NETFLIX PICKS: Filth (2014)
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The Most Scottish Story Since Macbeth...
For the first time, you are going to absolutely hate James Mcavoy.
And you should. His portrayal of ambitious cop Bruce Robertson in Scotland is the closest you’re going to get to a faithful adaptation of Macbeth since 1606. Watch, and revel in the magic.
Sexist, homophobic, and all around horrible person are nice ways of putting Bruce. He is horrible and will do anything to get what he wants. In this case what he wants is a promotion to detective inspector that he and five other people are competing for.
Native Scotsman James McAvoy seems to relish the departure from his usual roles. He completely transforms on screen, full-bearded and full-accented he’s hardly recognizable. “It is great being Scottish,” Bruce intones in a voice over. Quite a departure from “it’s shite being Scottish,” in Trainspotting - both novels written by Irvine Walsh. Then again, Bruce does relish all that is dark and disgusting in this world. That’s the whole point.
Like his Shakespearean counterpart, Bruce is already in a position of power at the beginning of the story, which allows him to manipulate and destroy anyone and everyone in his path. Even himself.
Bruce is constantly being referred to as pig. Though this may seem to be a logical name when coming from criminals, Bruce’s coworkers also call him that, even though they are pigs themselves. That’s because Bruce is a pig in the more literal sense. He exemplifies this filth and now everyone can see him for what he truly is.
Downward spiraling and self-medicating, his hallucinations take the form of farm animals, overtaking the faces of the people he is looking at. This represents his inner depravity. As the hallucination of his doctor says to him, “you are filth.”
Enter wife, Carole. Macbeth is nothing without his Lady Macbeth. “There’s really nothing more seductive to a woman than power.” She isn’t the only Shakespearean counterpart. In addition to Lady Macbeth, we also have a Lennox, ripped right from the play. Ray Lennox is one of Bruce’s adversaries for his promotion. Coincidence? Probably. But it works. Bruce’s main goal is to destroy every single person in his path, whether it be someone who threatens him or not. “Target practice,” he calls it.
Bruce deteriorates so much that when the true path for redemption comes upon him, he completely misses it. Maybe he chooses to, or maybe he really just is a tragic character. The only selfless act in the entire movie is when he tries to save a dying man’s life on the street. Bruce’s failure cinches his fate. He really is doomed.
Bruce is paralleled by monologues from the wife that he is trying to reunite with. The more she appears on screen, the more disturbing the visuals of her also get. She is dark and dreamy, like she doesn’t exist. And then we realize that she doesn’t. She’s just Bruce’s fantasy.
If that wasn’t clear enough, Bruce’s subconscious spells it out for us in the most brutal and crude way. Carole left Bruce and his attempt at this promotion has been grasping at straws. In this instance, Bruce has become Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the same time.
And then it happens. What we’ve all been waiting for but didn’t even know it. The most vindicating way to end a movie. [SPOILER ALERT]
Bruce crossdresses as his wife. You want to talk a 90 minute slow burn to get to James Mcavoy in tights? It’s worth it. It isn’t totally clear whether Bruce actually suffers from dissociative disorder a la Fight Club or if it’s really as he says “I just wanted to keep her close to me.” At this point, it really doesn’t even matter.
Bruce can only self-destruct. After being discovered with drugs, and framing his only friends for anything he can pin on them, is it any surprise that he doesn’t get what he wants? We really don’t want him to anyway. The crowning achievement is a pop version of Radiohead’s “Creep” playing over the last scene. It’s the perfect conclusion.
European cinema always has something that doesn’t quite translate to American audiences, but this is just a weird film. Erratic, dreamy, and a little bit disgusting, it has the same personality as James Mcavoy’s Bruce, the so-called protagonist (who, let’s be honest, barely makes the cut.) It’s hard to swallow. This is the kind of masochistic viewing that American audiences have been bred to reject. James Mcavoy can also vomit on cue, which adds another whole level of disturbing.
Why was this movie even made, do you ask? Because it’s insane. And totally worth the ride. You’re not Bruce Robertson. You would never want to be Bruce Robertson. But you are an audience member. And the schadenfreude is just too delicious.