Latent Homosexuality in “Eastern Promises”?

A few nights back the boyfriend decided to sit me down and make me watch Eastern Promises. For some reason I could not get the idea out of my head that this movie was a western. I was very far from right. This movie takes place in London and is about a midwife (Naomi Watts) who delivers a baby and loses the mother. Watts grows attached to the baby because she has recently lost a baby of her own and spends the movie trying to find out something about the babies family all based out of a diary she found from the mother that is all written in Russian.
Typically I would do a play by play review of the movie, what I thought was bad, what I thought was good, but in this case the boyfriend and I ended up in a debate and I am curious to know others opinions.
Kirill (Vincent Cassesl), the son of the Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) head of the Russian mafia, seems to have homosexual tendencies. The audience is never finally apprised to whether or not he is gay but it seems that the insinuation is that he is. My boyfriend however did not catch on to this so I am turning to you, is Kirll supposed to be thought of as gay?
My first clue that he was gay was the scene where he is trying to get Nikolai Luzhin (Viggo Mortensen), to sleep with one of the women that they have at the house. He constantly asks him if he is a queer and when Nikolai finally agrees to sleep with one of them Kirril finds the need to watch. This seems to be a projection of his own homosexual feelings on to Nikolai. Clealrly he feels that by sleeping with these girls it means that a person is not gay which the audience knows is not the case. Merely sleeping with them does not remove homosexuality it is merely a cover.

Another reason why it seems he is gay is because he chooses to have a man killed because he is spreading rumors that he is gay. Kirill is so worried about these rumors being spread that he goes behind his father’s back and sabotages the family reputation in order to stop these rumors. It would seem that he is so afraid of these rumors because they are in fact true. If they were not it would seem that he would have been able to either ignore the rumors or confront the person rather than having him killed at a barber shop.
Finally, Kirill’s entire relationship with Nikolai is suspect. Nikolai seems to be his protector throughout the movie and they have a very close relationship. Nikolai takes care of Kirill when he is drunk and he is the one who is able to calm him down when he gets upset. At the end of the movie when Nikolai tries to convince him to give the baby to Watts Nikolai embraces him from behind and sooths his crying. This scene seems to be Nikolai taking adavantage of Kirill’s homosexual tendencies and using them in order to get the baby safe.

The movie never sits on whehter or not he is actually gay and this leaves me to question if I am making all this up or if this is actually in the movie. I went and searched some other blogs and here are some of their opinions:

“With his new film, the violent Russian mob drama Eastern Promises, Cronenberg has once again elected to explore homosexuality, this time in the context of a patriarchal, aggressive crime underworld. In including a deeply closeted gay mobster in his colorful ensemble, Cronenberg is, on the one hand, giving us another in an unfortunately rich cinematic history of gay villains. But the film’s refusal to condemn the character for his sexuality or to associate his sexuality with his criminality is notable, and the sensitivity with which the story is explored is unexpected and refreshing.” Brian Juergen at

“I do agree with some of the points above, about Kirill being trouble and divided, it being good that the movie doesn’t condemn the character for his sexuality, and Nikolai’s sexual ascendancy. Also, about all this being a bit stale about ‘ooohhh he is homosexual!’; covering old hostilities and prejudices and stereotypes within mafia may bit a bit stale and how it is handled, it could have been do a bit more quicker and less ‘big issue.’ There isn’t a lot of information. And the movie is about that, not knowing everything about the characters, but I guess it was necessary.” Spanengish Ramblings at

What do you think? Was Kirill supposed to be believed to be gay? Was it meant to be ambigious? Am I reading way too much into this? Leave me a comment and let me know.


7 thoughts on “Latent Homosexuality in “Eastern Promises”?

  1. I absolutely agree with you; when I saw this movie I thought that Kirills homophobia came from his internalized hatred of gays. I though that his fathers opinion on homosexuality and his comments about ‘queers’ and ‘the queer disease'(HIV/AIDS) cause him to feel inadequate and he therefore becomes agressive in order to compensate for what he percieves as an unmanly sexuality. His alcoholism likely springs from his internalized homophobia.

  2. I just finished watching Eastern Promises (again) and Kirill is certainly a conflicted character. Whether or not he is gay (or seems gay) really depends on what you view as gay. For many people, a grown man that would enter into such a dependant relationship with another grown man would come across as gay, but this has little to do with sexuality (Kirill is dependant on Viggo’s character, but there is little to suggest that he is sexually attracted to him). My take, after a few viewings, is that Kirill is what most men would call, ‘beat down.’ His father is a very strong character. His mother died young (as his father tells us early) and from what you see in the film his father overpowers him (and probably has since birth – he never had anyone to protect him long enough for him to grow strong enough to defend himself). Viggo is a sly character. He recognizes this weakness and exploits it (Viggo’s character is very like Kirill’s father, but Viggo’s character accepts Kirill, which is why he gets his loyalty). There are two ambiguous scenes in the film. One when Kirill has Viggo’s character have sex with the prostitute and the other where the passage from the young girl is read where she describe’s Kirill not being able to rape her and so his father does. I think the brilliance in this film is that if you watch it one way, such as from the perspective that gay = weak, then you can see kirill as gay for not being able to rape a teenage girl and for wanting to watch another man commit what is essentially rape with an unwilling slave. BUT – is it gay not to be able to rape a girl? In Kirill’s world the answer to this is yes. It is, but if he doesn’t have homosexual desires, then the confusion comes from being perceived as gay (when he really isn’t) because he is weak (which he is, at least with regards to that environment). In other words, my take isn’t that Kirill is gay – I think the people in that environment catch on to his weakness and attack it as homosexuality. The two have nothing to do with one another, but in an ultra-violent setting reason doesn’t really matter, does it? There’s just attack, attack, attack.

  3. I think what gives out the most that Kirill is gay is the fact that the father said it while conversing with Nikolai, he says something like “it’s London’s fault that Kirill is the way he is”, which implies that the father blames London’s softness of environment for Kirill’s homosexuality, the father thinks that Kirill would have grown up as a macho heterosexual if he had spent more time in Russia. Of course, we all know that’s incorrect, but that’s his father’s rationalization for Kirill’s homosexual nature, other things that give away his homosexuality have already been mentioned here, but I think this was the most important aspect, since it’s from his father’s own words.

  4. I really thought that maybe kirill was the gay one for sure. Because it looked as if Nikolai liked naomi watts? I could be wrong but great movie anyway!

  5. I would 100% say he is confused, also you forgot to mention how he couldn’t perform when trying to rape the child’s mother. He got angry and beat her even severely.

  6. I know I’m late here (2011 – 2018) but I have just recently seen this movie and was struck by the homoeroticism therein. I didn’t mind it whatsoever; in fact, the idea of the two attractive male leads together is quite exciting to me.

    But, I digress… Yes, I do think Kirill’s character was supposed to be gay and was fighting against his attraction to Nikolai and that in the ending scene, Nikolai used affection and caring plus sweet words to convince Kirill to spare the baby’s life and give him some kind of hope of a future relationship between the two. I don’t think it was portraying gay men in any way negatively, it was just a very interesting facet to Kirill’s character.

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