The Prince – Lust, love and longing behind bars

El Príncipe

6 mins read
The Prince is available to rent or buy now on Apple TV

Can imprisonment set you free? This question sits at the heart of The Prince, a brooding drama based on a little known Chilean novel by Mario Cruz from the 1970s. In adapting the novel director, Sebastián Muñoz brings us a bold slice of erotic drama, layered with broader themes of acceptance, belonging and love. In a country on the verge of sweeping social change, as Salvador Allende came to power as president with the help of the CIA in 1970. While at the same time, the countries LGBTQ community suffered abject discrimination from both the political left and right.

Seen through Jaime’s eyes (Juan Carlos Maldonado); a newly inducted prisoner. Muñoz weaves his narrative through Jaime’s introduction to prison life; offering us flashbacks of the events leading to his incarceration. Jamie’s repressed sexual desires both the cause of his imprisonment and the door to his safety. In an environment where older inmates offer a blanket of protection for new prisoners; the price, sex, subservience and undying loyalty. For Jamie, its the prison matriarch El Potro (Alfredo Castro) who offers newfound security. In a relationship where sex, control, companionship and love merge into a confusing mix of care and convenience. The divide between mentor and mentee clouded in construct, as Jamie (aka ‘The Prince’) finds sexual freedom in the darkest of worlds. While at the same time, becoming part of the unspoken social rules surrounding him.

It would be easy to accuse The Prince of playing to classic homoerotic stereotypes in depicting prison life; the prison long used as a gay erotic fantasy. However, The Prince never falls into this trap, despite its erotically charged aesthetic. Instead, Muñoz carefully unpicks social concepts of freedom, belonging and escape. In a narrative that bravely and openly subverts the very idea of incarceration. Playing with similar social themes to that of HBO’s Oz, while embedding these within the world of Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour. But, let me explain further.

In Oz, the world outside the prison walls is often scarier than the world inside. With the inmates carving out their own unique society where coercion and control help retain a delicate peace. Here, the prison environment allows those with no social power beyond the prison walls to thrive. Their relationships built out of convenience and a desire for place and purpose. Of course, that does not mean there is no violence and oppression, but more often than not, this is too retain the unspoken rules of the prisons social structure.

Meanwhile, in The Prince, Jamie’s life before incarceration is ruled by fear, unspoken desire and anger. His ability to live his life unrestrained governed by a society of homophobic views and toxic masculinity. However, the prison environment opens the door to sexual freedom, despite its unrelenting darkness. In turn, allowing Jamie a life not afforded to him outside of its walls. That does not mean the internal environment of the prison is wholesome, caring and loving. But, unlike the society outside of its gates, it is open to difference, male connection and care. For this reason, homosexuality becomes a strength. Thus, allowing Jamie to find a place and purpose unavailable in broader society.

In its exploration of opposing worlds of incarceration, The Prince reflects many of the social discussions found in Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour. Its narrative openly exploring the effects of forced isolation and the need for human warmth. While at the same time, accepting that isolation comes in many forms, with many virtual prisons created by societies actions and beliefs. Our ability to move beyond the walls of these prisons held in the freedom of touch, love and belonging.

However, The Prince never attempts to romanticise incarceration, its world both brutal, hormonal and drenched in sweat. Yet, amidst this, the prison cell is also bathed in a warmth rarely seen in drama. Its small dirty environment a communal meeting point and place of safety, away from the volatile world surrounding its walls. Its peace only interrupted by the arrival of a new prisoner or the brutality of the prison guards. And when this visual aesthetic is coupled with Juan Carlos Maldonado’s outstanding performance alongside Alfredo Castro, The Prince transcends prison drama boundaries. Becoming a complex, erotically charged exploration of identity, belonging and escape.

However, what is even more interesting given the topics at play in The Prince, is Amazon Prime’s decision to ban the film from its site. In a world where the abject violence of their own series The Boys is acceptable, yet gay eroticism is not. Of course, whether Amazon’s decision was made due to the sight of an erect penis, or the film’s themes, gay sex has once again found itself incarcerated by public opinion and fear.

Director: Sebastián Muñoz

Cast: Juan Carlos MaldonadoAlfredo CastroGastón Pauls, Lucas Balmaceda, Sebastián Ayala

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