By Lisabet Sarai
Our topic this week, courtesy of Charlotte, is "Sexy Movies". I had a number of candidate films that I considered discussing: Bound, the breath-taking lesbian thriller starring Jennifer Tilley and Gina Gershon; Earth Girls are Easy, which I know is on Charlotte's list, too (what could be sexier than inspiring love in a sweet, geeky alien?); almost anything directed by Zalman King but especially 9 1/2 Weeks (predictable, right?). But I think that perhaps the most erotic film I've ever seen was Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, directed by Steven Shainberg and featuring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr.
I didn't realize, when I went to see this film, that the director was also responsible for sweetly perverse Secretary, another erotic favorite of mine. In retrospect this makes perfect sense. Both films concern themselves with the twisted side of humanity, or perhaps, the humanity of kink.
"Fur" chronicles the imaginary but convincing awakening of celebrated photographer Diane Arbus to her obsessive fascination with the grotesque. Frustrated and oppressed by her life as a vanilla 1950's housewife, Diane yearns for something more. She goes through the motions of daily life, assisting her husband in his photography business, distractedly caring for her daughters, and enduring the sarcasm of her wealthy mother. She lies awake next to her adoring but uncomprehending husband, trying to understand her own dissatisfaction. Her sharp eyes pick up all the bizarre and disturbing details in her surroundings that others miss, but she doesn't know what to do with her observations.
When she catches a glimpse of her new neighbor Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), completely masked, she somehow recognizes him as the key to escaping her suffocating life. He recognizes her as well, recognizes the brilliant and disturbed creature hiding behind her facade of conformity. He sends her the key to his apartment through the sewer pipes, an appropriate metaphor. When she finally dares to climb the winding stairway to his attic lair, he invites her into his world, a twilight wonderland peopled by societal outcasts and circus freaks.
Lionel himself is a "beast-man", suffering from a genetic disorder that causes his whole body to be covered with hair. With his gentle voice and rude questions, he forces Diane to admit to her strange interests and desires. Hesitant at first, then exuberant, she surrenders to her true self, the beautiful, poised woman surrounded by dwarves and Siamese twins who is nevertheless, in Lionel's words, a "real freak". For Diane, this is badge of honor.
Although they hardly touch through most of the film, Diane's relationship with Lionel is intensely erotic. The excitement stems from their mutual fascination with the strange and terrible, their recognition of each other as complementary deviants. It is essentially the same excitement that I felt when I finally found my Master and he made me admit that I craved submission. Finally, Diane has found someone who understands her and who does not judge her, indeed who celebrates her perversity.
The tension between the two protagonists is maintained throughout the film, gradually turning to desperate longing. We expect an explosion at any time, a conflagration that will finally burn away the falseness of Diane's old life. Nevertheless, their inevitable coupling near the end of the film seems anti-climatic. The real climax is the terribly intimate and prolonged scene in which Diane shaves Lionel's entire body. Slowly we see the man emerge from within the beast. When he stands naked before her, bloodied by slips of the razor, I almost expected Diane to reject him as too normal. However, kinkiness is more than skin (or fur) deep.
Both Kidman and Downey provide quiet, nuanced performances that are completely believable. The imagery in the film mirrors Diane's skewed perspectives, showing us that the rich patrons of the photo studio and the precisely-groomed fashion models are every bit as grotesque as Lionel's freak show friends. The allusions to Lewis Carroll's irrational dream-worlds are obvious but apt.
I found this a disturbing and arousing film. For days after I saw it, I couldn't get it out of my mind. It found its way into my dreams. Weeks later, I was still feeling the echoes of excitement, still recalling erotic images, noticing artful details and metaphoric parallels.
I think that my reaction to this movie was a bit unusual. It has a relatively low rating on IMDB. I sent a copy to my Master, and even he didn't really "get" why the film had such an impact on me. But then, he's not the submissive one in our relationship.
If you haven't seen "Fur" - well, let this serve as a recommendation. If you have, I'd love to know what you think. Does anyone else find it as arousing as I did? Or am I just a freak?