The Book of Revelation
Anyone tackling the subject of rape and sexual abuse enacted against a man inevitably has a difficult task on their hands, since the reaction of most males would be similar to that of the police officers investigating the case of Daniel, a performer for a top Australian dance company who has been abducted and raped by three cloaked and hooded women - a wink, a nod, a snigger and a mock “jeez, it must have been terrible”. Ana Kokkinos’s film The Book of Revelation does indeed intend to set out just how terrible, humiliating and deeply soul-destroying it really is, and by showing it enacted on a man in graphic detail, perhaps force a male audience to reconsider their attitude towards sexual abuse and violence. There is however something fundamentally wrong about the way they go about depicting it here.
An adaptation of a book by Rupert Thomson, the story is relocated to Melbourne where Daniel (Tom Long) and his partner/girlfriend Bridget (Anna Torv) are the leading performers in an important dance company under the direction of Isabel Auster (Greta Scacchi). During a break in the demanding rehearsal of a performance for a new show, Daniel fails to return from an errand to buy cigarettes. When he doesn’t turn up for the opening performance that evening, they realise that the issue is more serious than they thought, and Isabel calls in a police officer Mark Olsen (Colin Friels) to investigate for them. Olsen doesn’t find anything significant, but twelve days later, Daniel reappears, ejected from a van on the wasteland of a deserted part of the city. As he unsuccessfully tries to gather his life back together with his girlfriend and with his career, the memory of what he was subjected to during those 12 days comes back to him. Drugged and abducted by three women wearing cloaks and masks, Daniel has been chained to the floor of an abandoned warehouse, stripped naked and systematically raped, sexually abused and humiliated by the women for their own pleasure.
The intention of the film then would seem to be clear enough, showing the damaging nature of sexual abuse and forcing the viewer to look at it in a new perspective by showing it being enacted upon a man. Taking it in such a literal way however is problematic since the narrative elements, the characterisation and the manner in which they are depicted in the film are somewhat unlikely and unconvincing. Why were the three women waiting in an alley, cloaked and masked, with a drug to be administered? Why choose Daniel to be the victim of their abuse? Is it just a coincidence that he happens to be an impeccable specimen of manhood, with rippling muscles over every inch of his body? The situation is really not convincing in any way that would allow the viewer any personal identification with Daniel, and I doubt even for someone who has suffered sexual abuse as a reality.
The whole ritualistic nature of the abuse taking place in a stylised “white room” with women in fetishistic clothing however suggests that there might be another level that the story is working on beyond the obvious one. In the absence of any background to the characters whatsoever, there is even more temptation to examine the few suggestive elements that occur before Daniel’s abductions for clues. These consist of little more than a sexually charged dance that Daniel performs with Bridget, and a brief incident when Daniel is sent out by a jealous Bridget after he is seen in the company of another dancer who is clearly coming on to him. The voyeuristic way in which Daniel’s toned muscular body is shown throughout his captivity moreover suggests that the film is trying to say something about the nature of performance and expression and the lengths one must go to in order to destroy the ego and find purity in art. Daniel’s subsequent attempt to rebuild his life by systematically sleeping with as many women in Melbourne as possible in order to find some clue on their body that would identify them as his abusers could then be seen not just as an attempt to understand what has happened to him or seek revenge, but as an attempt to find a channel of expression that he eventually finds only by coming back to dance. If that is the intention of the film (or the original work, which I haven’t read), then The Book of Revelation fails to express this in any meaningful manner.
From the comments made by the director, writer and producer in the extra features however, the film’s intention seems to be clearly on a literal level, about an abused man, stripped of his masculinity, unable to express what he has undergone to anyone who would understand, and his attempt to rebuild his life again. That however is unconvincing in the manner in which it is shown, the director failing to explain how or why the trauma occurs, what lies behind it, and failing to make it the least bit credible. Even the controversial elements proposed in whether Daniel might actually experience some pleasure during his abuse are somewhat glossed over since, one suspects, it is beyond the ability of the filmmakers and the performers to deal with it and would in any case be counterproductive to the film’s simplified and simplistic outlook.
The Book of Revelation is released on DVD in the UK by Universal Pictures. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
The film is transferred anamorphically at the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is progressively encoded. The quality of the transfer is excellent, showing deep, rich colouration, perfectly saturated, accuracy of tone and an image that is clear and sharp throughout. There is only the faintest of flicker evident in backgrounds and some edge-enhancement – which is quite pronounced – but otherwise the transfer is almost perfect.
There are Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 options, both of which are fine, but the film does seem to be made for the surround option, which makes extensive use of the surrounds for ambience and the music score and directional effects. The stereo mix tries to approximate this effect, but is much less effective.
The film is in English, but hard of hearing options are provided in a clear white font.
The extra features here differ from those on the Palace/Madman Australian DVD. There are no deleted scenes, but in their place there is a probably more useful Interview with Cast and Crew (19:27). The director, writer and producer talk about the intentions of the film and the themes of male pain not often explored in cinema. The actors talk about their casting, their characters and the extreme confrontational (or “confronting” as the adjective seems to be in Australian) nature of the film. Additionally, there is a Behind The Scenes Mini Clips (7:19) showing three scenes being set-up and filmed, which is neither particularly illuminating nor interesting to see.
If the intention of the filmmakers is indeed to examine the nature of sexual abuse from a different angle in order to assess its impact on masculinity, there are surely better ways of doing so than through the stylised ritualistic and voyeuristic manner in which it is presented in The Book of Revelation. One suspects that there could be other levels that the film with its art/dance setting could work, but the filmmakers fail to draw anything worthwhile from it. The high quality of the transfer of the Universal Pictures DVD seems to be a match for the Australian DVD, but the variation in extra features mean you would have to choose between the deleted scenes on the latter or the interviews and behind-the-scenes features on this UK release.