As fans of the fabulous and sensational musical-drama debut Hedwig and the Angry Inch will remember, director John Cameron Mitchell is an artist who loves to be fresh, controversial and pushing the limits. As expected, his new film Shortbus, which features probably the most explicit sex scenes of contemporary American cinema, is no doubt one of the most controversial movies of 2006. It should be clarified immediately that there is a lot more to this faux-cinema verité, pornographic slice of urban life than meets the eye. In Shortbus, through mixing documentary style with animation, with a largely improvised script and sweetly harmonious soundtrack, pristinely beautiful sets and props, director John Cameron Mitchell tells a vibrant and one-of-a-kind fairy tale about sex.
This multi-protagonist movie takes us deep into the lives of a few young New Yorkers, who frequent a wild and almost magical-reliast sex-club named "Shortbus." As we get to know these eccentric protagonists and become voyeurs to their lives, they all seem to be desperately lacking a profound connection with another person, and try to replace this lack with polymorphous coupling, sex toys that brings mind The Willy Wonka products, and some wildly imaginative role-playing. Yet, more interestingly and also shockingly, these characters, who seem to be extra-comfortable with their sexuality, are also constantly repressing many of their sexual desires and fantasies. Throughout the movie, each of the characters go through their own inner odyssey in order to face what they have been bottling sexually and emotionally, before they become bottled and consumed by these very same fears. This detail becomes more visible and ironic considering the sexually explicit content and the graphic nature of the movie. Perhaps director Mitchell uses these sexually explicit scenes, which inevitably contrast with the surprisingly conservative sexual psyche of the characters, to subtly highlight to us the crushing complexities of sex that could prison, as well as, freed us.
In so many ways, Shortbus is the perfect and most timely commentary on the unrestrained and decadent times that we live in, where concepts like "soul-mates" or "monogamy" are slowly turning into childish myths, while sex is turning more and more into just a mundane and common need. No longer we have to wait even for a minute to have sex; just like any other commodity, sex is easily and quickly obtainable in any part of the Metropolis. This is the new urban world, where choosing our sex partners is nothing more extra-ordinary than choosing our clothes or iPods. And, this is precisely the world that Shortbus reflects with its every detail, dilemma, pleasure and misery.
Due to its controversial subject matter and its explicit depiction of sexuality, Shortbus is definitely not everyone 's cup of te. However, for those of us, who can see behind the certain conventional barriers and moral codes of the society, Shortbus is a great cinematic and sociological achievement that most succinctly captures the wild and confusing lives of the urban singles, while raising a bus load of new questions and dilemmas through which to see their lives.