Investigating Sex

      Comments Off on Investigating Sex

Alan Rudolph, like the character Edgar Faldo (Dermot Mulroney), attempts to rectify the abstract with the representational in his film Investigating Sex (2001). Based on Recherches sur la sexualite archives du surealisme by Jose Pierre, Investigating Sex primarily renders human sexuality as a verbal maze; intellectualizing physical stimulation into the kind of total abstraction represented by the avant-garde films contained within. Investigating Sex is not a film about sex, it is a film about one’s relationship to one’s own sexual pleasures and romantic ideologies.

Cinematographically Rudolph’s presentation of sexuality and physicality exists only in the film within the film. What the character Oscar (Jeremy Davies) projects onto a screen or points his camera at are the single cinematic expressions of the discourse contained in Investigating Sex. The camera, entirely diagetic, works as a POV shot, lending the proceedings an organic gaze situated within rather than without the action of the film. These moments aside, Rudolph shoots Investigating Sex like a stage play with a distance and plasticity separating the spectator from the drama.

Investigating Sex is a film dependent on the performances of its ensemble who have gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts circa 1929 to discuss sex. The cast is impressive and up to the challenge; including the aforementioned Dermot Mulroney and Jeremy Davies as well as Julie Delpy, Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Alan Cumming, Terrence Howard, Nick Nolte, and Tuesday Weld. Rudolph, true to form, thrives as a director in complexly staged scenes of human interaction. The issue is that direction and performance don’t seem to be moving towards anything, be it a thesis or a dramatic catharsis.

Perhaps, as the title may suggest, Investigating Sex is meant only to present the findings of an investigation to an audience in the form of what could be characterized as an actor’s exercise. From this perspective Investigating Sex succeeds. Rudolph’s script presents the viewer with some clear ideas on morality, beastiality, voyeurism, homosexuality, and romance but reaches the rather pedestrian conclusion that “the heart wants what it wants”. The investigation in Investigating Sex yields nothing, content to let the mystery be a mystery.

This is defensible if the spectator, upon viewing Investigating Sex, renews the discourse of the film in their own private sphere as an internal dialogue or as a conversation with someone intimately connected. These are some pretty tenuous contingencies that indicate the failures of Investigating Sex rather than the film’s successes. A filmmaker like David Cronenberg or DuĊĦan Makavejev would have been better equipped to handle Recherches sur la sexualite archives du surealisme as a film than Rudolph whose preoccupation with public performance and human relationships inhibit more internal explorations.