Yesterday PJ and I drove up to Columbus to see Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell’s new movie. A couple of my favorite undergraduates had mentioned that they were going to go see it, and we were going to meet them there and watch it together. PJ and I ended up going earlier than I had thought we would (so we could also get in a little shopping), and so we didn’t end up seeing them there. But I owe them for spurring us to drive up yesterday, because Shortbus is a wonderful film.

Scene from ShortbusThe plot of the film revolves around a group of characters who are all emotionally wounded and who live rather hollow lives: a “couple’s counselor” who’s never had an orgasm, her husband who can’t tell her that he needs to be spanked (and spanked hard), a dominatrix who can’t step outside this role, a gay man who’s nearly debilitated by depression, his shallow boyfriend of five years who desperately needs to “love everybody,” and a younger generation of gay men who obsess so much over what they think is this couple’s perfect relationship that they aren’t able to create relationships of their own.

While the film is getting a lot of press for its sexual explicitness (and it is sexually explicit!), the key word here is “relationships.” The sex in the film is a metaphor for the characters’ failed attempts at connecting with one another. The therapist who’s never achieved orgasm also can’t talk to her husband about sex or their relationship without the safety of psychobabble covering over all of their real feelings and frustrations. The gay couple invites a younger man to join them for a threesome but this serves the same function as the straight couple’s comic scene of “safe” language (though the awkwardness of the three men getting to know one another as they wait to start the sex is touching and it is in the combination of these awkward moments and the subsequent sex, which is bizarrely hilarious, that the characters begin to find what they’re looking for).