The Book of Revelation is an Australian film from 2006, directed by Ana Kokkinos, who also directed Head On in 1998. Head On is an amazingly energetic film, and an adaptation of one of my favourite books, Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas. I’d heard very little about the film before seeing it, but I had seen the poster for it – as pictured in this review. Now that piqued my morbid curiosity. I’ve owned it for years, but it’s time for a write up.
First off, this film has nothing to do with that most badass of Bible books. Or perhaps it does, but through no link that I can see, and if there is one, it’s very subtextual. Also, it’s based on a novel I haven’t read – I know the setting in the novel is not Australia, but beyond that I have no point of comparison.
Daniel and Bridget are dancers at a prestigious company, and are well loved by their adoring public. Isabel, who is established as a somewhat maternal figure for Daniel, directs the show with a tender but iron fist. We first see them in rehearsal, and while it looks like an acrobatic and admittedly exciting show, it also seems like the film is being set up as a pretentious analysis of life through the window of dancing – don’t worry, it’s not.
On a break, Daniel gives a non-Bridgetesque dancer a massage when she complains of hurting her feet. Bridget sees this, and sends him out on an errand, nominally to get her some cigarettes but obviously to get him away from the other dancer. He doesn’t return from this errand.
12 days after his disappearance, he is thrown out of the back of a van. He is clearly traumatised, but won’t open up to anyone in the company, nor the policeman Isabel asked to try and find him. He does manage to stammer out “there were three women” to Bridget before clamping up again.
In flashback, we see that three women in masks and robes abducted Daniel. They kept him chained in a warehouse, where they proceeded to torment him sexually, before upping the ante and outright raping him. These scenes take up the second act of the film, and are hard to watch, although bravely performed by all four actors.
Daniel and Bridget break up, he moves into an apartment above a bar, and begins a months-long journey of sexual encounters, hoping to find the women who abducted him. Along the way, he meets Julie, an Aboriginal girl who is automatically ruled out as a suspect as his abductors were all of them Caucasian. The two start a romance, Daniel even going so far to introduce her to Isabel, who is now dying of cancer.
It unravels one night when Julie and Daniel are at a club. He sees a woman at the bar, and knows it to be one of his captors (the leader, in fact) and follows her into the toilets where he assaults her – only to realise too late that she’s completely innocent. He tries to run, but is captured by some patrons of the bar, arrested and thrown in a holding cell. Through the window of his cell, he watches as Julie is told what he did, then watches as she leaves, distraught and guaranteed to not speak to him again. Mark, Isabel’s cop friend comes to speak to him, and the movie ends as he is finally about to open up to what happened to him.
I greatly admire this film, but it certainly has its flaws. The marketing for the film misrepresents it by putting focus on the rapes in the second act. It’s not an exploitative film, nor is it a thriller, as you might believe (although it does have elements of a thriller at times). It’s more a gentle drama, looking at the way rape affects not only the victim, but the people they’re connected to. It’s also a very refreshing film in that it deals with the rarely spoken of topic of male rape victims to female rapists, without ever reducing itself to soap-boxing.
However, it falls prey to the beast that attacks many Australian dramas, where silence and slowness equal meaning. The pacing in the film is not tight, and it often makes the film feel like it’s dragging. As such, the performances also fall victim to this. All the actors are wonderful (Deborah Mailman as Julie being the standout, but that woman has a light inside her that cannot be kept from shining – she’s always a joy to watch) but in being forced to offer their dialogue softly, slowly and significantly, and the fact that the dialogue is holding back so much that would be naturally said in such situations, it makes the performances seem oddly construed. They’re still good, just, a bit flat from what could have been done.
However, it is a bold movie, and despite its flaws, is well worth seeing. Technically, it’s superb. The cinematography is vivid, the score is supreme and the sound design is understated but impressive. It’s certainly an esoteric film, but worth a watch if you’re after something thought provoking. See it with some friends – you’ll have a lot of stuff to talk about.
It’s very rare for a film to portray men getting raped by women. It’s rarer still for such rapes to be played seriously. Here, it’s portrayed, as it should be – as equally traumatic for a victim of any sexual assault regardless of their gender. However, it also acknowledges the double standard, and without being too harsh, attacks that way of thinking.
I can only think of two other examples where it’s examined seriously (the film Disclosure, and an episode of Law and Order SVU), but consider the countless thousands of times where you’ve seen it played for laughs in comedies. The worst I can think of is 40 Days and 40 Nights where Josh Hartnett’s character is raped by his ex-girlfriend, is seen by his current girlfriend and has to apologise for being raped to her at the film’s end. The film doesn’t want you to bat an eyelid at this, but imagine if the genders were reversed – a girl being raped by her ex-boyfriend and then having to apologise to her current boyfriend for it? It’s unthinkable. While there a few depictions of men being traumatised by unconsensual sex with a woman, for the most part, it’s either assumed that it’s hilarious to watch a woman overpower a man, or more depressingly, that the man is the luckiest guy in the world for getting a free ride.
It’s to the film’s strength that Daniel doesn’t reveal what happened to anyone. It prevents the film from resorting to the discussion of “is this really rape?” that comes up in those rare cases, but it also helps really drive home his isolation. He’s traumatised, no one knows why, and while I hate that the “Rape is ok when it’s female on male” trope is so often played straight in film, it’s prevalence in our culture means that most of the characters simply don’t understand what’s made him this way.
Where the film wavers slightly in its treatment of Daniel’s rape is how Bridget reacts to it. Through the few things she can garner from him, Bridget believes Daniel is having an affair, and confuses his trauma with guilt. The film, centred on Daniel, makes Bridget out to be a cold and aloof woman, and insensitive to his distress, whether or not it was intentional to do so. She disappears from the film once they break up, and it comes off as though she was merely being a cruel bitch to him. It would have been nice to see her at least get to voice her frustrations at the situation with someone else, because as it happens, it has shades of more abuse towards Daniel – abandoned by the woman he calls his partner.
Now an interesting thing – Anna Torv (a few years before Fringe) plays both Bridget and one of the rapists. Ana Kokkinos insists this should not be read as Bridget having been one of the rapists, but that she was simply the best actress for the role. I think the film actually takes on a whole other dynamic if you consider the possibility that Bridget was one of the attackers. The scenes that Bridget and Daniel share together show an obvious dissatisfaction in the relationship, and it brings in interesting questions about the male-female power plays in the film if she is exacting some revenge for her dissatisfaction.
It also makes the already-volatile gender balances in the film all that more powerful. There’s a key scene in the second act where the three women demand that Daniel masturbate for them. They get the nicest of the rapists (it makes sense in context – see the film) to strip naked except for her mask and masturbate in front of him to get him going. Daniel begrudgingly complies, but as he comes close to ejaculating, delivers a kicker of a line to them, revealing that it doesn’t matter how beautiful a woman is, when a man closes his eyes and cums, he’s only thinking about himself. Agree with this statement or not, it’s fantastically defiant for this man who’s been stripped of all traditional masculine power to withhold the one thing he can from these women – their own attractiveness. It certainly shames the naked rapist and she covers herself.
There’s one scene where Daniel tries to report his assault using the “I have a friend…” technique. He describes that “his friend” was abducted by three women, and the policemen he’s reporting to reply with “lucky bastard” before starting to laugh. A clearly shattered Daniel ends up laughing alongside them, and when he starts laughing it’s heartbreaking.
It’s the scenes like this that interest me, not at all for the content but for the subtext. This film is about as close as I could come to finding an example of “masculinist” cinema – if you take all the traditional literary feminist points of view on the treatment of women in film and reverse them, you’d have this film. It’s interesting to me that at the end of the film, the only way Daniel can regain any sense of himself is to act violently towards the woman he thinks was one of his rapists – violence being socially-default as a male compulsion – but it utterly fails in every way. It’s interesting that the film shows us the audience how traumatic Daniel’s experience has been, but in-universe it’s ignored.
There’s so much more I could waffle on about with this film, but it’s a film that deserves to be seen and judged by other people. It’s a very tender film, despite having some incredibly confronting material, and although it’s hardly the happiest film on the planet, it’s a very rewarding watch.