The Misandrists by director Bruce LaBruce is… interesting. I’ve been mulling it over in my head for a few days now and I think in a way it needs to be taken more as an experience than a traditional story-driven film. By virtue of its director alone it is a transgressive film and an almost conceptual one. The closest analogy that comes to mind is Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void, which was about the death dream of a dying drug dealer. Both films are intense, visual, helmed by extremely creative outside-the-box artists and films I have no intention of ever seeing again. This is not so much because I don’t think highly of the films. Rather it is because now that I’ve seen each once, I just don’t need to do it again. I think for those, like myself, who are raised on a relatively mainstream diet of cinema, watching these kinds of films is a good exercise. It is a way to view the world of cinematic storytelling through a new lens and be exposed to new ideas. A nice place to visit, but perhaps you don’t want to live there.
What follows in this article is a breakdown of things I noticed as I was watching the film, supplemented a bit by an after-film interview by the director himself. Because I came to the theater expecting a more traditional work, I kept trying to figure out how everything fit together. If the film is understood as a more abstract work, however, perhaps the traditional complaints will fall away. It will still be an intense experience, but there might be fewer questions about what is going on.
My issues really revolve around choices in scenes that appear during the film. These choices, for me, amounted to a lot of unnecessary misdirection. This might be partially my fault as I tried to understand where the film was going. As I mentioned before, a better strategy might have been to just absorb the film and mull the overall meaning later. That said, the first scene to take note of was the “Dancing Nun” scene. This was a moment when a nun, whose face isn’t seen, walks very purposefully and slowly before looking around and then breaking into dance. This happens for a moment, then the nun returns to walking purposefully and slowly again.
A couple things to note here. First of all, it’s established earlier in the film that the nun outfits are mostly just ruses. Unless there’s someone in authority nearby, the outfits are never worn. Secondly, there’s no real connection in this scene to the rest of the film. It’s just a strange non-sequiter. Perhaps it could be taken as a symbolic moment (perhaps some idea of being reserved and disciplined, but being unable to prevent loosening up once in a while.) Even if that were true, however, there seems to be no immediate connection to the rest of the film. As mentioned earlier, the very idea of wearing a nun’s outfit on a regular basis seems odd given that it was clearly initially worn by characters in the film as disguise.
The next issue revolves around a cameo by the director himself. In one scene, a nun’s face appears and looks out into a courtyard where an event is taking place. That “nun” is the director in a nun’s outfit. The pupose of this moment made sense in the interview after the film, but it completely misled me prior to that point. In the interview after the film, Bruce LaBruce mentioned that he liked to make the audience part of the film. This “secret nun” moment was part of that. Essentially, the camera watches the nun look out the window and then cuts to view the courtyard from the nun’s perspective. The problem here is that, without the benefit of the after-film interview, it appears as if the secret nun is an actual character. I certainly took it that way. Until the interview, I really kept trying to figure out who this nun character was. I kept expecting to find out that this secret character was in fact controlling the events of the film while hidden way. Watching the film in this context made me feel there was a real unresolved storyline.
Speaking about unresolved, I feel there were some issues surrounding the character of Big Mother that were not properly laid to rest. In particular, there were a number of cues that seemed to me to indicate that Big Mother was heading towards failure. The first indication is very early in the film when one of the girls, Isolde, openly voices opposition to Big Mother’s policies. Doing this so early in the film sets the tone for a tale of authority versus resistance. This thread continues on with a discussion of rules about smoking. This is forbidden by Big Mother in the film, but everyone, including Big Mother herself breaks the rules casually. Thus Big Mother’s authority is false, even to herself.
To be honest, the whole environment Big Mother has set up feels cultish and artificial. The girls are regularly told stories that revolve around mythology and could easily have been made up. The exercise regimen includes pseudo-militarized chanting. Educational material is delivered with such heavy modification that it is reduced to propaganda. In a replay of the false authority issues mentioned earlier, the girls are shown as not even listening to the teacher. In the meantime Big Mother is extolling the virtues of prostitution as she prepares to enact a plan to create a pornographic film. One she admits needs to be done for money while declaring that it will also be her group’s manifesto.
The above issues seem to mean the film is headed to an ending of disappointment for Big Mother. In reality, the plan ends in complete victory. Big Mother makes her film resulting, among other thigs, an ending scene showing the audience of her film inspired into an orgy. This didn’t make much sense to me from the standpoint of a logical plot, but the reasoning behind it was made clear in the after-film interview. The interviewer noted that Bruce LaBruce tends to end his films with orgies. LaBruce confirmed this and indicated that he likes to end films on a positive note, which for him would be an orgy. This is fine, but it is a significant break from all the cues being delivered throughout the film. This more than anything else brings the film into the world of magic reality. Essentially, it is a confirmation that the film is a conceptual exercise rather than a more conventional tale. Were I so inclined to see the film a second time (I really don’t think I will be), I would try to view the film through that perspective.
None of the above should promote the idea that I think the film is bad. It’s certainly the product of strong creative vision. I also think it was worthwhile to see the film if for no other reason than to step outside my regular diet of cinema. It’s important to be exposed to new and alternative ideas once in a while. For purveyors of mainstream films, I would recommend taking The Misandrists as a magic reality film. I feel, after some thought on the subject, that it is more of a presentation of a particular idea or theme rather than any traditional narrative. Audiences, particularly mainstream audiences, should absorb the film as an experience and try to understand the events seen in a somewhat symbolic or non-literal manner.
Please be aware, however, that no matter how you approach the film, it will be an intense and, in some parts, deeply unsettling experience. If you’ve seen Bruce LaBruce films before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, well… good luck.