As I write this in the darkened cabin of a very long flight at what must be around 7 in the morning, I am finding it increasingly difficult to fully understand the feelings that I’m feeling. I have just finished watching John S Baird’s ‘Filth’. Why do I feel compelled to write a blog post at such an unreasonable hour in such an unusual setting, you may ask. Well, it is just that – because I feel compelled to.
To any Scotsman the opening scene of this seemingly light hearted tale of a crooked cop in the heart of our Bonnie City seems like a perfect portrayal of the ludicrous, ‘if you don’t laugh then you’ll cry’ mantra that to the trained eye sums up most of the central belt. However, as the film’s narrative progresses it reveals a far more lurid and frankly disturbing side to the Scottish law enforcement and Scottish culture in general that would probably secure any bid for independence had it not been presented in such a grotesquely surreal way that only the Scots would believe it.
Directorial style aside, it’s easy to see the writing style of Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh shining through in this exceptional piece of narrative. This story boasts all the raw truth and bare-naked, unapologetic study of drugs culture shown in Irvine Welsh’s most famous work. However, I would argue that this piece showcases a much more sophisticated and in depth look at human character as a whole and an examination of why humans as a species are so susceptible to addiction.
This predisposition is personified through James McAvoy’s perfectly measured Malcolm Macdowell-esque performance as Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson. Shown initially as misogyny personified; a man without morals whose only motive seems to be sex, drugs and power, McAvoy plays off this character so well that I’m actually scared to go back and revisit him as Mr Tumlus, for fear of some serious Narnia-based issues developing. Soon we discover that our protagonist is not merely a brainless addict though, and that he has a quite a talent for manipulation.
By this point (by the ‘lodge’ meeting maybe) the film still seems to be on track as a fairly light hearted comedy with some real grit and enough nudity to make it inappropriate for recommendation to the in-laws for danger of appearing perverted. However, this all changes when our protagonist pays a visit to Germany.
This is where, much like the infamous toilet scene in Trainspotting, the film’s tone and the protagonists psyche begins to unravel. I think by this point the sinister undertones of the film have become evident for most of us and maybe you’d started questioning who his wife really is. Without giving too much away – since I think this is a must see for anyone reading this – I know somewhere in my brain cogs had begun to turn and something akin to the film heebie jeebies had set in. Something is not quite right.
From this point on the film becomes a beast of a completely different kind, and keeps evolving and growing to even more monstrous proportions. Although you know as a viewer that you remain in Baird’s complete control, you can’t escape that feeling of reaching the top of that first roller coaster peak; knowing somebody somewhere is controlling it but that getting the adrenaline rush of the unknown nonetheless.
Throughout the finale of this film, Macavoy’s gripping performance, along with truly exceptional writing and exciting direction make it about as dull as shooting heroin in to your eyeballs; and if you genuinely guessed this ending and/or weren’t completely moved by it then I simply don’t want to know you as a human being.