Rukus movie review
by Patch O'Furr
This unusual movie got 5 support articles before I was ready for a personal review. It’s hard to nail down, so the work got really labored over, but it deserves the effort. – Patch
Rukus was an artist from Florida who committed suicide in 2008 at age 23. He was a mercurial muse to his friends. Linear storytelling about him could make a sad movie, but Rukus comes from many directions. It overlaps documentary of him, with his boyfriend reflecting on their relationship, and his friendship with film maker Brett Hanover. His enigmatic presence weaves through Hanover’s personal life, which goes from trouble with OCD to finding completion in relationships and art. The life of Rukus becomes points on a trajectory of escape from pain.
The directing style frames lo-fi video with dramatized memories, daydreams and fiction from Rukus. They’re re-enacted by younger and older stand-ins for him, and voiced with animation. It’s one of those arty movies that doesn’t easily boil down to one commercial line, but it’s directed with purpose. When the pieces don’t fit together neatly, the negative space holds a chewy assortment of themes.
There’s repressed abuse, disconnection, and love outside of hetero norms. It touches on conflict with anti-gay religion in the Southern US, but it’s more involved with a setting in furry fandom. Furries have a loveably eccentric subculture of fans for talking-animal media that appears in fantasy art by Rukus, internet role-play, a hotel convention, and a stage play. Those feed the human connections in the movie. You also get to see a costumer called a “whore bear” and a moment of tender toes-in-nose contact that turns into crosswired love.
The movie is outstanding for merging fiction and documentary while drawing from a subculture rarely seen in any feature film. It premiered at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival, where furries came for group fursuiting (with full body costumes that make unique “fursonas”). That’s sort of like how Comic Con cosplayers emulate Hollywood superheroes, but those don’t keep their powers when the movie ends.
Rukus casts animal shadows behind misfits who play muses for each other, and delivers bittersweet satisfaction. You can see it now on rukusmovie.com.
Just watched Rukus on Vimeo – an intersection of the furry world and the indie film circuit I never expected to witness. But I loved it! https://t.co/rKOvjsLJGv
— Apollo (@Apollo_Wolfdog) October 17, 2019
Lots to process tonight. I still miss him.
— Vulp-o-Matic 3000™ (@triadfox) October 19, 2019
More reading between the lines — Figurative bridges and liminal places
There’s 6 bridges crossing the San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate is in the most movies. Outside my window, the Richmond-San Rafael bridge is glittering with traffic. In 1964, a troubled woman stopped her car in the lane there, got out, and leapt to her death. A journey cut short like that changes those left behind.
She was the wife of sociologist Erving Goffman. He focused on microsociology (personal relations between individuals) and symbolic interactionism. That’s about the theater of everyday life, and how people manage impressions they give to others. It can involve not feeling at home in your own skin, hiding insecurity or depression behind smiles, or role-play that helps make bridges to other people.
Goffman avoided publicizing his life, but the loss led him to write crypto-biographical work. He studied insane asylum inmates for a paper about stigma, mental illness, and institutionalization called The Insanity of Place:
Although the author does not make direct references to himself, he appears to be drawing on his own painful experience… It is hard to avoid the impression that we are dealing with a “message in a bottle” intimating how the author coped with a personal tragedy at a crucial junction in his life.
Brett Hanover described Rukus as happening in liminal space between people: social media and virtual worlds, punk houses in the south, and furry fandom hotel conventions. They’re temporary sanctums of liberation. Contrast with what Goffman called a total institution (a place cut off from the wider community, where people lead an enclosed, formally administered life.)
Rukus brings sanity to displacement felt by it’s subjects. Hanover gives his own biographical view that puts heart in the transitions from view to view. In one scene, the boyfriend of Rukus tells how he was found dead. It segues to a child stand-in telling his fantasy story to Hanover, which pulls out to show the movie crew. It lightens what came before, and loops back to where the movie started. Friends and animal shapes become ushers for Rukus to cross a bridge, and the hole he left is filled with elegaic spirit.
A critical look at the spirit of the movie might ask if it has to do with the zeitgeist. Maybe a little, when current news and politics has so much struggle about border walls and who belongs in places.
The insanity of place came up on Nextdoor, the neighborhood based social media platform. For the bridge outside my window, a pedestrian-bike lane was attacked as a waste, like everyone would be happy with just cars. The theme was “stay in your lane.” That drama fuels Best of Nextdoor, a misanthropic comedy channel with 8 times more followers than the company’s (and an ironic PR thorn in their side). When neighbors are jerks on social media, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
That ties to one of the year’s most talked about movies, Joker, with a sad clown who’s isolated and powerless in a degrading city. There’s a key scene with subway traffic where he violently fights bullies to gain his power, leading to media sensationalizing. The movie’s budget and PR force it to power over public notice, unlike Rukus with it’s intimate use of role-play.
The media ties to one more ingredient about the furries in Rukus. They’re shy about exposure from a history of tabloids exploiting them as freaks. It’s a small movie that dignifies with politics of caring, instead of forcing a message. We need more personal media like this about people crossing bridges together and finding their place.