Somewhere in a dystopian version of Germany, there exists a “girl’s school” where various women from across the country have tons of sex, watch gay porn and take classes in theory. No, this isn’t the logline for an arthouse Bangbros scene. Rather, it’s the opening salvos to Bruce LaBruce’s 2017 attack on sensibilities of any kind, The Misandrists.
In a word, the film is explicit. If Lars von Trier and Gaspar Noé wanted to have a drink with a pal, Bruce LaBruce would be on speed dial. LaBruce’s work in this film is wholly obsessed with a kind of intimacy that is, ironically, distancing because of its adherence to a Hellraiser-esque pursuit of untethered sadist sensuality.
At the outset of The Misandrists, two women happen upon a wounded male “criminal”—Volker (Till Schindler)— who spouts off anti-capitalist rhetoric in between pained breaths. Men are strictly forbidden on the grounds of the FLA (Feminist Liberation Army), but one of the women, Isolde (Kita Updike), sees value in the young man’s thoughts. So she hides him away in the school basement, hoping to heal him without being discovered. Meanwhile, the rest of the women work on their master plan: they create a thoroughly *feminist* porno that will convert the masses to a life spent deconstructing a violent patriarchy. Because “the opposite of war is…f*****g.” Word to Prince Robot IV of the comic, Saga.
“…create a thoroughly *feminist* porno to convert the masses to a life spent deconstructing a violent patriarchy.”
However, all is not as it seems here; there are secrets within secrets. All the women of the FLA owe their lives to headmistress and guerilla leader Big Mother (Susanne Sachße), who has saved them from the clutches of violent patriarchal events—molest-y family members, prostitution enabled by poverty, and various other terrible things that men helped enact. In spite of this, Isolde still has a secret past and no one truly knows it. Which, is probably for the best because when her secret is found out, things get TERF-y.
TERFs, or Trans-Exclusive-Radical-Feminists, are an essentialist wing of the feminist spectrum whose politics are shaped by a zealous and dogmatic distinction between genders by those who have vaginas and those who don’t. As a result, they’re a bane to inclusive feminist lanes of thought and rhetorically—and one could argue literally—violent towards people who don’t fit a strict gender binary between “male” and “female.”
Isolde’s outing—which involved one of her sistren watch her get a b*****b from Volker, in order to “reconcile his politics with his actions”—is painful and unravels a messy narrative path for the rest of the film. Despite Sister Dagmar (Viva Ruiz) admitting to being “two-spirit as well,” Isolde’s sisters-in-arms turn on her: they demand Volker undergo a brutal feminization via castration, so that he may truly “join the cause.” In turn, Isolde shares his fate, in order to fully align with Big Mother’s criminally essentialist beliefs.
This is…messy at best. And at its worst, it’s grossly irresponsible. For, in true LaBruce fashion, we are presented with footage of a penis removal following these mandates. It’s brutal and goes off the deep end in a way that shows the writer-director is interested in pushing buttons simply because he can. Moreover, this rhetoric is irresponsible because there’s no real opposition: the two mutilated FLA recruits continue with the crusade, with a properly ‘feminine’ Volker—donning a wig and makeup to match— appearing at the end of the film during a theater takeover.
“…in a way that shows the writer-director is interested in pushing buttons simply because he can…”
Without sinking into an overwrought discussion here: LaBruce’s rhetorical aims are so dangerously opaque. Is the film simply an attack on TERF-y movements? Or is it a rallying call against patriarchal standards? What’s the point of the brutality?
The only conclusions I can come to are that LaBruce is most interested in making a snuff film that is not about killing people, but boundaries, in order to shock to the fullest extent. Which, I suppose is a right. But what is the impact and what purposes would such a thing serve? In watching The Misandrists, you’ll be at a loss for answers, for it pushes the limits of discussion to the point that it’s rhetorically—and visually—caustic. And whatever perceived balance in hyper-pornographic imagery—between extended takes of male gay porn involving some impressive backdoor plugging, and, soft-focus, almost untethered cutaways to naked women pillow fighting—is simply a school of red herrings.
The film can feign to have a higher motive, like elevating your understanding of trans-identity, the effects of misogyny, and the need to treat women as human beings no matter who they are. But when you consider there’s more shock than substance and step back from the experience, The Misandrists reveals itself to be a dread carnival where discussions of gender and bodily autonomy are corrupted and contorted solely for the ringmaster’s own enjoyment.
The Misandrists (2018) Written and directed by Bruce LaBruce. Starring Kita Updike.
Rating: 2 out of 5 days of heavy drinking to forget this experience.