Filth is perhaps best described as an assault. It’s viciously funny and disturbingly dark, all set in a bleak and seedy Scotland. Almost every single character in the film is wildly depraved, but our main protagonist, Bruce, portrayed flawlessly by James McAvoy, is perhaps the most degenerate and perverse character to appear in film over the past few years. Ruthlessly pursuing a promotion in his job within the police, he connives, plots, plans, screws over and systematically bullies everyone in his life and those who should have the misfortune of crossing his stumbling, frenetic path. When he’s not coked up to his eyeballs, he’s either making lewd phone calls to his “best” friend’s wife or involved in a sexually abusive relationship with the wife of a colleague, who also happens to enjoy auto-erotic asphyxiation. The severity of Bruce’s lifestyle is underpinned by a troubled and tragic past, which we see in miniscule detail, primarily through drug induced hazy flashbacks and a rampantly wild mental health disorder which seemingly rips Bruce in half. Moments of fleeting compassion are obliterated by foul-mouthed aggression driven acts of inhumanity.
Filth is not for the faint-hearted. Whilst the 18-rated content is perhaps very different to other mainstream films, it’s dark. It’s not titillating, or pleasant. It’s morbidly repulsive. The moments of comedy in Filth, are hilarious, but all have their roots in a darker part of the story. If you’ve seen Trainspotting, another Irvine Welsh novel/Danny Boyle film, think of that, but instead of finishing on a hopeful montage sequence of Born Slippy, replace it with despair and hopelessness. It’s the blackest of black comedy. And will not translate to most global audiences. It’s an extravagance of deadpan UK humour mixed with utter misery, which I think is something done so well by UK filmmakers. Just take Shane Meadows and This is England. Filth isn’t shy about finding humour in depravity, (the penis photocopying game anyone?) and I’m probably revealing too much about myself here, but I was in stitches. Especially during the scenes in Hamburg (I’m hoping my memory hasn’t failed me here) with Bruce and his “best” friend Clive (portrayed superbly by Eddie Marsan).
Notably the plot has specifically been designed to reflect our protagonist. It’s clear that he’s totally unreliable when looking back through his past, and why he is the way he is. We never get a full picture of what happened between him and his wife, although it’s made clear that she’s left him for another man, although the reasons behind this remain unknown. This is juxtaposed against the innocence of a casually recurring character, the wife of a man who died despite Bruce’s attempts at CPR. She is both a reflection of a clearly unbearable past and unattainable future. And the ending, which I wont spoil, leaves audiences wondering if Bruce could have ever achieved redemption, if he ever was interested in doing so. What we witness is the total breakdown of the human soul and disintegration of the mind, even the sequences with Bruce’s psychiatrist (Jim Broadbent) are rooted in madness.
I’m probably being biased, but every element of Filth is superb. The casting is totally spot on, James McAvoy, somewhat a treasure to us Brits, is entirely convincing and fills out the role with magnificent passion, and even though he is probably one of the most unlikable characters in cinema, you also feel sorry for him, his depravity, his perverse joy in experiencing pain of others, all have rooting in a wretched existence. His performance is complex and rich, we pretty much see every human experience on-screen and James McAvoy nails every aspect of it. The bleakness of the environment and landscape, very reminiscent of Trainspotting is displayed and paraded as an inherently UK badge of pride. Scotland is a very unique place, with a unique sense of humour and outlook on life, and the script writers along with Irvine Welsh, the author of the base material, capture this uniqueness effortlessly within the first minute of the film.
Filth is intrinsically capsulized. It’s not supposed to teach us a lesson, it’s not supposed to preach a viewpoint, right or wrong, the assumption is, that hopefully most of the audience realise that what we are seeing is wrong. What we are supposed to get from it, is that actually misery perhaps makes the most interesting stories. Most of us will (again hopefully) never experience anything from Bruce’s existence, but that doesn’t stop us being interested. Most stories in the entertainment media focus on breakdowns, miserable life events and scandal (Britney Spears anyone?) and Filth appeals in the very same way. That outsider voyeur perspective of interest in the depravity of others. And this is perhaps why Filth stands out. It’s utterly compelling, downright miserable but engaging and well written, glimpses of humour keep us from becoming clinically depressed upon leaving the theatre. It’s not for everyone, and I’m surprised that it even got released overseas (I’d like to know what anyone who doesn’t hear a Scottish accent on a regular basis thought of it?) but I thoroughly recommend it. It’s a stand-out piece of British cinema with an absolutely stunning UK cast, with its roots in popular literature which no one wants to admit they enjoy, but secretly, we do.
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