Cinematic Masculinity and Self-Sabotaging Performance in Filth

A Video-Essay by Amira Mitchell

The tropes and characteristics of the anti-hero are so ingrained within the history of Classical Hollywood (rooted within the Western and Film Noir genre), that whether unconsciously or not, audiences have become accustomed to falling for the morally ambiguous man. In fact with multi-million dollar franchises such as The Fast and the Furious about to release its eighth instalment, it is undeniable that the tradition is very much still alive. However what drew me to investigate Filth in particular is how the film confronts a unique brand of anti-hero taken a couple steps further; and how the film manages to humanise a completely unredeemable man. The film follows James McAvoy as a corrupt policeman navigating the force by doing anything but solving the savage murder of a young man. In many ways Bruce conforms to the anti-heroic persona, however this video-essay will explore the moments where he does not and how they effect interpretations of the film retrospectively. By showing Bruce Robertson committing inexcusable crimes such as statutory rape as a part of our introduction to him, right at the beginning of the film, Jon S. Baird (director/co-writer) forces a critical and arguably unsympathetic engagement with him. It is through this distanced and de-romanticised representation of Bruce that brings to light themes of masculinity and the corruption of its representations. It would be impossible to ignore the disparities between the ‘perfect husband’ his wife Carole describes at the start, to the reality we see before us.

From interviews, it is clear that cast and crew have aimed to make a film that will shock and divide audiences, but for more philosophical reasons than it may at first seem. Filth is a film that is bold and uncompromising in its representations of masculinity and it’s relationship to cinema. Commenting on how films and their false narratives can and do have a lasting effect on our expectations of masculinity. Bruce Robertson is the type of character that one can only enjoy spending time with through the medium of film or literature rather than within the real world. Yet it is through being made privy to his abhorrent outlook on the world, that the façade of his machismo is exposed. Filth deploys black comedy alongside the film’s most tense and harrowing moments, to critique notions of heroism. Instead of being swept up into Bruce’s world, one can’t help but compare its absurdity with the real world we live in today. Through Bruce Robertson’s unreliable narration, we are exposed to a unique interpretation of contemporary society. Where seemingly normal events are perverted within his eyes, and securing a promotion becomes a Machiavellian game. However what the film begins to reveal is how ‘The Games’ extend beyond not only the promotion but also Bruce himself. Men throughout the film, (role)play imitations of masculinity, just as Bruce’s co-workers are at first presented as one-dimensional caricatures within his own mind. This video-essay aims to visually represent how the set up of Bruce’s suicide at the end of the film encapsulates the performance of masculinity, as one out of the control of its performer – an unfortunate but necessary armour against contemporary society.

Interviewers commonly point out McAvoy’s most surprising transformation from such beloved characters as Mr Tumnus and Professor X, into the unattractive and un-heroic Bruce Robertson. Through continuously subverting our expectations of the film and its characters, Baird uses Bruce’s character as a vehicle for investigating the nature of cinematic masculinities in contemporary society. This video-essay hopes to visually demonstrate explorations of gender performance through uniform and costume, but also through the adoption of a certain lifestyle and outlook that ultimately corrupts and damages Bruce’s psyche to the point of no return.


Amira Mitchell