Filth Jon S Baird (2013 Scot Ger Swe ) James McAvoy
Viewed Empire Cinema newcastle upon Tyne 17 Oct 13 ticket: £6.40
Now here's a funny thing: when I left the cinema after seeing Filth, protagonist Bruce Robertson's catch phrase: Same rules apply - kept on ringing about in my head. Whenever Robertson did the dirty on some poor sap who crossed his path, he would quip: 'Same rules apply' Although I didn't quite get it at first, the phrase got me thinking about Rules which I presume is what both Director Jon Baird and writer Irvine Welsh, who wrote the novel, intended.
The opening sequences of Filth introduce two locations : the bedroom and the police station, settings which provide much of the film's action. Bottoms up and bottoms down you might say; sex and power lie at the heart of the film's concern. In the opening sequence of Filth we see a sexy woman provocatively dressing and talking about power being the ultimate turn on and how she keeps hold of her policeman husband by playing the tease. The scene providies a significant cue that sex as a power tool would play hard ball in this scenario.
The second sequence of shots introduces the protagonist Bruce Robertson of the Edinburgh CID as, during a breifing for a murder case, he leeringly appraises and evaluates his rivals for promotion.
In the screen tradition of Touch of Evil, LA Confidential and Joe Orton's Loot, I had thought that Filth would feature police corruption in its narrative. But in the same way that at a given level Welsh's Trainspotting is not about drug dealing, so Filth is not about police corruption. It's not even about the police. Although its key setting might be the Edinburgh CID, this is not central to the situation that Baird set ups and develops. The plot hinges on the manipulations and gambits made by Bruce Robertson in his attempt to secure promotion to the rank of Detective Inspector. As a promotion competition the plot could be set inside any corporate body: Amazon, BA Systems, Ford or some large Council.
Filth is grounded not so much in particiulars as in universals. Same rules apply. Filth is not concerned with the particular relations and practices engendered by the police in their role as the interface between Society and the Law. Filth's focus of concern is raw competition; the battle between men for scare resources: the battle for Promotion. An indivisible prize only one man or woman can win.
In Filth. Baird probes the state of our society in a manner that might be philisophically grounded in the writings of Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century political philosopher. Although Hobbes was writing to justify the state, his ideas can be transposed to any level of catastrophic social disintegration. In the 20th and 21st centuries Welsh and Baird realise that it is the break down at the micro level of social ordering which is leading to chaotic social conditions. The disappearance of collective institutions, with their values and structures, in the face of attack by sociopathic individualism. A collapsed social situation that is well summed up by Hobbes: “it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man.” The moral consequences of this break down of social order provides the framework for Filth. In vacuum caused by break down of the moral order, the sociopath fills the gap. In persuit of promotion Bruce Robertson is at war with everyone, and as war has become the default state: same rules apply.
As is the case in the bedroom where sex is persued both as a war strategy and as a basis of personal identity. With sex and power linked, sexual relations also become located within the chaotic conditions of the war of all against all and become the centre of a dysfunctional self identity. Like drugs sex can be both adictive and subject to what Bill Boroughs calls the bitch of tolerance: you always need more of a substance to get the same effect.
As Filth develops Bruce needs more sex. Detached from feeling, his power play sex becomes an increasingly isolated masturbatory ritual . Sex drives Bruce into a kind of blindness, a black hole through which light neither enters nor leaves.
As constructed by Baird and Welsh Filth is a dystopian fable grounded in the breakdown of the micro order. interesting that at the beginning of the film the audience were laughing at the slightest sugestion of a smutty joke or risque reference; at the end of the movie, there was not much laughter. Hobbes is worth quoting again as he summerises human life in relation to the conditions of the war of all against all: (quote) ' in this condition the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.' Which is a accurate desciption how Baird and Welsh have mapped the moral career of Bruce Robertson.
So: Same rules apply…what does it mean? It's telling you there are 'no rules'. So watch out.