Raw. Overwhelming. Exposed. Hot. Emotionally messy. I'm describing the much lauded, controversial, and groundbreaking film Shortbus from John Cameron Mitchell, but I’m also telling you how I feel in this moment having just watched it for the first time. My friends have been telling me to see this film since its theatrical release in October 2006. I put it off because, honestly, watching people have sex, particularly graphic sex, while there are other people around makes me uncomfortable. I couldn’t even watch it with my partner because, like most people, we have our own sex issues, and I wasn’t trying to feel self-conscious on my first go-around with this film. Shortbus really hit me… like in a life-changing kind of way, but one where I know won’t understand how my life will really be affected for several years because, like most life changes, it’s a process. For now, I’m just trying to figure out the day to day… aren’t you?
Shortbus explores some deep emotional truths about the complexity of sexuality. It’s a film with a decent amount of explicit sex, but it’s not simply about sex itself. It’s about the people who are having the sex and all of the beautiful and fucked up parts of their fractured selves trying so desperately to just be able to feel something. It speaks to the insecurities and half-truths and full out lies that we all bring to relationships, sexual or otherwise. It reminds us that we are fragile and that our fragility is what makes us amazing and worthy of love and capable of loving others.
What impressed me even more was that the film was made as a collaborative process between the actors and the director, each contributing pieces of their real selves and working together to create whole, multifaceted characters and storylines. The trust needed in doing this is enormous and is certainly conveyed onscreen. Nontraditional in so many senses, Shortbus makes me feel less alone and less self-conscious about my own flaws. It gives me hope for the future… of the film industry and of human sexuality. Oh, and I convinced my partner to watch it with me again the very next day. We all gotta start somewhere, right?