On the Shortbus

I bought the John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus recently based on some recommendations from friends who’d seen it and thought it amazing. I love Hedwig and the Angry Inch, too, so I thought I’d like this one.

Well, when I was shopping online for the DVD, I saw there was an unrated version, so I thought, “Well, why not? I’m an adult, after all.”

The DVD came in the mail yesterday, and I very nearly mean that as the double entendre it sounds like.


Case in point.

The story of the film concerns several late twenties/early thirties folks struggling with various issues. Sofia, a “couples counseler” (neé sex therapist), has never had an orgasm. Her husband, Rob, watches internet porn. Sofia counsels gay couple Jamie and James on whether or not they should have an open relationship because, as Jamie reveals, “I need to love everybody.” James doesn’t know who he loves. Dominatrix Severin is a hard-edged goth-punk chick with an axe to grind a name she’s afraid to be called. Ceth is looking for love, and a mysterious voyeur across the way has been documenting Jamie and James’s lives for several years.

All these characters commingle at a private sex club called “Shortbus,” where anything and anyone goes…whichever way they want. The world of Shortbus is a buffet of naked bodies, orgasm faces, and frank conversation, all presided over by drag queen Justin Bond, who ministers to this flock with a sense of reckless abandon and hope.

But what’s interesting about Shortbus is that it’s less about sex—although there’s tons of it, and in more varieties than you knew existed—and all about catharsis. Each character has become numb, paralyzed, trapped in him or herself. As Justin Bond explains, everyone comes to New York after 9/11 because they’re empty. These characters aren’t empty—they’re blocked. They all have something they need to get out, and soon.

Mitchell captures the lost souls he perceives to populate a post-terrorism New York City with both tenderness and consternation. Why can’t Sofia just come already? Why can’t Severin just move on? These are important questions, timely questions, age-appropriate questions, too, it seems. Trapped in time, the many bodies of Shortbus are seeking one true thing—connection—and although the metaphor is now trope and overdone, Mitchell’s blatant, in-your-face approach to it takes no prisoners

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