Critiquing American culture is tricky for people in the family newspaper business, especially this week as two controversial movies open at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
I shall try to be discreet.
One film, "Hounddog," involves the rape of a child, starring 12-year-old Dakota Fanning. The other, "Zoo," concerns, how to put it: an equine brothel wherein certain activities lead to a curious death. (You might want to hold the Shredded Wheat. While you're at it, cancel lunch.)
Zoo" is based on a real-life incident in Enumclaw, Wash., in 2005, and stars -- oh, who cares? Suffice it to say, what we have here is a man, a horse and a barn.
The world is not bereft of disturbed people, some of whom apparently find pleasure in the intimate company of stallions. When one such disturbed fellow died from internal injuries suffered during the pursuit of -- whatever! -- investigating police discovered a trove of depravity.
Hundreds of hours of videotape revealed that not one, but several men had found unusual companionship in the stud barn.
So much for plot.
More compelling than the depths of man's degeneracy is our cultural rationalization of "art," whereby pushing the envelope is confused with genius and scuttling The Last Taboo is seen as an expression of sophistication.
In interviews, both filmmaker Robinson Devor and THINKfilms distributor Mark Urman have emphasized the film's universalism. Urman says the film is "a universal look at what goes on behind the facade of everyday, quotidian, normal American middle-class life."
Devor admits that the protagonist "seems like an oddball at the outset of the movie" (ya think?), but the filmmaker is trying to reveal "the human capacity to do the most awful things, chart(ing) the journey of this unhappily married man who began to explore sexual alternatives, as so many do."
Ew-kay. We all understand unhappy marriages -- and the quotidian life grabs me every time I'm in the Piggly Wiggly checkout line. But is Mr. Ed the only refuge for thwarted man?
Forgotten in all the lofty talk about universal themes, testing thresholds and the artful treatment of this forbidden subject is the logic of taboos and boundaries. In most cases they exist for good reason -- evolved over time in the service of civilization.
The filmmaker's ultimate justification for laying it all bare is the human factor, which in this case seems overrated. Whatever one's moral objections, says Devor, these men are "still people. They are still us. ... It's sad."
To each his own tearjerker. Caligula, I hear, had a rotten childhood.