Tom of Finland Review
The name Touko Laaksonen isn't one that resonates too loudly (pronunciation jokes aside) and when transformed into his artistic alias of Tom of Finland you probably won't be any the wiser. Take one look at his iconic drawings and it might just click into place. Director Dome Karukoski's by the numbers biopic looks back on Laaksonen's life and his important contribution to gay culture during its growth in the 60s and 70s. While it's not a film that offers much beyond the story being shown onscreen, nonetheless, it is one that is long overdue in being told.
Laaksonen is played by Pekka Strang, taking us through his years spent in the Finnish army fighting alongside the Germans during the Second World War and onto the cult following he developed once his art found an audience. His first sexual encounters during the war proved to be a key turning point in his life, as did his friendship and relationships with Captain Alijoki (Taisto Oksanen) and younger local Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen), both of whom would circle back into his world at a later date. The military uniform and figures of authority he experienced during the war would later inspire him to remould those images of misplaced masculinity into something far more transformative.
One of the film’s biggest issues is revealing Tom’s ideology beyond the drawings themselves. In hindsight we can understand the wider social context of their meaning but director Karukoski seems hesitant to stray from the beaten path. Without this broader scope, you never get a handle on why the dissemination of his drawings mattered so much at the time. They were pornographic in nature and used for those purposes too but the weight of his sketches made them far more than just disposable titillation, instead, opening up a channel for gay sexual fantasies to find a path towards acceptance.
It took some time before his work find its way to the West Coast of America and beefcake magazine Physique Pictorial, where the name Tom of Finland became his publishing moniker. As we have seen, the muscle bound men with handlebar moustaches dressed in leather and denim under Muir hats, have had a profound influence on pop culture ever since. Performance wise the cast are fine, doing the best they can with reasonably shallow material and DoP Lasse Frank Johannessen’s clever use of light shades Laaksonen’s journey from underground artist through to Californian hero. Tom of Finland fails to mine its subject rigorously enough but does an adequate enough job of paying homage to a forgotten pioneer.