Part love letter to New York and part exploration of the birth, sustenance and death of intimate relationships, Shortbus is replete with graphic, unsimulated scenes of all combinations: men, women, men and women, threesomes, group sex. But unlike pornography, there’s no voyeurism here: the camera doesn’t invite the viewer to feel part of the sex, even when characters are inviting fellow characters to join in with their rumpy-pumpy.
Instead, it is a passionate affirmation of everything that swapping bodily fluids stands for. The plot focuses on three couples’ relationships - one is forged, one is renewed, and one ends - and shows that a healthy relationship is always a triumvirate, involving one partner, the other partner, and everyone else on the planet. Close your relationship off from the world, whether sexually or in terms of friendship and new experiences, and it will suffocate you.
A metaphor which is also applied to the city: a charming, elderly Mayor of New York (Alan Mandell), intones that ‘New Yorkers are permeable’ and sane, and that those who attack them are impermeable and insane. The film’s only niggle is that everyone else is young and beautiful. Would director John Cameron Mitchell’s message have felt so embracing if this wasn’t so? Either way, the message itself is absolutely correct.