hazy dream–or memory–of Casey lying naked in a paddock of wheat. The daydream continues to see Casey walk through the paddock, his naked body centre-frame. He will always return home to the memory of his traumatic queer experience, unable to delve further than that to come to terms with himself. Just like the ocean, it is obvious, though forgiven.

Tib and Casey’s own relationship fallout is seen coming–Lavery’s physical performance shows the warning signs of discomfort and hurt when Tib has his first guest over. But even with this expected turn, the ultimate blow up is a forced line reading. It is not so much an argument as it is each individual shouting to themselves. Although, when the two reunite in the film’s resolution, you cannot help but smile when Tib does a dance similar to when their relationship first began.

Lonesome doesn’t create a world to get lost in, but it is a movie to look at lovingly. A welcome addition to queer narratives surrounding the cowboy, if you’re willing to move past a few stumbles.

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