Movie Doubles – ‘Bruno’ & ‘Assassination Of A High School President’

Oh Boy

I have no idea how I’m going to make connections between these 2 films because they couldn’t be further apart in style, content, and intent/conceit. Bruno is like a 90minute Homo-Fest as Sacha Baron Cohen allows his gay Austrian fashionista alter-ego to run absolutely wild. The ‘Assassination of a High School President’ (AHSP from here) is a film-noir narrative transported into a private high school setting.

The only reason these 2 films are being compared is because I watched them back to back. It made for an interesting viewing experience but I don’t particularly recommend you mix these two films for an afternoon’s viewing.

The Body As Capital

The first thing that pops into my mind is just how much nudity and exposure there is in both films. This is perhaps by accident but it allows us to at least make one connection between these 2 disparate films. In ‘Bruno’, Bruno’s body is endlessly displayed as an object for adoration by the Bruno character because he believes through his insane narcissism that his body is entitled to celebrity stardom. To this end we are subjected to such scenes as when he goes to a beauty parlor in LA to have his “anus bleached”. In the scene where he is “negotiating” a peace settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian academic, but he also gets them to extend a hand towards one another, and then has them touch him. The body is thus an important piece of working capital for Bruno, through which he ultimately achieves his desired goal of global fame.

AHSP is surprisingly interested in the same idea as well, for the character Paul who is the school president that gets metaphorically assassinated is a sport scholarship type, looking to get to the Ivy League. For him, the body is the means by which he well get what he wants. Similarly, Francesca played by Mischa Barton is willing to sleep with anybody to get what she wants, although it’s not clear what it is that she is after. The whole school is in a sense hooked into a market place of bodies, and so the bullies and delinquents are equally interested in exchanges that take place with the body. The bullies want to sell drugs that enhance academic performance, the delinquents are constantly willing to sabotage their bodies in order not to participate in the school.

Whither The Family

AHSP is in some ways very similar to ‘Brick‘, another film-noir story set in a high school. While ‘Brick’ had the novel pretension of having dialogue like a Dashiel Hammett novel, AHSP has no such pretensions. It is happy to simply work through the cliched voice-over stylings of a run of the mill film-noir story. In both films adults are conspicuously absent and the adults who are in the narrative are either disinterested or unaware. In AHSP Bruce Willis stands in as the ubiquitous adult authority, but he seems very misguided and deranged thanks to his endless patter about his war experiences and obsession with trivial issues such as chewing gum.

As such, AHSP has no shot at a narrative about the formation of a family. This is actually quite liberating for the text because what then happens is far less restricted by that myth in American cinema. In fact it works to deconstruct a very artificial family in which Francesca lives with a step brother her own age – and it is the image of them making love in a bath tub that turns the film around. By positing that there is something a little wrong going on in the artificial families in the post-divorce era second marriages is possibly more ideological resistance than at first glance.

Because wrongness is exactly where Bruno goes. In Bruno, there is a powerful impulse to literally shove gay culture into every corner of accepted discourse just to see what happens. You can imagine the moral outrage when earlier Bruno presents the black baby to a predominantly African-American crowd claiming he swapped the baby for an iPod in Africa. He even visits a Swingers Party and tries to turn them gay to which a Swinger responds “I didn’t come here for some queer shit. I came here to fuck”. Which is significant because again we see these swinging couples as coming out of families, so in a sense the family is where heterosexual normalcy is anchored. But what if heterosexuality alone isn’t normal enough? The ensuing chaos at the Swingers Party tells us that there is indeed lots of likely problems in any family.

Bruno’s project culminates in a gay marriage ceremony where a state celebrant refuses to celebrate, and the adoption of a black baby for the newly formed family. So on the surface ‘Bruno’ is playing up to the American ideology, but ultimately this questions the bedrock assumptions about family in American cinema.

Fear Of Anal Insertion

The fear is palpable through out Bruno. Everybody who comes across Bruno fears the great moral taboo of anal insertion. It’s all to do with this anxiety and taboo. The martial arts instructor who teaches Bruno how to defend himself from attacks by not just 1 dildo, but 2 and 3; the hunters who go camping with Bruno; the crowd at the wrestling who cheer him on for the chorus of “straight pride”; the focus group participants; the head of the Arab terror cell;  basically, everybody he comes across is afraid of anal insertion. I am too, watching it. The great taboo of homosexuality gets exposed over and over again, but unlike with Borat who went and exposed anti-semitism, Bruno is (pardon the pun) getting at something a lot more fundamental to our civilization. People can consciously stop being anti-semitic. it’s questionable if people will get over their abjection to homosexuality as readily. It’s one thing to out people, it’s another to hit them about with gayness until they become tolerant.

In fact we – the heterosexual stupid in ‘Bruno’ – spend most of our lives laughing at politically incorrect jokes to do with anal insertion of objects and body parts. The taboo is strong, otherwise ‘Bruno’ wouldn’t be so funny.  While ‘Bruno’ offers a weird spectacle of a good, uncomfortable laugh at the expense of ‘the sexually normal’ (whatever that is when you see the swingers club you think “whoah they’re nuts!”). ‘AHSP’ lives under the constant terror of the taboo being crossed. This in no way is accidental as it is set in a Catholic high school. Judging from AHSP, there is no such fear of vaginal insertion, but fear of anal insertion is a proper fear to have. The girls are not in fear of the penis. Men are in fear of other penises. The Spanish teacher priest who is inexplicably in the students’ shower raises questions of the same moral/mortal fear. The threat is actually a lot closer.

I’m sure a gay critic or gender critic would have a better explanation of all this, but what I think is significant is that with these two films we see our society coming to terms with the fact that gay people exist and do as they do, and so do Catholic priests looking after young children.

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Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

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