I’ve been a fan of Irvine Welsh’s work for a while. My favorite of his books was GLUE . . . until I found FILTH. This book didn’t just blow my mind, it raped it and left it full of its vile cum. To those of you who have read this book, you’ll know what I mean when I was disappointed to learn that it was going to be turned into a movie. It’s next to impossible to adapt the book. A good portion of it is narrated by the protagonist’s tapeworm, for fuck’s sake. I was even more disappointed when I learned that James McAvoy was going to be Bruce Robertson. I like McAvoy, but I didn’t think he could pull something like this off.
But you know . . . the idea of FILTH being a movie somewhere out there kind of appealed to me. The more I thought about it, the more I had to see it. I had to see if they could even come close to the book. Because the main character is an absolute cunt. Maybe “cunt” is too kind a word for him.
Not surprisingly, there was no big screen release in the
US. It’s purely
a Scottish movie. With a protagonist like Bruce? It would not have done well
here. But I’m very thankful that Irvine Welsh took it to the big screen at the
Music Box in Chicago
on June 20, 2014. You bet your ass I was there.
AND I LOVED THE MOVIE.
I was completely wrong about McAvoy. He put in the performance of his life. No one else could have done it.
To those who don’t know, Bruce Robertson is a cop who has a hard-on for a promotion in his department. There are rivals for the position, and he does his absolute best to torpedo them. He sets them up for disaster after disaster, and he manipulates them against one another, all in his attempt to move up in his career.
And why does he want to be a cop? A “friend,” Bladesy, asks him this very question. He answers “police oppression.” “You wanted to stamp it out from the inside?” his friend asks. “No, I wanted to be a part of it.”
Oh yes, and Bruce is making harassing phone calls to Bladesy’s wife, just so he can pretend to investigate it, all in the name of successfully having phone sex with her by tricking her into playing along with the perpetrator.
There is no level of depravity Bruce won’t fall to. He’s also fucking the wife of one of his rivals on the force, and he pretends to be the shoulder to cry on when the guy says he thinks the ol’ bird is cheating on him. Not to mention the underage girl he finds with an older boy. She’s the daughter of an important man, and he promises not to tell her father . . . if she sucks his dick.
Bruce fills his body with booze and drugs, and he exercises his every sexual whim, including masturbating at work. He hates everyone and sabotages them all. Look up “misanthrope” in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of him.
Except . . . he’s not all that bad. If he were, FILTH would be unwatchable. No one wants to watch some asshole shit all over everyone for an hour and a half. Like any fascinating, complex characters, he has reasons for being the way he is. In one pivotal scene, he tells a rival that he was once a good man. She tells him she’d heard that. And then, of course, he has to completely alienate her to drive away any moment of slight kindness.
There is the incident involving his brother in his youth. And then there is his family. Oh, his poor family. Those who read the book know what I’m getting at.
McAvoy understands the character down to his core. He becomes Bruce Robertson, not just the lunatic bastard, but also the broken man, the man who believes he is such utter filth that he needs to make sure the rest of the world understands this and never gives him a break. It’s very easy to think of the end of Robert Browning’s poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” when thinking of Bruce: “the last of me, a living frame/for one more picture!”
FILTH is a funny movie. Incredibly funny, even in moments where some people would be shocked. For example, earlier in the movie, a kid with a balloon gives Bruce the finger for no reason. So Bruce takes the balloon from the kid’s hand and lets it float away in the wind. Then, to cement the incident, he gives the kid the finger with both hands. No one would ever condone such behavior, but it’s fucking funny.
Another example: Bruce sets up a dick measuring contest at the workplace holiday party. All the guys go to the copier, scan it, and put it up on the board. The ladies then have to match the dick to the dude. When it’s Bruce’s turn, he hits the ENLARGE button over and over again, just so he can trick the office slut into letting him fuck her, which she does. She begs for his monster cock, and when he puts it in, there is a massively disappointed look on her face. Again, it’s a horrifying scene . . . yet incredibly funny.
But FILTH is also an incredibly sad movie. Bruce is deeply damaged, and he can’t help but take it out on the world. Bladesy, who confesses to Bruce that Bruce is his best friend, gets it the worst. They go on vacation together, and Bruce torments him the whole time. He drugs his drinks and sets him loose on the town, but when Bladesy’s trip turns bad, Bruce abandons him to save his own trip from going bad. In another scene, Bladesy gives him a Christmas gift of top-shelf Scotch. Bruce pretends that he’s going to share it; he pours himself a glass, and then in Bladesy’s glass, he pours some of the cheap shit he keeps around. In yet another scene, unprovoked, Bruce steals Bladesy’s glasses and breaks them before throwing them into the river.
It’s hard to empathize with Bruce. But somehow this movie pulls it off. By the end, you will feel very bad for Bruce. While he is indeed a misanthrope, he is also a walking tragedy. He is an unbalanced man, and he knows it. And he knows he can never be cured.
Those who have read the book will probably wonder how well director and co-screenwriter (with Welsh) Jon S. Baird handled certain integral parts of the book. In regards to the twist: Baird did wonderfully. He came up with an interesting cinematic way of taking care of it.
The tapeworm? Honestly, I liked the tapeworm in the book better. Baird went in another direction, but I respect what he did. I wouldn’t have been satisfied with anything anyone tried, but this was the best anyone could have done. The movie is sometimes interrupted by scenes with Bruce visiting a mad psychiatrist played by Jim Broadbent. There are paintings of tapeworms on his office walls, in case you didn’t figure out that he was supposed to represent the tapeworm. Broadbent goes over the top with his performance. One look in his eyes, and you’ll be convinced you’re in the presence of a psychotic.
The ending? It’s basically the same. The last line of the film makes it slightly different, but I don’t have a problem with it.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. I think it’s edged its way into my top ten favorites. When it comes out on DVD, I’ll be among the first to buy it. For those who can’t wait, you can rent it on Amazon for $6.99. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t advise anyone to pay that much for something you’re not going to own, but in this case, I would say it’s worth the money.
If you’re really lucky, though, the Music Box will have another screening. Don’t count on it, though.