Scene from "Tom of Finland"

Pekka Strang in Tom of Finland (2017)

Leather, military uniforms, and muscular men inspired artist Touko Laaksonen, better known by his pseudonym, Tom of Finland, who became a gay icon all over the world, shaping the fantasies of a generation of gay men and influencing art and fashion. This biopic, directed by Dome Karukoski, narrates Laaksonen’s life from his early twenties, when he served his native country during the war against the Soviet Union in 1939, to the middle of the sexual revolution in Los Angeles in the 1970s.

Unlike his art, the movie is not sexually bold. Karukoski and scriptwriter Aleksi Brady chose not to feature erotic scenes; they didn’t want to draw attention away from Laaksonen’s life and art. Besides a few random meetings between strangers in parks and bars, the lust is confined to his erotic drawings. In his illustrations, well-endowed men pose in sexy positions or have intercourse with each other.

Tom of Finland has been Karukoski’s passion project. He spent five years and four and a half million dollars, which is a big budget for a Finnish film. Laaksonen, played by Pekka Strang, is a quiet man who has nightmares from his time as a second lieutenant in the war. He shares an apartment and an advertising job with his sister but hides his real desire from her until they fall in love with the same man. He becomes the love of Laaksonen’s life.

After a memorable trip – good and bad – to Berlin, his drawings get published in the United States. Colorful and open-minded, Los Angeles changes his state of mind - in LA he is no longer repressed like he was in Finland, where being gay was a crime and homosexuality was treated like a mental illness. He and his leather-clad studs come to serve as a defiant emblem in the gay liberation movement.

Karukoski, named by Variety as one of the top 10 Directors to Watch in 2013, explains that his seventh feature portrays Laaksonen’s inner growth but also chronicles Finnish history and changes in its society. The film won a FIPRESCI Prize at Gothenburg Film Festival and was nominated for Best International Feature Film and Audience Award at Edinburg International Film Festival.

At the moment, Karukoski, the son of Swedish-Finnish journalist Ritva Karukoski and an American actor George Dickerson, is filming J.R.R. Tolkien’s biopic in England.