Director Ana Kokkinos must have a thing for strong male characters facing a crisis. The theme of 1998’s Head On is identity and lead actor Alex Dimitriades, a second generation Greek immigrant, struggles with his nationality, sexuality and life purpose.
In 2006’s The Book of Revelation, shown on Saturday night at MIFF, Tom Long (Sea Change, The Dish) copes with putting his life back together after being sexually abused.
The opening scene of The Book of Revelation is that of Tom Long’s character, Daniel, walking serenely, confidently and not a little arrogantly toward his warm up place in the dance hall, in the last practice before that night’s opening of their ballet, of which he and his girlfriend, are leads. Dance director, Isobel (Greta Scacchi) says of Daniel, “I chose you to be the lead.” We know by his look, by his movement, by his demeanor that he is the alpha male : at the peak of his art, sexuality and company. As a portent of things to come, Isobel tells Daniel at the end of that practice, “I want you to dance it with less ego.”
Daniel goes in search of cigarettes and in a back alley, in the middle of the day, is abducted by three hooded women. He is not seen or heard of again for 12 days. When he is thrown from the back of a van into a vacant block, far from the city, Kokkinos laces the premise with some gentle humour. What would be the first thing a typical man would do after being kidnapped for 12 days ? He buys a beer of course.
The fact that Daniel has been kidnapped, chained and sexually abused is not actually the point of the film even though it sets the stage, provides a lot of the action and will no doubt generate most of the discussion. The message of the film, as stated above, is how does someone deal with abuse ?
The fact that it is a man being abused by women is done only to highlight the message rather than it being a likely or possible scenario per se. It forces us to consider how we would react were it us or how we would relate to someone to whom it has happened. Is abuse, in any form, acceptable ? Is a man somehow complicit in the abuse if he has an erection ?
Daniel, post event, is unable and unwilling to enunciate what has happened. He tries to make a statement to the police but the blokey aspect of what happened makes it impossible to explain with appropriate gravity. He loses his confidence and sense of self and is unable to resume his dancing. He is told to “get over it” and is actually blamed for having run away and evading his responsibilities. He pursues women whom he thinks might have been perpetrators, trying to locate tattoos or birthmarks that will link these women with the ones behind the cloaks.
He meets a woman, Julie, on a train who is kind to him, played by Deborah Mailman. The fact that she is aboriginal is deliberate I think because it is clear that she could not possibly have been one of three captors who were indisputably white. I have always thought Mailman is a great actor but never, I confess, found her to be particularly beautiful. In this role at this time however she radiates for the short time she has on screen. She has such a vivacious face and joyous spirit that I am sure that when this is contrasted with the hidden faces of the selfish manipulators, she is as welcome to us as she is to Daniel.
While Daniel’s relationship with Julie reinvigorates him for a time even to the extent of inspiring him back into the dance studio, it can only buoy him for so long. Unless the trauma of his recent past is dealt with then it will gnaw at him always. While at a club with Julie he sees a woman that could be the leader of the trio of abusers. He attacks her in a bid to uncover her identity. She turns out not to have been one of the three. He is locked in a police room, a cop who has become a mate sits by his side and asks him to tell his story “from the beginning.” The last scene, in contrast to the first, is a man about to begin his life again. A man for whom a life changing event has occurred who is broken and ashamed. His clothes are torn and his hair matted with blood. We’ve been on quite a journey during this film.