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"We Are Who We Are" is a quietly explosive exploration of burgeoning sexuality

Set on an American army base in Italy, We Are Who We Are is a coming of age drama not just for teenagers, but for adults as well

By Maddy Raven, Film & TV Editor

Luca Guadagnino’s latest project, We Are Who We Are (2020), is off to a strong start.

It’s tempting to try and compare it to Call Me By Your Name (2017), but it’s important to view it in isolation – it marches to the beat of its own drum. Set on an American army base in Italy, We Are Who We Are is a coming of age drama not just for teenagers, but for adults as well. It seems that everyone on the base is trying to carve out their own version of America, far from ‘home’.

Courtesy of IMDb / HBO

Unhurried by the time constraints of the limited series, Guadagnino has no problem lingering on the quiet moments of the lives of the teenagers on the base. Due to the nature of their transitory lives, nothing feels quite permanent, and as a result, relationships form quickly. Time does feel strange. The onscreen action is utterly engrossing. Hours could go by while I watch Fraser (Jack Dylan Grazer) learn to shave.

It’s amazing to watch the teenagers of the show bond so fast, over nothing more than the fact that they’re all there. While you could long for the simplicity of friendships like that again, I don’t envy them the obvious confusion that comes with constantly being uprooted and then moved to somewhere new, thousands of miles away.

Fraser is fascinating. Moving from base to base with his two mothers, he’s been gifted with wisdom beyond his years, but he still longs for something he cannot reach, and lacks the life experience to back up the larger, more explosive emotions that seem stuck in his throat. He is a creature of emotion, like so many of us were at that age. His tactile relationships with both of his mothers, played by Chloe Sevigny and Alice Braga, is both sweet and a little worrying: as if they’re holding him in so he won’t spin out of control, or explode.

Courtesy of IMDb / HBO

As so many coming of age dramas do, We Are Who We Are puts gender identity and sexuality under a microscope. The army base backdrop adds to the feeling of disorientation and instinct that the teenagers must delve into. In a place where conformity is celebrated and encouraged, it feels as though we’re watching the sexual aggression of teenagers and exploration of gender expression in its rawest form.

There is, of course, larger conflict as well – conflict that isn’t inner. Caitlin, played by newcomer Jordan Kristine Seamón, is the daughter of Richard (Kid Cudi). Richard, though lower ranking, resents that he must take orders from a lesbian on base. Meanwhile, under his nose, his own daughter is exploring her identity, as her mother watches on in horror. Not a horror that comes from a place of hatred, but of fear.

Courtesy of IMDb / HBO

Despite this conflict, Richard and Sarah (Sevigny) are almost mirror images, especially when we look to their spouses. Braga telegraphs unhappiness from the moment she’s onscreen. As she tends to a wound on Fraser’s face, she says that when she and her wife kiss, it’s not Sarah kissing her. It’s Sarah kissing a mirror; kissing herself.

The sacrifice and long-lasting effects of a transitory life like this have permeated every facet of We Are Who We Are, creating an incredibly unique and touching story of burgeoning sexuality and inner conflict. Despite the explosive connotations of army life, all of the action is interpersonal, but no less damaging.

Featured: IMDb / HBO

Will you be watching We Are Who We Are?

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