Tom of Finland

Director: Dome Karukoski
2017 | Finland | 115m
GENRE: Arts & Literature | Biography/History | Gay | Leather/Kink | Military | Sexuality
SECTION: World Cinema

Trailer

His iconic artwork—bulging biceps on sailors, rock hard buttocks on leathermen, clearly defined packages on pretty much everybody—was dismissed early on by detractors as fetish porn, but the priapic imagery of an unassuming Finnish illustrator named Touko Laaksonen (1920–1991) ended up in the collections of New York’s MoMA and was even celebrated on a Finnish postage stamp. More important, it defined a frisky, sweaty, and joyous masculine sexuality that transformed the self-image—and fantasies—of a button-down, mid-century gay male world.

In this handsome dramatic biopic, director Dome Karukoski focuses less on the famous art of the man known simply as “Tom of Finland,” and more on the little-known story of Laaksonen’s life: his powerful wartime experience with a uniformed Russian paratrooper—a decisive influence on his erotic fantasies; his early professional life working (closeted) at an ad agency alongside his devoted but homophobic sister, also an artist, who unwittingly invites his first great love into their shared home; his brushes with the police for the crime of cruising; and, after daring to send some of his secret erotic sketches to an American publisher, his sudden rise to fame. Aging over six decades as the slyly observant title character, Pekka Strang leaves a lasting impression as a man surprised by the success of his imagery, later mortified by accusations that his art ignored the AIDS epidemic, and relishing his work’s endurance as both good art and, in his words, “dirty drawings.”

— PETER L. STEIN

  • Language: In Finnish and English with English subtitles
  • Premiere Status: West Coast