Shortbus (2006), Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell, Official Website: Shortbus
Indeed, those who criticise Shortbus as obscene are right on the target. Is it porn? The scenes of auto-fellatio, rough sex, shocking orgy, and explicit gay sex, all these have clearly answered this moral question. They are all real sex presented through the camera lens. Does it matter? I guess it does when we look at it with a conventional ethical mind.
Ethics, what an important idea concerning the function of a society! Its existence reassures our moral beliefs. It sets up rules, standards, and limits. I don’t deny its importance, but its existence certainly hinders our hope for new possibilities. We can only follow the rules ethics set up for us, and we should only carry on our everyday life in such a manner. Everything ethics denies should be abolished! Because of it we restrict ourselves from exploring what is tabooed. As a result, we never think if what is tabooed is in fact something unavoidable, something we live with in our everyday life. Ethics has become an obstruction that blocks our journey for identifying our true self. It suppresses us from seeking new possibilities. We are all manipulated by it, and our everyday life is only a combination of dull and sad experiences.
Why can’t a film talk about sex, especially about happy sex? Who will be happy when his/her sex life is a failure? Should we talk about our sexual and emotional frustrations? Isn’t an honest discussion the best remedy for problems? Living in this society in which ethics is dominating our way of thinking, sex has become the taboo. In fact sex is unavoidable, and we should not forget that it is also a part of our everyday life. It happens when two (or more) people are sexually attracted to each other. Isn’t this the real everyday life?
The main problem concerning the ethical remarks of Shortbus is on whether sex should be presented explicitly on the big screen. The director says in the interview, “why not explore sex in an American film in a context that can be, I hope, amusing and thoughtful? … Sex is certainly something to be afraid of, but not something that can be avoided”. If a film is simply focusing on sex scenes without giving references to the plot and the emotional development of the characters, in other words aiming only at giving eroticisation, then I agree it is just pornography which lacks ethical and artistic values. Shortbus does not aim at giving erotic quality. Its intention is to give us a chance to face our real and unavoidable problems in everyday life. This intention has clearly distinguished Shortbus from pornography.
If you could just free yourself from morality for a short while and let yourself flow with the rhythm of the film, you would find this film so cute, so real, and so humane. It has such a positive ending that says everything is still possible and is still full of hopes. Shortbus intends to show us that truly recognizing and then identifying our real self is the only way to happiness. When we finally have the courage to look at ourselves, we will realize that it is us who have the power to fix our inner problems. Only through the exploration of the self could we start to perceive our lived world and to positively deal with our everyday lives. All we have to do is to grasp this chance and make it work.
Seeking our true self is not a difficult idea, but it is hard to practice, especially when we are all tightly bound by ethics. Isn’t it true that the reason we cannot identify ourselves is because of the notion of taboo? Doesn’t our true self usually contradict to what we are usually told to do or told to be? In other words, when we are in the process of identifying ourselves, we start to realize the power of ethics in our lived world. This power prohibits us from discussing taboos. In fact ethics never teach us not to discuss taboos; it only ignores them. It is us who consider taboos as shameful and never have the determination to face them. Slowly, all our inner problems stay quietly in our heart and hunt us forever. It becomes an illness, and naturally we cannot live as happily as we wish but keep repeating our dull life as others expect us to be.
Sophia, James, Jamie, Severin, Tobias the Mayor, all these characters in Shortbus are vivid examples of us. These fictitious characters encounter their inner problems just like us, but they are lucky to find a shelter where everyone is willing to open their heart and talk about their problems. In Shortbus, taboos are no longer shameful but admirable. People there heighten taboos and give taboos its legitimate status. They discuss what needs to be discussed, and they do what they want to do but cannot do in real live. This is a place where you can explore your true self and be yourself, but it does not mean that Shortbus will tolerate any crime or uneasy feelings. Everyone there is highly aware that such a place is precious in our rigid and cruel society. Everyone in Shortbus is trying all his/her best to experience the real life their inner self crave for. Each one supports the other through different means, and they have constructed a positive environment where discussions are held, supports are provided, and inner problems can be solved. It is never easy for them to finally decide to release their burden. Each one of them has gone through a hard time trying every possible means to solve their problems, and finally in Shortbus they realize that their suppressed inner self is the only key to true happiness, the final goal they are aiming at.
At the end of Shortbus, when the black out comes, the film presents us a carnivalesque scene in which everyone who participates in Shortbus finally reaches his/her true happiness. Doesn’t this happiness signify the true identification of their inner self? During the black out, every perceivable thing has lost its shape and colour, and in this darkness we can finally feel free and safe to be ourselves. Sophia finally gets her orgasm and starts to explore her sexual desire, James finally sees himself and starts to go out of his depression, Severin finally receives herself and starts to build up normal relationships with people. Only when we are free to do what we want to do could we truly accept ourselves as who we are. Carnival is just a symbol that reinforces the meaning of true happiness. This carnival is in fact a circumstance in which taboos are no longer taboos, limits are erased, and hopeful human relationships are carried to its height. When the light comes back, they have already experienced a wonderful journey of being themselves, and they have found the important key to their inner problems. Though they still need to come back to their normal life in this cruel society, at least this experience has allowed them to recognize themselves and equipped them with certain tactics to deal with their everyday life.